Ruts pose two hazards for a bike rider. One, they’re hard to get out of. Two, they take control of the steering. The words “go to church” create similar risks for Christ-followers. First, you can’t escape the words. Everyone uses them. They’ve become part of our language—like “go for a walk.” Second, the phrase “steers” our thinking about church. Saying “go to” makes us think of church as an event. We “go to” meetings and parties and weddings. Events happen at set times and in specific places.
If I say I plan to “go” to a meeting, that means I am not there at the moment. Getting there will take some effort. And when the meeting ends, I will not be in it any longer, unless I “go” to another one. That’s the problem with our saying that we “go to church.” The words condition us to think that most of the time—including our hours at work—we are not in church.
But such an idea is flat-out contrary to what the New Testament teaches us about the church. Scripture says the church is Christ’s body, and each believer is a member of his body. Think for a moment about the members of your own body. Is it possible for your eyes, arms, or legs to “go to body”? Ridiculous! They are already in your body and stay there 24-7. In the same way you, as a member of Christ’s body, are always in his body. You don’t check in and check out like a hospital patient. Weekdays do not require an out-of-body experience.
So the truth is, you remain in church—a member of Christ’s body—even while you’re on the job. “But,” someone might object, “it doesn’t feel like church!” No, the time in your office or shop won’t feel like what you experience when believers get together in a service. That’s because here on earth, in real time, the church operates in two forms: gathered and scattered.
The New Testament leaves no doubt about the importance of believers gathering together. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (Heb. 10:25). Even in the first century, some tried to live the Christian life solo. But each of us needs to be encouraged, spurred on, and built up by other believers. And each of us needs to encourage, spur on, and build up those others as well. Jesus spoke of those who would “come together” in his name (Mt. 18:20). Paul expected the Corinthian believers to “come together…for the strengthening of the church” (I Cor. 14:26).
But the word “come” in “come together” tells us there are times when the members of Christ’s body are not physically together. In those times, the church is to operate in its scattered form. When Paul wrote to wives and husbands about their right relationships to each other, he was telling them how to live as members of Christ’s body in its scattered form. When Paul and Peter wrote to believing slaves, their instructions were to be carried out while those slaves worked as members of Christ’s body in its scattered form. Seeds become fruitful after they get scattered.
As a member of Christ’s body, you will spend most of your time in the scattered-church mode. Let’s say you typically gather with other believers three hours each week—90 minutes on Sundays, another 90 in a midweek small group. That totals 156 hours a year in the gathered church. In that same year, let’s say you spend 40 hours a week in your workplace. That’s more than 2,000 hours on the job. To me, this suggests that much of our limited time in the gathered church should be spent equipping us for and encouraging us in our roles in the scattered church.
Although you don’t “go to church,” you do “go to work.” And when you do, the church is there because you are still in it as a member of Christ’s body. Even in that scattered mode, you can look for opportunities to gather with other believing co-workers before or after work, during breaks, or on lunch hours. Just this past week I received a very encouraging phone call from a Microsoft employee who meets regularly with fellow Christ-followers after work for prayer and encouragement. When even two or three believers assemble like this, the gathered church appears again—right there in the workplace!
How do you believe we in the gathered church can help equip each other for the battles we face out there in the scattered church? How have you seen that happening already? What still needs to happen?
Written by Larry Peabody. Photo by James Kovin on Unsplash. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Content distributed by WorkLife.org > used for non-profit teaching purposes only.