“It is not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission that has a church in the world.” – Craig Van Gelder
Our call is to connect to God, to connect to each other, and to connect to the “Other.” – Heartland Mission Statement
“The Church has left the building” – Heartland T-Shirt
What does it mean to be the church? This is one of those questions we assume should have a simple and clear answer. In fact, we are likely to have a wide variety of answers to this question reflected in our own values, priorities, and past experiences of the church. One answer might emphasize worship; another may focus on fellowship; and still others center on local mission to the most vulnerable in our society. The reality is that all these answers are right and wrong. They are right in the sense of describing things the church does yet wrong in that they don’t really answer the central question. What do we mean by describing ourselves as the church?
The church is and has always been a community of people. At times we might say I am going to church, yet this assumes church is a place we go to, a building where we gather. The church is not a location; it is you in relationship with God, and with each other, and with the “Other.” It is one of the quirks of being a Pastor that people feel they have to apologize to me when they haven’t been coming to church because of kid’s sports events, or vacations, or just needing a day off from their busy schedules. I always remind people that Presbyterians are about grace and not guilt. More and more I want to remind folks that they have been the church as much out in the world as when they gather on a Sunday morning.
The church is a mission. There are ministries and missions that we can do together better than on our own. This is a good thing. But the truth is that every day you are engaging in ministry and mission where you are whether at work or at the dinner table or attending a community meeting. You are the mission in the world!
The church is not a building. Our beautiful building serves as a tool of our ministry and mission. It is the place we gather to worship together (even as we are called to worship everyday); it is a place we educate ourselves and our children in discipleship (even as we are called to discipleship everyday); and it is even a space for mission where Boy Scouts, support groups, community organizations, and various people find a space to do their work. The building is not the church, it is a tool of this community to be the church in the world. Our new T-Shirts are a fun symbol of our connection to the Heartland community. But even more than that, the words on the back of the shirts are a reminder to us all that we are the people of God out in the world every day of the week and in every place, God has called us to be whether at home, work, or neighborhood.
Grace & Peace,
Rev. P. Alex Thornburg