What is church? There are many ways to answer that question. Some would answer it by saying it is a place. It is the place one goes to worship God and study about the things of God. Place can be significant factor in determining what church is for us. Church is that place our mothers and fathers or our grandparents brought us to when we were too young to where we where or what any of it meant. It is the place where we were baptized. It is the place where we made a decision to follow Christ. Our weddings very often take place in sanctuaries, thereby giving even more significance to that place we call church. For some, church is the place where they said good-by to a loved one during a funeral service. What is Church? Church is that place where milestones occur in our lives. Things happen there that we will always remember.
Others would say that church is not primarily a place. It is not fixed or built, but it is something alive and dynamic. Church accepts us when we do not feel so very acceptable to even ourselves. Church sees something in us that is not readily discernible when we reflect on our own lives. Church gives to us well before we give anything to anyone and while we still think we have nothing to give. Church reaches out to us even when we are not certain we like the idea of being reached. Church has a door open for us even while we feel more comfortable somewhere else. Church does these sorts of things because these are the sorts of things that Church has always done. The church did those kinds of things for the people who are there now doing them for people who have just arrived or who are nearby, but not quiet there just yet. All of these sorts of things point toward the grace and acceptance that God offers to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Church, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, lives with that Grace and offers that acceptance. In so doing, it is Church.
Still others might say that Church is people first and foremost. People who gather at a place and act in ways that God has gifted them and called them to act. They teach. They serve. They give. They hug. They hold onto one another. They believe. They teach. They serve. They feed hungry people. They help those in need. They laugh. They share. They play. They enjoy being together. They hate to someone hurting. They are Church. Without them, there would be no place and no living body of Christ doing the things that Christ would do if he were here.
Each of those answers would sound right to some folks and each of those answers describes Church. While questions about what Church is or even about what Church has been are important and helpful to ask, the question of what will become of Church is perhaps the more important question. What will Church be? Answering that question gets a little more complicated in a hurry. A host of issues and factors come to mind in determining what lies in the future for Church.
For those of us in Church, we have something to say about how this question gets answered in the days ahead. While the specifics of what it will look like may be beyond the scope of our ability to forecast, we can say with some certainty what some of the factors in determining that future will be.
One of the factors that will shape our church will be our praying. By praying, I mean praying for the strength and well-being of Church to be certain, but not simply praying for Church. I also mean being a Church that prays. Collectively and as individuals, our time in prayer, perhaps more than anything else we do, will contribute to what Church looks like in the future. Church belongs to God. Church is what God is waiting on and preparing a place for. Prayer is getting to know God and being known by God. What we do as Church is born out of our relationship with God. Prayer gives God the opportunity to speak into our lives and form us as God would have us to be. If we do not give God that opportunity, then we miss becoming what we might have been had we done so.
Someone might say “pray for the church” or “the church needs your prayers.” While either of those requests might be true and timely at any given point in time, the deeper truth is that we will always need to pray more than the church will need our prayers. Praying is how we know God. We need to know God more and more each day. Does the Church need our prayers? Always, but not as much as we need to pray them.