The other day I was listening to a comedian on the radio tell a story that deeply resonated with me. Apparently his family had bought their first home and as they were moving their belongings into the house his wife was trying to decide where everything should go. He walked into the living room and placed the couch against the back wall, because it was the only place it would fit. But his wife was not sure that was the best place for the couch. She had him move it in front of the window, but it didn’t look right. She wanted the couch moved it to the other wall, but you couldn’t really see the TV. Next, they tried the fourth wall, but it stuck out over the doorway about two inches. They tried it in the middle of the room, but that just looked ridiculous. Finally, the wife decided they needed to put it against the back wall because that was the perfect place for the couch.
Just like that couch, the church has moved a lot over the last 1,500 years. After being established at Pentecost the church was remarkably unchanged for the first 300 years. According to the Acts Story, the early church met house to house and in the temple courts. They considered everything communal property and were willing to sacrifice for the good of others. (Acts 2:42-47). In 313 Emperor Constantine was the first one to move the couch with the Edict of Milan and in 380 Emperor Theodosius moves it again by making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. For the next 1,600 years through reformation and restoration we have moved the couch again and again trying to get it back to where God put it in the first place.
While our culture is in constant flux, the church stands in a unique position of trying to provide stability in an ever-changing world while remaining relevant to our culture. The question that every Church faces is how can we provide stability in a world that would rather get their news from The Daily Show on Comedy Central than the evening news. Our culture desperately needs the church to be relevant and for that to happen we must move the couch back to the place that God intended for it to be.
In the face of this change, I have hope. Over the last 15 years I have noticed an exciting trend in the communities where I have had the privilege to work and worship. There was a time when you moved to a new town the first thing you would look for was the name on the church sign. What I have noticed over the last 15 years is that fewer and fewer people care what name is on the building or even what doctrine is being preached and practiced. What they’re looking for is a place to belong, a place to be included, a place to be excepted. I’m a big believer in preaching good doctrine and for practicing good theology, but we have an opportunity to be relevant and to provide and answer to the bigger problem. As our culture continues to become more jaded and more isolated, the church can once again be the place where people of all kinds can come and find hope, help, love, and acceptance.
I wonder if there are times that we have been the Church for so long that we forgot what it is like to be the body. Where the world needs the Body, we have been offering them the Church. Where the world needs love and acceptance we have offered them tradition and structure. We have offered them what we thought they wanted and withheld what they really needed. We have moved the couch and we have no idea how to move it back.
For the past two years I have been volunteering in three different ministries learning what God designed the church to be. I am working with an adult center that serves adults with mental and physical disabilities, a men’s drug and alcohol rehab treatment center, and a hospitality center that feeds 120 homeless people daily. The language in these places is a bit salty, decent and in order allows for someone to act out a bit, and there have been a few times that I was a bit worried about what was going to be done or said. But in everyone of these places you can see what the church is supposed to be; a place of true concern, acceptance, and love.
In these ministries I have seen folks reach out to comfort a fellow man in times of stress. I have seen folks sit and listen without condemning. I have seen folks share words of acceptance and forgiveness. I have seen hungry folks give the last piece of chicken to someone else who was hungry. What I have seen in these places is the very same thing I have seen in the people who walk into our doors on Sunday Mornings. It is the very same thing I see in the book of Acts when the Church was acting like the Body.
The Church flourished in the first century because it was a place of mutual sacrifice and acceptance. As our world seeks out new ways to find the truth, the church must be willing to navigate different ways to reach out to the broken people that are deeply loved by God. We must be willing to have the difficult conversations that keep people up at nights. We need a bit of satire in a world full of stress; we must understand the need for levity in a world full of anxiety. I am not sure that if Jesus walked into one of our worship services, those times we meet once a week and sit solemn faced looking at the back of one another’s heads, He would recognize it. For the church to survive and even flourish it must get back to the call to be a family; the place where folks who are struggling and broken can come together to uplift to encourage and support. We need to navigate the winds of change so that we can put the couch back where it was in the beginning.