By Ronnie McBrayer
While I am no died in the wool traditionalist, not by a long shot, I sometimes have a bit of a problem with the words we now use to describe the places we gather together as the church. They are called “worship centers” or “multi-purpose buildings” or “auditoriums.” I much prefer the word used by our grandparents: Sanctuary. Because anywhere the church gathers, it should be a safe place, a place where people are welcomed and made to feel at home.
I once participated in a retreat where several young people gave their unbridled, unedited assessments of the church. At times, their words were immature. At other times their words were blisteringly accurate. One young lady who spoke was Charis, a 30-year-old wife and mother who had spent her three decades in the church. Her father was a seminary professor, and Charis herself holds a Masters degree in theology. She was no cynical, jaded outsider. She has been a determined follower of Jesus most of her life.
At one point in her talk she said through her tears, “I don’t want church. But I do want love, transformation, and community.” Love. Transformation. Community. Isn’t this, at least in part, what the church should be about?
We have spent too much collective time and energy focusing on the drivel, rather than on loving people. We fight and bleed over worship styles, which version of the Bible is the actually inspired one, and drawing up rules and restrictions for who can come to the Lord’s Table and or who can or cannot speak in a pulpit. We build all this structure and all these regulations on who is allowed in and who should be excluded, creating standards so impossibly high, Jesus Christ himself couldn’t get in the door.
And meanwhile, people who are lonely, who are dying on the inside, who have had the absolute life beat out of them, who are racked by addiction and loss, who are burdened so low by the cares of this world they cannot lift their heads, will not even look in the church’s direction. They cannot imagine that the church could somehow relieve or support them.
We must recognize these mercy-killing behaviors for what they are, and by God’s grace let Christ remove them. For when the church becomes a place of welcome–a sanctuary—it becomes safe space, and safe space is sacred space.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.