Flying into Roswell, New Mexico the other day I had a surreal experience. No, not aliens from Area 51 (although the Hertz counter had alien caricatures on the wall).
As we approached Roswell International Air Center, I saw dozens and dozens of commercial aircraft–of all sizes–sitting out in fields and on tarmacs. Dozens. Almost all of them from American Airlines.
Taxiing into the gate (well, the ramp they pushed up to the plane), the planes were in various stages of disrepair. Some were missing parts of their shells, others just looked plane (see the pun?) old.
Because we were in Roswell I began thinking, Hmmm, maybe there is a conspiracy going on here.
I began snapping pictures because there had to be a story behind all of these planes just doing nothing, but when I mentioned my surprise to a pilot sitting next to me, his response was boringly simple.
“They bring the old jets here because the weather is dry and they won’t corrode nearly as fast as they would somewhere else,” he told me. “They sell off some of the parts, even a few shells from time to time.”
Oh. Not that exciting after all. Still, it made for a few photos to post on Facebook and Instagram.
But the planes got me thinking about me, and all of us who claim to be Christians–and the role of churches. Here’s what I mean:
In Hebrews 10:24-25, the writer says, “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
A lot of us know the part about “not forsaking our own assembling together;” it’s a great verse for bludgeoning someone who stopped going to church, right (I kid, I kid)?
But in those verses, the writer points out a reason for “going to church” or for gathering together. When we get together–whether in church or another group–we should be encouraging each other so we can advance the message of hope we’ve been given.
“Church,” then, is not just a place to learn God’s word (though that’s great, of course). In fact, one might make the case that learning more stuff is not quite as important as helping each other love and reach others more effectively (the “good deeds” part in those verses).
If I walk out of church with more knowledge, but am still deficient in “love and good deeds,” I’m missing the point.
The early church–the 1st Faith church–advanced the message and added to its number all the time. This means everyone was doing something to build the body and add more people. When they gathered, it was to encourage, to think of new ideas (“let us consider how to . . .”), then get back to work.
For them, “Church” was not a place to sit back and be blessed. It wasn’t primarily a place to spiritually recharge, though that took place, I’m sure. And while they certainly served each other (we see this in the Book of Acts), the real mission was to advance and add more.
It’s easy to say, “Yes, we need to invite more people to church,” and that’s fine. But it’s not key. “Church” is not just for bringing people to the message; it’s to find out how to advance the message. It’s a subtle difference, but a big one.
The point? I need to be out there advancing on my own. Then, when I attend church or another gathering, I need to be helping others while looking for ways to be more effective in my own life.
If I see church as only a place to be “blessed,” or only as a place to invite others, I become one of those American Airlines jets.
The problem with those jets of course, is they no longer serve their purpose, though they are just a few feet from an active runway. They have no passengers and go nowhere. They just sit. More planes come, but eventually the “new” arrivals in Roswell just sit, too. Until they gradually break down.
If I am blessed at church, that’s fine. If I learn at church, that’s good, too. But unless I am active in advancing my faith throughout the week, I’m sitting by the runway but not serving my full purpose.
Our churches, too, need to capture this thinking. Our fellowships are not only places for wonderful worship sets and powerful teaching–though both are good.
More important, churches are where we ask questions like, “Who did you reach this week?” “How?” And, “What can I do to help you in your mission?”
I’m sure in the early church, there were those who invited friends, saying things like, “Have you heard of Paul? He is here–you’ve got to hear what he has to say.” But primarily, the church was out reaching new people. Then–after these new people came to faith–they connected with the fellowship of believers in a local area.
Again, see the difference? Today, perhaps our churches are more about inviting people in, not primarily about our people going out to reach others. The difference, as I mentioned earlier, is subtle. But I wonder, could this difference be vital.
I don’t have all of the answers, but if I want the 1st Faith of the early church I need to ask good questions about the role of the church, and about my role in connecting others to the man they called Jesus Christ.
They focused “church” on exhorting others to advance the message; I need to focus my gatherings on this, too. If I do, I might see the same results they did. That’s what soaring looks like, and it’s a lot better than sitting on the runway.