jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

in the church, but not of the church

This viral phrase, in the church, but not of the church, was dropped on me last night at our men’s group by Jason, the Associate Pastor at my church. It has been spreading through my mind like a disease since then. It is making me think, like all good viral ideas should. I’m not really sure what Jason meant by it, and he did not want to lead me in it, just infect me with it. He was irrational and giddy, a little wild-eyed, as often happens with CSD’s (Communicable Soul Disease).

The way I see things is that within every local congregation you find both the church and the Church. With the church you will find an assortment of things that fall under the realm of what we might call Christendom. These include church-speak, human agendas, poor relationships, bad attitudes, injustices, etc. At times it would appear that church dominates our churches. However, within these same local congregations you will also find the Church. This is also marked by an assortment of things. These include the in-breaking of the Kingdom, the presence of our Lord, authentic love, generous care, selfless sacrifice, abundant grace, profound forgiveness, etc. The way these two things, the church and the Church, are intertwined is quite confusing. At times you can jump from church to Church and back to church in a single sentence of a private conversation. If I were building the Church I would not have chosen to let these two coexist together. Luckily for us, I am not building it. And our Lord, in His great wisdom, decided to let the wheat (Church) and the tares (church) grow together until the Harvest at end of the age (Mt. 13:30).

With this in mind I see two problems in both my personal life and our collective life. On the one hand I am often in the Church, but not of the Church. I can always talk a good game. I can always sign off on what sounds like Kingdom focus. In this sense I’m in the Church. But when it comes to exercising my commitment to the Church within my church I’m not always turning out to be of the Church. When it comes to the Church, I am to be both in the Church AND of the Church. That is, my life should be marked by the same patterns and principles that marked the life of Christ.

The other problem is that when it comes to the church, I’m afraid its influence pervades my life more than I wish. When it comes to the church, I am to be in the church, but NOT of the church. However, I find that I get caught up in human agendas, in getting people to like me, in getting back at people that don’t like me, in making a name for myself, in building a vision that sounds like Church, but is actually an attempt earn myself a reputation, in being busy with all this stuff, in neglecting the hurting people in my community, etc. In this sense I am often turning out to not only be in the church, but of the church as well.

So, these two battle within me. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?

8 comments on “in the church, but not of the church

  1. Gene
    April 10, 2008

    neither in it nor of it…
    but I am the church or we are the church.

  2. Steve Wright
    April 10, 2008

    Big J,
    Here is link to something you may want to read. Not sure if it will help or hurt.

    I wanted to just post a Happy Gilmore qoute but just couldn’t….okay I can…

    Happy Gilmore: I didn’t *break* it, I was merely testing its durability, and I *placed* it in the woods cause it’s made of wood and I thought he should be with his family.

  3. Steve Wright
    April 10, 2008

    Sorry J. Here is the link again. It looked like it ran off the page in the last post.

  4. Don
    April 10, 2008

    Jon, for someone like you who is multigenerational in this church, your title means one thing. For those of us who have just dropped in, so to speak, it means something else entirely.

    One reason I started my website is because I felt that a) I was incapable of ministry expression in consonance with the vision of my church and b) that God actually had something for me to do other than to write checks.

    The Church of God is a multiethnic church, which is one of its strong points. It understands that different ethnic groups worship and interact with each other and the world around them differently. What it doesn’t understand (although I think that many of the “missional” pastors are all too aware of this) is that its predominant church culture is just as foreign to many people with similar ethnic backgrounds as it is to those of different ethnic origins.

  5. Jonathan Stone
    April 10, 2008

    Gene, welcome! Thanks for posting. You summed it up profoundly, for we are neither in nor of the church…but we are the church. That is, the church is people. Thanks! Also, I dig your myspace site. Can’t wait to go back and take it all in a little more.

    Steve, that article is awesome! It could not be any more relevant! Thanks for sharing it. And it introduced me to the blog there, and it’s awesome too. I added it to my list of ‘converging points.’

    Don, thanks for your insight. I can see clearly how many our completely blind to our church culture, its language, and how others experience and hear that culture and language. What’s a little more difficult is seeing my own ‘blindspots’ that hide my own enculturation. I believe that I am coming ‘out of Ur.’ I just hope I don’t die in the wilderness (or settle down in Sodom). I’m glad you recognized what you did about yourself and your ministry. It’s a great service to the Church (big C). And I know there is still much more that the Lord has in store for us through your ministry!

  6. Louis Morgan
    April 11, 2008

    Ok, yes I am still alive. I’ve been lurking, but too “swamped” with this conference stuff to take the time for comments– cause I’m much too “wordy”. (trying to work on that)

    I know I harp on this alot… but what I hear in this post is the desire to “be” from which the “doing” occurs naturally, unselfishly. My passion (personally and in helping others grasp it) is about balancing the being and doing. For all of us, sometimes “doing” (church) gets in the way of “being” (Church). But the Christ-life is so much deeper and more meaningful.

    I was really blessed by this post– thanks. I haven’t had a chance to check out the article Steve linked, so I may have more ideas after reading it.

    And, I have a ton of respect for Jason. We were at Lee at the same time, and I really appreciate his heart for the Lord. I’m glad God used him to spark this post in you, which has blessed me. 🙂

    (okay, so this is still wordy… more work needed on my part)

  7. Jonathan Stone
    April 11, 2008

    Louis, phew, I was getting worried about you! ; ) Speaking of Jason, you should join us for our men’s group on Wednesday nights. And your posts aren’t too wordy. So, I wouldn’t censor myself if I were you!

  8. Johnny Taylor
    April 11, 2008


    Maybe there are wheat (Church) and tares (church) because both wheat and tares exist inside of us. Perhaps, a too simplistic view.


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This entry was posted on April 10, 2008 by in faith, vision.
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