A typical week “outside the box” of organized religion
When one’s life has been so focused within institutional Christianity (whatever you choose to call it), there is a predictable pattern or routine that recycles every seven days: Sunday worship services followed by an optional menu of mid-week events, such as prayer meetings, Bible study, choir rehearsal, men’s & women’s ministry meetings, church-based sporting events, children/youth activities, and small group meetings. Your spiritual commitment is measured by how many or how few of these events you can fit into your schedule; and church leaders never fail to push people into more and more activities, especially when they have a captive audience on Sunday mornings. I often remember how similar it seemed to going to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but having to endure twenty to thirty minutes of mind-numbing advertisements running up to the featured film.
Those who have opted out of this approach to Christianity are often criticized for “abandoning the church” or “divorcing the bride of Christ” when in fact, they are just tired—perhaps even burned out—from attending endless meetings. Many Christians around the world are finding greater fulfillment in a more loosely organized or less structured gatherings with other believers. They are not “neglecting to meet together” when they no longer attend the meetings of a particular religious organization and it’s really bearing false witness against your brother or sister when you accuse them of violating Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV):
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
So what could a typical week look like for an out-of-the-box Christian? While it may seem strange or unthinkable to those who have never considered such an approach to the Christian life, I would challenge you to compare the following “diary” with the above passage of Scripture. Try not to read God’s Word with your particular bias forced upon it, but simply let the words say what they say and nothing more.
- Sunday — A wonderful time of family worship this morning with my wife and children! We packed a picnic lunch and drove to a large park where hundreds of people gathered to enjoy the glorious Spring weather: walking their dogs, playing frisbee, watching their children on the playground equipment, and making new friends. We spotted another family that lives in our neighborhood, so we ended up sharing lunch and getting to know one another. Marcus and Stephanie are not Christians, but we got into a really interesting conversation about birds (they are avid bird-watchers) that opened the door for my wife to share her faith while she and Stephanie were supervising the kids splashing around in the fountain. Around 3:00 pm several Christians joined us for a game of croquet—we had mentioned our plans to them last week—so it was really great that Marcus and Stephanie got to meet them, too. Everyone was invited to our house for an impromptu barbecue later that evening. Our neighbors almost agreed to come until they remembered a previous commitment. After dinner we shared some really great stories from our previous week: one brother got the job offer we had all been praying for, a young single woman praised the Lord’s restorative grace during a recent trial that involved her health, and there wasn’t a dry eye among us when one of our teens read Psalm 91 and then taught us a new song he had composed recently.
- Monday — A really difficult day at work. My boss has been riding my case regarding a new product that has fallen behind schedule in production. It’s not my fault that the sales department misjudged the shipping date. I talked to a good friend later that evening and he prayed for me over the phone, asking Father to give me the strength to maintain my Christian testimony among work colleagues. My wife reminded me of His faithfulness over the years and I fell asleep with a grateful heart.
- Tuesday — An uneventful day. Our family played a couple of the kids’ favorite board games before tucking them into bed. It’s so nice to have an evening to relax and just spend time with Donna and the kids. The phone didn’t ring once! Thanks, Father!
- Wednesday — Movie night! It’s become a standing tradition among five or six Christian families to get together—sometimes all of us in one place, but that’s rare—and watch a movie together. Tonight, six adults and three teens met at the local cinema to see an early matinee of The Forbidden Kingdom with Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Another group decided to rent a children’s movie, Ratatouille, so the rest of us dropped our younger kids there before going to the big screen. After the movies, we joined the others for a quick meal together (pizza) and then dove into two gallons of Blue Bell ice cream. Got home a little later than we hoped, but it was an encouraging mid-week lift just to hang out with brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Thursday — Another normal day. It rained all afternoon and evening. Oh, I almost forgot that I had lunch with Tony, a work colleague that I’ve been building a relationship with over the past couple of months. Our times together are always limited by time, but I got the feeling that he wants to go a little deeper in our friendship. He describes himself as a backslidden Baptist who gave up on church in his teens, but he really has no understanding of God’s grace. His previous fundamentalist church really did a number on him, so he’s convinced that he doesn’t stand a chance with God because he couldn’t keep up with their legalistic rules. We talk openly about Christianity, but I’m letting him set the pace. I think it’s time to invite him to spend an afternoon with me and a couple of Christian brothers on the golf course some Sunday morning. It may blow his mind when he finds out that none of us “goes to church” (as we used to say), but it may prove valuable in the development of our relationship. He’s one guy that all of us are praying for right now.
- Friday — Donna and I enjoyed our “date night” by an early dinner at Outback (one of my favorite restaurants) and then an evening at the symphony. We’re really thankful to have so many Christian friends who are willing to have our kids over while we spend time together each week. It really gives us something to look forward to each week and it makes us more conscious of the need to invest in one another in the midst of a very hectic pace.
- Saturday — We try to focus on the kids each Saturday: encouraging them in the pursuit of hobbies, sports, or other interests. It varies throughout the year. Right now, our son is taking karate lessons on Saturday mornings and he’s got a big tournament coming up in a couple of weeks. Donna and our youngest daughter enjoy all sorts of crafts, so right now they are taking needlepoint classes at the local community center. Our oldest daughter has been pursuing all things equestrian, so she spends Saturday afternoon at a local stable and riding center where she gets free lessons in exchange for cleaning out stalls and grooming the horses after they return from a group riding event.
Did you notice that there’s no “house church” meeting in the above diary? Leaving the institutional church does not necessarily mean creating something else to take its place: not even a house church! Worship happens throughout the week as we fluidly move in and out of relationships at home, at work, and at leisure. Every event and every activity is an amazing opportunity for both witness and fellowship. Evangelism is low-key, long term, and relational. And when we gather with other believers, it’s never in a rigid structure or liturgical way, but rather creatively looking for ways “to stir up one another to love and good works” as the writer to the Hebrews urges. We meet together—sometimes spontaneously and at other times planning a few days ahead—for the purpose of “encouraging one another” (please read the above Scripture passage once again). And did you notice how this particular passage says nothing about listening to sermons, meeting in church buildings, attending worship services, Sunday School, praise and worship music, or various programs for everything under the sun? It’s just not there!