My first memories of church are from a little country church that I went to as a kid. It is the picture that you see, and it is beautiful. Since I was a kid, it has changed some but not too much. It was and is a great country church. I have a lot of wonderful memories there. I remember the Christmas Eve service where they had real candles down the aisle. I remember breakfasts there with Nancy’s cinnamon buns, which were awesome. I remember being in children’s pageants. I remember the guys asking me, a small kid, how the chairs and tables should be arranged. I remember playing with the other kids downstairs and outside. (The front porch was base for tag.) The more I think of it, the more memories come to mind.
I could go on and on with other churches I have been a part of through my life too. I do not mean to slight any of them for I have many memories with them as well. I wanted to share here my earliest memories of church, the first church I knew.
If you grew up in church, you can likely share in some similar memories. You may not have thought of them lately, but they are there. Hopefully they were good memories for you. I know too, and I am sorry for those of you who do not have fond memories of church. That may have to be an altogether different blog topic someday.
I was extremely fortunate and blessed to have such great memories. I knew as a kid growing up in church that the people there truly loved me and cared for me. At its best, the church should do that for everyone. We are to be a community of people who love one another. We are also to be a community of people who love those outside of our walls as well.
Jesus tells his disciples, including us today,
34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (John 13)
Jesus also told his disciples and us still today,
19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age. (Matthew 28)
Here is the thought I want to leave you with, and where I am afraid we get confused. When we think of church, we think church is the place of all of these memories. It is the place where we have come with our children. It is the place where we have seen our children baptized. It is the place where we have experienced great joy in weddings. It is a place where we have celebrated the lives of those we love.
Yes, church lived out will give us many memories, but church should not be defined by our memories. Church must be defined by how we love those around us and those outside in our community…now. Church must be defined by how we are making disciples…now.
As a community of believers, as those committed to following Jesus Christ together, we are still walking with Him. We come together to follow Him now and into tomorrow, to love and see people far from God come to know God.
I was at a seminar last week where the speakers were speculating and thinking about what the church will look like “next.” How will it change? How does it need to change to be the church, to live out its purpose?
One of the speakers, Gideon Tsang, said something really cool. He said that the church is always present. The systems and structures we think of as church (dare I add here even our memories of what church is) may change or even go away, but the church is always present.
This statement really is true if you think about it. The Apostle Paul did not have the same memories that I have of church. I am not saying his memories or my memories are better. I am not saying his memories or your memories of church are better.
And yet, to be the church, our memories will share certain things in common. They will share and know a community of people gathered together seeking to follow Jesus Christ, to love each other and to love people far from God so they will come to know God’s love.
(All scripture cited above from Common English Bible Copyright © 2011)