A church is not a building. A church is not a programme or even a Sunday worship service. A Church is a group of people bound together by strong relationships with each other. To speak of "going to Church" is missing the point. We cannot attend the body of Christ, because we are the body. We must be the body of Christ where live.
If the parts of the body are not joined together permanently the body becomes dysfunctional and the bones get dry. Ezekiel understood this very well. He saw a valley full of dry bones (Ezek 37). After he prophesied, they were joined and raised to become a mighty army. Ezekiel's vision frequently quoted as a picture of the revival, but we often miss the key point.
When Ezekiel prophesied, the bones came together and tendons and flesh appeared. The bones were joined together and skin covered them. The breath of the Spirit could not come until the bones had to come together, bone to bone in a body. When Ezekiel prophesied again, the breath came into the bones and they stood up and became a mighty army.
- A body is not built by throwing some bones in a basket.
To become a mighty body empowered by the Spirit, the bones must be joined together. Each bone must be joined to at least two others by muscles and tendons. The correct bones must be joined in the right place. A body becomes dysfunctional, if just one bone is missing or is joined to the wrong bone.
Revival requires Relationships
Many Christians believe that revival will come as the Holy Spirit moves in power in the body of Christ. We do need the Spirit, but this is not Ezekiel's message. He warned that the Spirit cannot come in power until the body of Christ is joined together in strong relationships.
Ezekiel's message is challenging and requires radical change. We will not experience the revival we long for until the body is joined together according to God's plan (Eph 4:16). "Going to church" will not produce a revival. We cannot expect revival until we develop real fellowship based on strong relationships with other Christians.
This is a disturbing truth. If we are unwilling to be joined together in strong relationships, God's ability to send revival is severely limited. He can pour out his Spirit, but he cannot force people to connect with each other. We have to decide to make that happen ourselves. We have to choose to be the body of Christ, by committing to strong relationships with other Christians.
- Revival requires strong relationships,
not going to church.
The first step to building strong relationships is to do to other Christians the things that the New Testament requires. Doing the One Another Stuff should bring a radical change in the way we relate to other members of our Church.
Meeting in Homes
Home is the place where we like to meet with friends, so it is the best place to have fellowship. Being the body of Christ will be easier, if we go back to meeting in homes. Most Churches will meet in the lounge in the home of one of its members.
The early Christians were devoted to fellowship, so they met in their homes.
Every day they continued to meet together... They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:44, 45).
Many Churches were known by the name of the person in whose house they met. We have a record of the Church in the house of Nympha (Col 4:14) and the Church in the house of Aquila and Priscilla (1 Cor 16:19). Each Church will be based in a house close to the home of one of its leaders.
In a city where the people live in apartments, Churches will look different, but the same principles will apply. The aim will be to have at least one Church in each apartment block. If a large number of people become Christians, each housing block might need several Churches on different floors of the building.
When we get serious about loving one another, we will learn that love must be practical.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1 John 3:16,17).
Love is more than holding hands and singing "We are one in the bond of love". Love requires sharing with those in need. Sharing was normal in the early church, as they expressed their love for Jesus and commitment to others.
Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (Acts 2:45).
Christian love produced a radically different attitude to possessions. Instead of being something to enjoy, they were seen as a gift from God to be used to strengthen the Church.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them (Acts 4:32-34).
Sharing is important because it makes the gospel visible. Jesus promised that if we love each other, people will be drawn to him.
A new commandment I give you: Love one another
As I have loved you, so must you love one another.
All men will know that you are my disciples
If you love one another (John 13:34,35).
I when I am lifted up from the earth,
will draw all men to myself (John 12:32).
The people of the world are entitled to look at a Church to see if its members love each other. The problem is that love is not easy to see. Forgiveness and encouragement will often not be visible to those outside the Church.
The best way for Christians to make their love visible is by sharing their possessions. People who live close by will see John driving Bill's car. They will wonder why George still lives in comfort, when he has just lost his job. In a world where riches and poverty are normal, a Church with "no needy people" will be a very visible witness to the love of Jesus.
Churches that are serious about doing the One Another Stuff will start sharing quite naturally. Some will share their cars; others might share part of their house with another Christian. Others will share their computers, lawnmowers, televisions, freezers, washers, power tools, etc. Every Christian will aim to have something they can share with other members of the Church.
A sharing Church would be a tremendous testimony to people living close by. Christianity is not just a personal relationship with Jesus. His death on the cross also broke down the barrier of sin that divides us from other people. His people must demonstrate their restored relationships. In a world that is hungry for love, the best witness may not be a believer saying "Jesus loves me", but a group of Christians freely sharing their possessions.
Sharing must always be voluntary. It must motivated by love and not by peer pressure. Demanding that someone share is always unacceptable. It is a privilege, not a right.
Christians who want to do the One Another Stuff face a serious obstacle. Modern suburban culture creates barriers to communication and encourages individualism. As communities are breaking down and fear is rising, high fences are going up between houses isolating people from each other. The consequence of this isolation is that most Christians do not belong to the community where they live.
Western society has been shaped by the automobile and the church has gone along for the ride. The car has brought great freedom, but we have paid a great price in loss of fellowship. Church has become something that we drive to. We usually have to get into a car to go to our home group, cell group or house church. This severely weakens the relationships between Christians, so most modern churches are almost as socially fragmented as the rest of society.
The close fellowship of the early Church was only possible because people lived close to each other. Building strong relationships is difficult, if we only meet once a week. We cannot "encourage one another daily", as the scriptures require (Heb 3:13). The sharing that was normal in the New Testament is difficult if people who do not live close to each other. For example, sharing a lawnmower is difficult for people who live far apart.
The best witness for Jesus should be the change in our lives, but for that to happen, people must see us living. At work our behaviour will be constrained by the requirements of our employer, so people really need to see us living when we are free to be ourselves. They need to see us living together where they live.
- Church is something we are,
not something we can attend.
A Serious Challenge for Christians wanting more of God
Our isolated lifestyle has become so entrenched that escape seems to be impossible. However, the hard truth is that we have chosen this lifestyle; it was not forced on us by the world. We cannot control over the location of our workplace, or where our interest groups meet, but we are free to choose where we live. The problem is that we have not used this freedom to strengthen our Christian fellowship.
We are free to reduce our isolation by choosing to live much closer other members of our Church. I believe that God is calling his people to stand apart from the spirit of the age by choosing to move closer to each other. Some will respond to the call by selling their house and buying one in the neighbourhood where their Church lives. Others will knock down the fences that divide them from their neighbours.
As the world is putting up stronger security fences and shutting out the world, Christians should be breaking down the barriers and opening themselves up to others. This should not really be that hard. Christians change houses all the time, to get a better view, a better job, or a better education. Buying a house close to a group of Christian friends should not be that difficult.
God's call to Abraham was much tougher (Gen 12:1). He did not even know where he was going, and he never got to own a house in Canaan.
Choosing to live close to other members of our Church is a different way of thinking. For most western Christians, choosing a church is a totally separate decision from choosing a place to live. When choosing a church, we look for one with a pastor and style that will we like. When choosing where to live, we try to find a locality where we can get a good capital gain or the best schooling for our children. Choosing to live in the same locality as our Church is a radical idea.
Those living in better suburbs might need to move to a less desirable area, where the entire Church can afford to live. They would be following the example of Jesus, who left his place in heaven and came to earth, for the sake of the church. This "incarnational attitude" would counteract the "home in the suburbs" idol that dominates much of the western world.
We are called to be the body of Christ where we live, so living within a short walk of the rest of the Church should become a normal part of Christian discipleship. This will require a much higher level of commitment, but being a Christian changes how we live, so why should it not change where we live?
If those starting a new Church focus their evangelistic efforts on the location where they live, most new converts will not need to move, as they will already live close to the rest of the Church. Converts from outside the neighbourhood should be encouraged to move nearer, or helped to find a Church closer to where they live. Only the people starting the new Church would need to change location.
Moving to one location may not be practical for all Christians. The disruption caused by so many people moving house or changing church might not be worth the effort. However, living in the same location should normal for new Churches.
Modern Christians drive to church.
The early believers were all together.
Meeting in Houses may not be Sufficient
In recent years, many Christians have heard the call to start meeting in their homes. This is good, but it may not be enough. The full benefit of meeting in houses will only come, if Church members live close to each other. If we have to travel by car to get to our home meetings, strong Christian fellowship will still be very difficult to achieve.
I believe that God is calling us to be more radical than just meeting in houses. If Christians are living close to each other, it will be logical to meet in homes, but this should not be the goal. God is more concerned about how we live, than where we meet. Meeting in a house is pointless, if we no impact on the locality where we live. On the other hand, living close together a waste of time, if we are unwilling to commit to the One Another Stuff.
The Body of Christ on Brown Street
The Church in this map meets in a house (shaded black) near the intersection of Brown and Green Street. Most of the members of this Church live in this neighbourhood. There are fifteen houses (shaded grey) with Christians living in them. A few moved into the area, but most lived there before they became Christians.
There are over a hundred houses in the neighbourhood, so the Christians have not swamped the neighbourhood. The people living among them will see Christianity in action.
The Church in Brown Street
Imagine a group of about forty Christians, all living in the vicinity of Brown Street. They live within walking distance of each other, so they can easily visit each other, but they are not so close that other people cannot live amongst them. Despite living close together, they are surrounded by non-Christians.
People from the Church meet frequently and informally in different groups to encourage and pray for each other. Sometime a few couples get together for fellowship or to talk through an issue. When someone faces a challenging situation, others will come round to pray for them. Different members of the group share meals regularly. They also have a lot of fun together.
Brown Street is not in the richest part of town. Some people own their houses, but others rent them. The houses are quite simple, but the people have made them really nice. The furniture is plain and serviceable, but the living rooms are filled with joy and laughter, because people are always dropping in for coffee and encouragement. Possessions do not seem to be important and people do not chase after the latest fashions. Many of the houses do not have televisions, as people are having such a great time that they find television boring.
Some couples have a single member of the Church living in a third bedroom. This is often done to disciple a new Christian.
The members of the Church share their possessions. When a family has to go on a trip to another city, one of the others lends them a six-cylinder car for the journey. A few have sold their cars, having found that the need for them is gone. A couple of families have bought nine-seater vans to use when a group of people from the Church go out together. Once a week several women go out together in one of the vans to buy groceries for their families. They also get groceries for a couple of families that are busy with work. Another family has a trailer that they make available to the rest of the Church (and other people that live in the area).
Several families share the same lawn mower. Some of the people take turns at mowing the lawn for one of the others who is very busy starting a new business. At the same time they mow the lawn of an old lady who is not a member of the Church.
Some houses have a washer and dryer that they share with a couple of households. Another family has a freezer, where they store frozen food for several households.
When maintenance is required for one of the houses or cars, several people may come and help. They borrow the tools they need from others who have them.
Joan, who is 68 years old, does not have possessions to share, but she has made her Friday and Saturday nights available to baby-sit for families in the Church who want to go out. She does not have to get up early in the morning, so she does not mind if they are late home.
Sharing is the heart of the Church. Everyone tries to own something that can be shared with the rest of the Church. They also look for opportunities to share with their non-Christian neighbours. However, sharing is always voluntary and never compulsory. People can choose not to share, but most will soon find the benefits outweigh the costs.
Location, location, location
Church is something we are, not something we can attend. To be the body of Christ in the place where we live, we must live close to the rest of the body. Our Church should be a central part of our being, so we must belong where it is.
Each Church should be attached to a particular locality, so there can be as many Churches as there are different localities. Ideally, there should be one Church in each location and each location should have one Church. To have a number of different kinds of church in the same locality is inconsistent with the New Testament.
- Being a Christian changes how we live;
it could also change where we live.
Benefits of Living in the Same Location
Choosing to live in the same location will enable Christians who make the commitment to develop much stronger relationships and deeper fellowship.
Living closer together makes the One Another Stuff and a sharing lifestyle much more practical.
Spiritual protection will be more effective if Christians are closer to each other. Those who stand alone can be picked off one at a time by the evil one.
A Church based in a neighbourhood will provide an environment where the radical demands of the gospel can be lived out in a simple, distinctive lifestyle.
Strong Churches will supply an environment that supports family life through mutual support and economic sharing.
People who have been really messed around by evil will receive intense emotional and spiritual support from Christians living around them.
Poverty is a major challenge in many parts of the world. A Church could take responsibility for the poor in their neighbourhood and help them to climb out of poverty.
In a hostile culture, community-based evangelism will be more successful than church-based evangelism. If there is only one church in the centre of town, most non-Christians will never go near it. By living together in the same locality, Church members will be on display in the neighbourhood where they live.
Our dependence on the automobile is very risky. The Middle East is getting more unstable, as our dependence on it for oil increases. Every church leader should be thinking about how they will care for people prevented from driving to Church by an oil crisis.
An important reason for living close together is to create a spiritual stronghold where the Holy Spirit is able to move freely. Territory and geography are really important for spiritual warfare (Dan 10:20; Eph 1:21; 6:12). To defeat the strongholds of evil, we need to establish our own spiritual strongholds.
Engaging in effective spiritual warfare is very difficult, if we only meet intermittently. Christians living in isolation from other Christians can be outvoted in spiritual warfare for their locality. Soldiers can only defend each other, if they are in constant contact.
Getting spiritual victory over an entire city is hard, as all city authorities will have to be brought in unity. In contrast, two or three Christians moving into the same neighbourhood will be able to unite in prayer drive out the enemy.
When a locality becomes a spiritual stronghold for the Lord, the intensity of the Holy Spirit's presence will increase. People with evil in their hearts may start feeling uncomfortable and move out of the area. Healings should become more frequent and winning people for the Lord should become easier. As the number of Christians living in the area increases the spiritual stronghold will expand.
When Jesus was speaking about spiritual warfare, he promised,
Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matt 18:21).
We assume that Jesus was talking about a prayer meeting, but spiritual warfare was a lifestyle for him, so he was probably talking about a shared lifestyle.
Establishing a beachhead in a strategic locality and then expanding outward is a very effective way to take a city. An army takes a city street by street and neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
Finding the right place to start will be important. The spiritual pressure in a city is not evenly distributed, so the battle will be tougher closer to the spiritual stronghold that dominates it. The best place to start will be where the spiritual opposition is weak, such as the edge of a suburb or the spiritual boundary between two evil principalities. Christians are often heroic and rush to the toughest part of the city, whereas a wise general attacks where the enemy is vulnerable.
Jesus did not start in the key cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, or Tiberias where Herod lived. He built a stronghold in the fishing town of Capernaum in Galilee, where the spiritual pressure was not as intense, before pushing out to other towns (Matt 9:1). He only went to Jerusalem at the end of his ministry, when he had strong support.
Cry for Community
The need for Christian community is greatest in modern cities, where migration and urbanisation have broken down traditional community relationships. Social mobility prevents stable relationships from developing and family life is breaking down. People feel like cogs in a machine and life is characterised by loneliness and personal insecurity. In this bleak environment, people are crying out for real community.
Unfortunately, most people do not see the modern church as an answer to their heart's cry. It is seen as another institution that meets personal needs with programmes run by professionals.
A Church doing the one another stuff should be really attractive to those who are crushed and alienated by the impersonality of our modern world. Love will draw people into their community.
The church has a long experience with community, but it has generally been out of the reach of most Christians. A Christian community that is only open to an elite, or requires retreat from society, is irrelevant in the modern world. We need to bring community life down to earth, so it can function in a modern city.
Each Church should be a Christian community. Community lifestyle will be normal for all Christians, not an optional extra for superstars and misfits.
hese communities can function in any city with whatever housing is available. Special buildings are not required and there is no need to move to the country.
No money or assets are handed over to the Church. This eliminates a problem that has troubled many Christian communities.
Community lifestyle will be open to everyone, regardless of their personal circumstances. Anyone will fit, provided they are committed to living the Christian lifestyle in relationship with the rest of the Church.
Christians can live as part of a community while continuing with their existing work and interest activities.
People will be free to choose their level of commitment and what they want to share.
People can change their level of commitment according to their stage of life. Young single people may get really involved in community and sharing. Couples with younger children may need to withdraw slightly.
If something goes wrong with the community, people can escape by moving to another house or "walking away" from the Church. This provides protection from the domination or control that has destroyed many Christian communities.
True community can be built in city. I can see a city that is made up of a large number of Churches that are also small communities. Each community will involve of all the Christians living in a neighbourhood or apartment building. Love for Jesus will unite them together.
Christians should be leading the way and creating residential dwellings that will support a communal lifestyle. These should use resources efficiently, so that housing becomes affordable for everyone. Ironically, the only community-style housing developed by modern property developers are retirement villages for people that are "finished living", and gated communities for those who are "scared of living".
Community should not be a primary goal for Christians. Our goal is to live in total obedience to Jesus in fellowship with other Christians; community should be an unintentional by-product. The first Christians did not decide to live in community. By surrendering to Jesus and committing to fellowship they became a community by default.
- A Church is a community of people living in the same locality and caring for each other within strong relationships.