How often do you hear or say the words, “I’m going to church?” It’s a pretty common saying in our everyday Christian language, “to go to church” – Wouldn’t you agree?
Is it correct to say this? And does it even matter? I think you’ll be surprised at my answer…
Our communication language is influencing us and others all the time. Whether it’s subtle or substantial, our language affects the direction we take and the lifestyle we live. That’s because the language we use drives vision, and it creates culture. James says this in Chapter 3, “Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.” James is taking the moment to emphasize the power of our words and how they can direct our lives and other’s lives around us. I know many people that have been hanging onto the same words someone has spoken over their lives for years. Some of them positive, while others are extremely negative words. They’ve been carrying these words for years, and it’s truly affected the trajectory of different aspects of their lives. For better or for worse.
Let’s go back to the question about the church. To get on the same page here, I’d first argue that the church is not a place or a building, but actually the people of God. In Acts 11 we saw a “whole year where Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.” In Acts 12 it says that when Peter was in prison, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” There are numerous other examples, but using just these two, it’s clear that Luke refers to the church as the people of God whom “taught and prayed.” Neither of which is something a building is capable of doing.
Okay so what? So does all of this REALLY matter? Honestly, who cares if we refer it to a building? Well, here’s my argument on why it matters:
Church the Building
In our American culture, “Let’s go to church” means let’s go to a destination…or let’s go to a building in most cases. It’s a place. Someone could ask a simple question to me, “Did you go to church?” My answer is easy…it’s either yes I did, or no I did not. And, once I make it to that destination or place, I’ve technically fulfilled the object of the question and can answer it with a resounding “YES!” After fulfilling my objective this week, I can then be asked about it next week as well. I’ve reached the finish line of the question and you cannot expect more of me unless you ask a separate question. The question in of itself does not demand anything more from me.
Church as a People
Now let’s assume we believe that the church is the people of God and not a building. Grammatically, it wouldn’t make sense to say “Let’s go to church.” That would be like saying “Let’s go to people.” Instead, we’d say something like, “Let’s go gather with the people of God.” (and perhaps it’s at a building or particular gathering place)
If I am the church living out my faith, now I no longer have a short objective to live up to once a week. Now, church is part of my being and technically never ends because it’s a way of life and who I am as a person. I do gather each week with others from the church, but then I carry the church into my neighborhood where I live, into my workplace as I work, and to the gym or soccer field in my spare time. The church is part of my being as I live as a disciple of Jesus in everyday life.
One simple statement of referencing the church as a building instead of a people has the ability to subtly change the culture, direction, and expectation for someone that follows Jesus. On the flip side, referring the people of God to the church may actually be the first step in moving people from out of their seat and into their neighborhood street.
The main point here isn’t necessarily to get you to change your vocabulary around the word church (although it may), rather, it’s to help us understand what type of culture and vision simple subtle statements like this can have. Whether we realize it or not, our tiny little tongue rudder can have such great influence, and there are hundreds of examples we can use. This conversation also goes much deeper than what I can articulate in one blog post, but I hope you can see the point.
Maybe this week for homework answer this question: Do you HAVE to go to work and make a living? Or, do you GET to go to work and make a living? Both are similar statements, but I assure you, they carry much different postures.
Your words matter.