This time of year is when we contemplate resolutions for the next 365-day stint in our existence. I am no different. I reflect on goals in my life, constantly questioning whether I am doing something worthwhile or not. While I have figured (for now) that New Year's resolutions aren't all that effective for me, there is one area in which I want to resolve consistently to do a better job. It is actually how I answer one question that I am often asked: "Where do you go to church?"
It is such a simple question and the person asking is usually only looking for a word or phrase in response. It is merely meant to be a request for factual information, not an invitation to a philosophical discussion or a probe into my Christian theology. But see, that's the problem. It is all that for me. My wife is right. "Marc, you over-think things way too much!" (Like "over-think" - is it one word or two? I compromise with a hyphen, but it still bothers me.)
Enter the crazy world of my mind. If inside, you would find that when someone asks me if, or where, I go to church, my mental process instantly generates a set of questions in response. What do you mean by "go to church"? Does anyone really go to church? Is the church a place? How do you define "church"?
Fortunately, I don't always say all these thoughts out loud. But what I have done before is not much better. At one point, I decided I would reply, "I don't go to church. I am the church." That only led me to stammer to clarify what I meant as the person looked at me like they had just stumbled upon a cult leader. Worse, as the words came out of my mouth, I felt like one.
Ultimately, there has to be a better way for me not only to answer a simple question in a simple way and still remain true to my convictions. I resolve to find it. I also resolve to do a better job of sharing why something seemingly so mundane is actually extremely important.
The truth is that the church is actually very dear to me. I have friends and family that I meet with regularly that I consider the church. The church is more about who we are than where we gather. I don't mean that in some kind of politically correct, New Age-y kind of way, but in a Biblical, historical, down-to-earth, real Jesus kind of way.
Simply, the church is empowered people on mission, or followers of Jesus in action. There is an identity piece and a practice piece. Both elements come together to define the church, and when done right, they always merge to honor the One who builds the church. It is beautiful because it exalts Jesus, not us.
So, if I don't "go to church," then what do I do? That is exactly what I need to get better at expressing to others, whether or not they ask me where I go to church.
In some ways, the people I share my faith with are not all that different from a typical church. We have a mission, plan, gatherings, habits, and metrics to evaluate how we are doing. In other ways, we are very different from typical churches because just about all those things I listed are understood on substantially and pragmatically distinct terms.