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From the first Sunday serving as a lead pastor, I realized that what I had in mind about what ‘church’ looks like and where it’s located is far different from the people who made up the audience. My first professional position as lead Pastor was at Mariner’s Church in Newport Beach in 1979. My first Sunday was April 1st. That date could have been a clue to what I was about to encounter.
Realizing that I had an opportunity to move people in a different direction than they had ever experienced before, I was so enthused to go for it! SO, I entitled my first series as a teaching Pastor: HAVE WE BEEN FOOLED? I took on the most “Christian” concepts of all, doing my best to articulate how most of us have been taught, yet Jesus had a better idea! I’m sure it was a shocker to many, yet it was well received.
One of the “Christian” concepts I took on was “church”. Have we been fooled about what the church is? My point was to redefine ‘church’ to mean a gathering of men and women who are committed to following in the steps of Jesus…together! I encouraged them that the most authentic experience of church occurs, not on Sunday morning, but within a small group. The problem we faced was that the Sunday morning experience grew very fast, yet the small groups didn’t.
When we launched South Coast Community Church in the fall of 1980, it actually emerged out of 20 small community groups of Jesus followers, who were learning to follow Jesus together. This experience clearly solidified my thinking about the church.
The real church meets throughout the week…in coffee shops, homes, on the beach, in bars and restaurants. That’s where the dynamic of the church of Jesus is. In my thinking, the Sunday experience is better viewed as a big celebration of what’s going on in the Jesus movement in the community. This means that the Sunday show is not what grows authentic church, where people are equipped and leaders are developed. No, it happens in the context of real life during the week!
Almost every Sunday we gathered, I had the entire congregation stand and look around. I often said: “This isn’t church, where you check off your attendance; this is a celebration of life, celebrating what we experienced this week while being the church.”
Jesus urged no one to go to Church. His message was for his followers to be and do church all week long.