Susan (pseudonym) stood in the strong summer sunshine, arms crossed and brow furrowed.  There it was again, the ubiquitous “four hundred pound gorilla” that everyone knows about but no one wants to acknowledge: Why we left the IC (institutional church).  Susan is an acquaintance from our former “brick and mortar” church.  I was attempting to respond to the usual question she posed, “Where do you go to church now?”  Hence the crossed arms and furrowed brow.

A red flag waved in my head.  Familiar with Susan’s loquacious track record, I knew that every word I said to her would be broadcast to the whole world the moment my back was turned.  So I breathed a silent prayer and dove in.

If you’re reading this post, chances are that you already know some of the reasons we left the IC and embraced the simple or “organic” church model instead, so I’ll not bore you death with an encore.  What I want to bring up here is Susan’s response: crossed arms.  Chin down, wandering eyes.  Lips pressed together in a firm, grim line of disapproval.  I smiled and waited for the predictable line of questioning, the peppering that usually comes from a querulous combination of misunderstanding, misinformation and knee-jerk defensiveness:

– Who’s your pastor?

– Who mans the pulpit?

– Who leads worship?

– Are you doing ministry?

– Are you preaching the Word?

– What about money?

And so on.  “Funny,” I thought, “I could ask you the same thing.”

Is it Really?

Susan’s questions were predicated upon the assumption – one we do not share – that the biblical model for “church” is church as an institution. If most or all of the above are taken care of by the pastor (because that’s what we pay ’em for), that’s “church.”

But is it really?  Is the biblical model focused on buildings, hierarchies, salaries and infrastructure – or something else?

When I gently suggested “something else” to Susan and steered her toward some key scriptures, she shut down and walked away.  This made me wonder again: Is the IC model so fragile and brittle that it can’t stand up to scrutiny?  And if so, is it a worthy model? Further: If the four-walls-and-a-steeple, programs-and-paid-staff, Sunday-morning-go-to-meeting, put-my-happy-face-on model embraced by so many believers as “church” is truly The Biblical Model, why shut down or shy away from honest questions?  Why the defensiveness?  The rolling eyes?  The snide put-downs of those who choose another path, one much closer to the New Testament model?

Love or Lockstep?

Is church about love or “lock-step-itis”?  More pointedly, is it about being God-focused, grounded in Scripture, empowered by the Holy Spirit, spiritual transformation serving Jesus and others, walking with God and passing on a vibrant, compelling faith to the next generation, or something else?

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