“Listen up, “Church!” Hey, Church.” Amen, Church! “I want to share this with you, Church” “Welcome, Church.” “Are you with me, Church?” I’m not sure if you’ve heard a Pastor or religious type person call folks “Church”, but I have, and it drives me crazy. Here’s the thing: no matter how you slice it, a church is a building or an institution. It is a place where people gather, either physically to worship, or spiritually as a (mostly) cohesive unit. It is not, however, a useful way to refer to a group of people when speaking to them.
When I write, or preach, or hang out with a group of people, even if it is in a churchy building, they are friends, co-worshipers, siblings in Christ, fellow children of God or any other personal identifier. They certainly make up the church, either as a congregation or in the broader sense of the institution, but to call them church is to lessen their humanity and deny me a personal connection, or at least the sense of being connected.
Imagine calling students “school” or prisoners “jail”. What would it feel like if store clerks refefred to you as “store” or even worse, “cash”? Yes, people are the church. I get that, but even when we sing “we are the church” we sing “the church is a people”. Ok, the grammar is terrible, but the message is clear: people make up the church but they are not “church”.
Am I being too picky? Maybe. But my pickiness comes from the belief that Jesus isn’t about “church”. He laid the foundations for His church on Peter, but Peter was not the church. In fact, that was the only reference Jesus ever made to “the church”. He wasn’t creating an institutionalized organization; He was building a relationship building model that, if truth be told, doesn’t actually need a “church”.
Friends, I don’t want to belabour the point too much. I simply want to let you know that you are important to me for who and what you are; as such, I will never, ever call you “church” (unless that happens to be your name…). You are not a pile of bricks or a set of rules and regulations. Each of you is a weird and wonderful fellow child of God. You are fellow travellers on the amazing journey we call life. You are followers of Jesus. Heck, you are the living presence of Christ Himself, frail and failing human thingies embodying our Heavenly Creator with your own unique style so why would I ever refer to you in any other way?