“We don’t go to church… we are the church.”

I’m sure we’ve all heard that phrase plenty of times, whether in sermons, books, articles, or just conversation. It’s a great way of expressing the very biblical concept that the church is not a group we join, but rather that the church is God’s gathering of His people. The overwhelming majority of references to the word “church” in the New Testament refer to the people of God doing the work of God.

But what do we really mean when we say we don’t go to church but rather we are the church? What are the practical implications of that statement?

It seems the phrase has been used to communicate ideas like the need to be committed to church attendance or the Christian’s call to live differently than the world. Additionally, it pushes the idea that we must see church as something more than an event or a building. All of these are true, needed concepts, to be sure. But I think there’s something more to being the church in our day to day lives.

To find out what it means and how it effects our lives when we say that we are the church, just look at what the church is supposed to do in the “one another” and “each other” sections. A few examples:

  • Be devoted to one another and give preference to one another (Romans 12:10)
  • Contribute to each other’s needs and practice hospitality (Romans 12:13)
  • Rejoice and weep with each other (Romans 12:15)
  • Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
  • Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2)
  • Build each other up to spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-16)
  • Regard one another as more important than ourselves and look out for each others’s interests (Philippians 2:3-4)
  • Encourage one another day after day (Hebrews 3:13)
  • Confess sins to one another (James 5:13)

When we view the church as an organization we are a part of, we can distance ourselves or excuse ourselves from these commands. But when we come back to the point that we are the church, it is incumbent upon us to find ways to get these things done. With that in mind, I’ve taken to asking myself a question each week, a question that’s regularly convicting me to do more:

How am I being the church this week?

I’m not saying that a Christian has to hit each of these commands each week to effectively be the church. But as I look at the one another commands, it hits me that I’ve gone through many, many weeks without hitting any of them. If Jesus were a church member, I have a very hard time believing that’s how He would use His time.

If I go through a week without any contact with a fellow Christian outside of the church building, I know that in that week I have simply gone to church rather than being the church. If I go through a week without having any kind of intentional, biblical conversation or time of prayer with others, I am not being the church. We cannot be the church without a heavy investment of time and care in our fellow Christians. Or do we really think that we can keep all of these commands in a few minutes before and after Sunday worship?

One of Satan’s most effective attacks against the church has been in getting us to believe that we’re pleasing God when we operate as a bunch of loosely connected individuals. The most extreme cases obviously come from the people who say “I don’t need church, I come to God in my own way.” Just shy of that, we have those who church hop, refusing to put down roots or tolerate anything that doesn’t suit them in a congregation. But most commonly, many (perhaps most) Christians operate with the idea that we come together at the appointed Sunday/Wednesday time slots and maybe for an occasional special event at the church building, and then we all go our separate ways trying to lead moral Christian lives.

That’s just not the picture the New Testament paints, and it robs us of the strength God has given us for our personal walks, for helping each other, and for making an impact on the world to His glory. If we say that church is something we are rather than something we attend, then it’s necessary to mold our lives after what Jesus wants His church to be. We cannot buy in to the popular but misguided idea that we can be Christians without being deeply involved in each other’s lives.

How are you being the church to your neighbors, coworkers, family, and fellow Christians this week? It’s my hope that we will all dwell on this question each week and “excel still more” in the opportunities God gives us to be His church.