The right way to do church?


Maybe there is no “right way” to do church. That thought occurred to me the other day while reading Mission in the 21st Century by Andrew Walls and Cathy Ross. The “right way” to do church may be the way that is authentic to the group of Christians at any given location and time. For instance, the first followers of Christ were Jews. They went to the Temple, they observed Jewish dietary laws, they avoided eating with non-Jews. But Paul was quick to tell non-Jews they did not have to do “church” like the Jewish Christians. Gentile Christian churches took on a markedly different style, form, and practice than Jewish Christian churches.

The same thing is happening today. A smorgasbord of church polity, practice, and priorities are evident across the Christian community today. Churches in the two-thirds world exhibit authentic spiritual vitality in forms unlike their Western counterparts. Maybe there is no right way to do church. Maybe the right way depends upon the context, witness, and authenticity of the group from which it emerges. Or, to put it another way, maybe all churches aren’t driven by the same purposes. Which means, not one cookie-cutter approach, but the rainbow richness of God’s Spirit moving in various ways in various places. What do you think?

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7 Comments

  1. So does it follow that if there is no “right” way to church, then there is no “wrong” way to do church either? I don’t think you’re going there but some misguided soul could take it to that logical conclusion.

    If there are wrong ways to do church, then what are the right ways?

    Just thinking out loud.

    Les

  2. Yeah, I guess I should have added the obligatory disclaimer that I am talking about churches within the parameters of Christian orthodoxy. I was thinking of how real churches (which of course leads to a discussion of what makes a real church) can act, structure, worship, practice, etc in different ways which are authentic to their context when I refer to “right ways” to do church. Thanks for making me be more specific. -Chuck

  3. I believe there is a right way to do church and that is with much prayer and sensitive to God’s leading. How that is manifested in each church will vary based upon the needs of the church, community and God’s plan for that church.

  4. Chuck,

    I think you make a good point, I don’t think there’s a cookie cutter. I think you’re right, it does depend on context and that makes it complicated to decide or discern what the right way is.

    However, I fear the approach of saying there’s no right way to do church, b/c it’s like throwing up your hands and saying, well, there’s so many good ways, there must be no right ways – this lets people off the hook of doing things a better way.

    I’m afraid some of the things we’re doing in churches is NOT the right way.

    God tells us in the bible to love each other affectionately, to be united – these things seem to me like they come about in community. But most of our churches are anonymous places where you can come and sit and maybe visit briefly with other members or friends before and after service, but there’s SO LITTLE depth, honesty, transparency, accountability – as a result, there’s so little love, so little true community, so little life change, so much legalism, hypocrisy, etc.

    THIS IS WRONG! IT”S WRONG! it’s a wrong way to do church – in my opinion. And if a mega church can’t provide this in any way to their congregants, that’s wrong (I go to a mega church) – so I don’t want a mega church to excuse themselves from being biblical because they say “there’s no right way to do church.”

    So I would hate the attitude of “there’s no right way” to give an excuse not to have these conversations. I think that statement, while true, is dangerously simplistic

    However, I appreciate your heart, Chuck! And it is a good point! There are different contexts and different ways to do things in different contexts. Thanks for bringing that up! Sorry to be so negative! Touchy issue for me!

  5. I completely agree. This hit me a while back and really freed me up in terms of how I think about doing ministry. The statement I keep using is this, “It’s not about choosing between the right way and the wrong, but it’s about finding the best way in our particular context and location.”

    I would also agree, though, that there is and can be a wrong way. So obviously there are some limits.

    The main issue, though, is to actually get busy and do something instead of just standing around discussing and arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong. As Paul said in Philippians, “As long as Christ is preached.” (Hopefully that doesn’t make me sound like to much of a pragmatist!!)

  6. Dee, you’re right of course. I’m being way to general and simplistic, but I am really talking about methodology. So, yes, the right way to approach church is with much prayer and God’s leadership.

    Jesse, you’re correct in your observation that my statement is too simplistic. And you’re right that wrong attitudes, etc can happen while we are doing church, which can affect the whole thing. My point is more to the praxis, and less the intangibles. I’m sure I could have been much more precise, but it’s also kind of fun to see what others think “right” is for a church. Thanks for your comment.

    Curt, “best way” is good, and I agree that doing is better than just talking. Thanks for your comment. -Chuck

  7. Chuck,

    I’m with you. The question is not primarily the HOW but rather the WHAT. At our church, we asked the question, “WHAT did the New Testament church do?” and then, “Does our modern/post-modern church do these things well?”

    In our particular situation (and every culture is different), we dispensed with adult Sunday School and an evening service because people in our church are tremendously busy and given too many different topics, everything blends into one big mishmash. Instead, we take time after the preaching to discuss the theme of the message. We encourage people to take Sunday evening and invest in their families and neighbors.

    We’ve only been following this format since January; but it has certainly helped us get much more in-depth with our study (currently 1 Corinthians); and it has opened a lot of doors for improvement with our families and neighborhoods.

    There IS a wrong way to do church; but the right way is defined by a commitment to the Word of God and the mission of Jesus, not necessarily by a formula or liturgy.

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