One of my good college friends recently posted on Facebook a status, asking whether church, the Church, or a church is "a means or an end." There are many congregations across our great land (and probably in other countries, as well) who may say they believe that church, the Church, or their church is vitally important. Some may even go so far as to practice (even if they don't say) religion in such a way that it goes beyond being dominant in the lives of the congragation to the point of exclusivity and societal irrelevance.
Let me first really quickly define what I mean by "church, the Church, or a/their church." When I say "church," I mean the substance of performing church activities in a group setting--corporate worship, instruction, fellowship, communion/eucharist celebrations, and the like. The Church (capital C) references the global, interdenominational group of believers who follow Jesus as their Savior, Source, Guide, and Redeemer (et al), regardless of affiliation, incorporating all Christ-followers of every color, creed, culture, and continent. "A church" or "their church" references an individual, local body of believers who gather together (usually to do church as part of the Church).
There are some individuals we know who have so immersed themselves in their church that they have no time for other non-affiliated friends (who may or may not be Christ-followers themselves), regardless of the occasion or event. There are also, unfortunately, some congregations who go BEYOND accepting this absurdity to actually ENCOURAGING it. Any "a church" who schedules activites on an almost nightly basis (or even more often!) has forgotten the purpose of the Church and church. There are congregations in and near my own city who, for various reasons (size, intentions, etc), monopolize their attendees' time not spent at the job site or in school--and frequently find a way to insert themselves even into educational time--so as to effectively isolate these congregants from society as a whole. And this is the tragedy: society desperately needs the Church and ALL of its sane members to stand up, make a difference, and LIVE the Gospel--the Good News of hope, real freedom, redemption, value, etc.
My Bible tells me that the Church's responsiblity--beyond giving honor and bringing glory to God--is to prepare the believer for ministry. Not full-time church attendance. Not every-Christian-is-a-doctoral-theologian-and-needs-to-preach. Ministry, meaning meeting the needs of the world. On a spiritual level (demonstrating a relationship with Jesus that changes a person from the inside), on a social level (fighting injustice, poverty, disease, illiteracy, etc.), on an ethical level (providing a moral standard of living that is above reproach, but not "bubble-ishous"), and on an intellectual level (honestly searching for real answers to tough questions, whether they be scientific, metaphysical, or geopolitical in nature).
Please understand. I am NOT saying that the Church or a church needs to water down its message or compromise its core beliefs to be relevant. The problem is that church (doing religion) has become too skewed away from reaching out to make a difference. It has become more of an aquarium-style safe haven for a country-club membership of people with like interests, who happen to also believe in a God.
The saddest thing about this post is that some of the people who read it will probably not understand why I am so frustrated, offended, and angered by this travesty. Others will likely not see their own descriptions in these few paragraphs. We as Christ-followers need to stop playing at religion and start doing what we are here for--reaching, teaching, and helping others. (I'll probably blog about this some other time, but we should, as Christ-followers, frequently help others simply to be of service, not as a chance simply to preach to them or an attempt to "save their souls." How many people of the 5,000 that Jesus fed on the hillside later call for his crucifixion? Did it matter to Jesus, even though he probably knew they would be faithless? We'll chew on that for a while, later.) In the meantime, have you any thoughts on this quandry?