I love the local church and being a part of it. Partly because it's a very unpredictable thing and as such it has to remain flexible so as to accommodate all who enter. Another part of why I love the local church so much is that no organisation, NGO or other body can respond to local needs with the speed and accuracy of it.
Let me explain some of this before I press on.
I love the local church but am not a great fan of big lumbering church like institutions which slow down the local church with the burdens of tradition, rules or regulations. When preparing for our Crosslinks interview weekend many moons ago I was pondering the question: 'Do you have a problem with the Anglican church?' which was being asked in the application form. I came to realise that at a local level I really have no problem at all with it. However, at a global level I have serious issues with such a behemoth in any guise!
I also believe the local church can respond quicker and more accurately to local needs than other bodies, NGO's etc simply because the local church is just that, it's local. I remember clearly participating in World Food Programme meetings in Harare and being attacked by most of the big NGO's because in their limited view we were simply using our feeding programme to prosletyse. Regardless of whether we were or not (we actually weren't and in fact we were feeding people regardless of political allegiance which can't be said of some of the big NGO's) we were actually feeding thousands of people, unlike most of the big NGO's who were still undertaking 'assessments' and 'procuring' supplies. It was always the same at each meeting so we gave up attending and concentrated on being the local church locally.
So, back to why I love the local church... Sunday's are the most visible part of the local church with a myriad of local church meetings happening all around the globe, but I'd wager that each of these meetings has something in common (other than Jesus). I reckon each of these meetings is open to anybody and everybody which means we can't control who is or isn't allowed in. This makes for potentially exciting church depending on who might walk in unexpectedly. This is where the flexibility of the local church comes to the fore. Clubs & societies generally have membership criteria and whilst welcoming of new members most would probably not adapt well to strangers or undesirables wandering in off the street. The local church on the other hand should be longing for this to happen.
On Sunday just gone we had the amazing experience of a prostitute coming into our midst. What an amazing privilege for the local church to be able to reach out and love someone who probably knows little if anything of true love. It was fantastic to watch various church members go out of their way to help this lady with none of them being patronising or judgmental of her. What an even greater joy it was to see her being prayed with at the end of the meeting and to see her being hugged in a way she probably hasn't been for a long time. But the real joy is knowing that today, church members are looking out for her and caring for her in the midst unpleasant circumstances.
It was also great to see one of our members back on Sunday after suffering from a very serious stroke at the age of 41! Again it was a joy to see him being prayed with and for me it was an even greater joy to visit him this morning to look at practical ways in which we as a local church can help him and his family in this difficult time.
This is truly the local church in action. Never mind the public meetings on Sundays, it's what goes on from Monday to Saturday that really defines what the local church is. Want to know how effective a local church is? Find out what it's involved with during the week. Forget the Sunday morning bit, that's really easy, scratch below the surface and invariably you'll find a wealth of stuff going on quietly and without fanfare. Whilst those who used to attack us at the World Food Programme meetings are busy swapping their business cards and filling up their swanky 4X4's the local church is getting down and dirty loving local people for the sake for the gospel.
Maybe the charge that we're only using our various programmes to prosletyse is true, but hey, at least we've got our sleeves rolled up and are getting our hands dirty.