How did Jesus feel about stained glass?

Published 12:21 pm Saturday, May 31, 2014

by Brandon Robbins

What do you think of when you think of a church?

Do you imagine an organ? Stained glass? A tall steeple? Golden crosses? Wooden pews? Large candlesticks? Lots and lots of burgundy?

Sometimes when I think of a church, I think of its different sections and features. When I was a kid, our youth group used to play this game where we would have to name the different parts of the church. We’d have a piece of paper with a list of different terms on it, and we’d have to match each term with numbers taped to different areas and objects in the building. For instance, we’d have to locate areas like the narthex, the nave and the chancel. We’d have to identify objects such as paraments, baptismal fonts and lecterns.

As a kid it was a fun game to play. We felt cool because at least for a week, we knew more about the church than most of the adults sitting in the pews. But eventually, all of these ecclesiological terms faded into a blur that we would struggle to sift through the next time we played the game. Even today, I will walk into churches and be forced to guess which wooden structure is the lectern and which is the pulpit (which can be somewhat embarrassing when you start to preach from the wrong one, and you can see the entire congregation jerking their heads, motioning you to move to the correct one).

Fortunately though, the more I read the Bible, the more I realize that these terms are not the sum of the church. In fact, the more I read the Bible, the more I realize that this isn’t at all what the Bible means by the word “church.” It isn’t what Jesus meant when he told one of his followers named Peter, “On this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). It isn’t what Paul was imagining as he went around the Roman Empire starting churches.

In the early days of the church, there were no buildings like those we imagine when we think of churches today. The churches formed in those early days didn’t have steeples or sound systems. They didn’t have pianos or pews. They didn’t have pulpits, paraments or purple choir robes.

Indeed, the church the Bible describes wasn’t even a building. It was a people.

Put simply, the church was defined as the sum of those who chose to follow Jesus, to be his disciples and recognize him as their Savior. It didn’t matter where they met or how they decorated. What mattered was their common faith. What mattered was that after Jesus was gone, they remained as his hands and feet, continuing the ministry he began to bring the kingdom of God into the world.

This was the church — and still is. According to the song we sang at Vacation Bible School as children: “The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple. The church is not a resting place. The church is the people. I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world — yes, we’re the church together!”

In other words, in Jesus’ mind, we don’t “go” to church; we “are” the church. Church doesn’t require bricks and stained glass and golden offering plates. It requires a group of people who love Jesus to come together and commit to follow his teachings, to make him their Lord, and to continue the ministry he began. This can take place in homes, at coffee shops or in soup kitchens. It can be a small group of three to four people, or a massive crowd of thousands. Either way, the church isn’t the structure or the institution, it’s the believers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against church buildings or denominations.

I believe that they are amazing tools. They provide us with structure and resources. They can have an incredible impact on how we worship God and grow in our faith. But in the end, that is the limit of their purpose. They are the tools that support the church, not the church itself. We are the church.

That’s why this Sunday at Courtland United Methodist Church, we’re beginning a new sermon series called “Looking for a Great Church.”  It’s all about what makes a church truly great. It helps us to realize what it means for us to “be” the church, and how we can demonstrate that, how we can broaden our understanding of church to allow ourselves to truly be the world-changing movement Jesus created us to be.

Too often, the church can become an object for us — a place we go out of obligation or as a means of escape.

But what Jesus truly desired was for us to take the church into the world. He wanted us to be the church, to bear the message of his love and salvation through our very lives. His hope was that when people would look at us, they would see him.

And that when we came together, we wouldn’t try to separate ourselves from the world, but be a blessing to it, experiencing what amazing things can happen when we join together in his name.

Brandon Robbins is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or