I had a mind-shifting experience a couple of years ago that really introduced the possibility to me of church being able to exist outside of 'church'.
We were about fourteen students on a mission trip from our 'church' to a large farm, where we would spend a week to walk some of the farm workers through the church's discipleship book during the day and organise gatherings in the evenings.
It was a deeply fulfilling time as each of us got to build a meaningful relationship with one or two workers from the daily 1on1 discussions we had with them during their lunch breaks regarding life with Jesus. We engaged with some who believed already and introduced some others to Jesus for the first time. During the evening gatherings we had singing and dramas (e.g. the prodigal son) and praying, during which time we saw unforgettable miracles of healing and encouragement all-round. There was an atmosphere of love and excitement, and a deep hunger for God.
On the last evening we invited the attendants to share what they experienced during the week, and I remember two young men standing up and saying that us coming there was wonderful, but that they wanted to continue to gather in our absence since they saw that there were many in their community who believed but they never knew of each other (there was no organised 'church' for them at the time). Others firmly agreed, so they mingled among one-another and started praying together in the mornings before work.
Here is the incredible part to me: 3 months after our visit a couple of students went back to see what had become of our friends on the farm. Senior leaders from our 'church' were concerned with nobody 'following up' on these believers and no pastor being assigned to take care of the community that formed. We were told that without these structures of leadership and oversight it wasn't a church that was planted and merely a group of believers gathering. Therefore it was expected that the excitement would have dwindled and that nothing of substance that was accurate to the truth would have remained. How wrong those assumptions were!!
Our scouts reported that the engagement among one another and working of Holy Spirit in their community had grown beyond what we could imagine. Friendships thrived and lives were changed. Some of the more senior believers facilitated regular gatherings in their homes for those who wanted to learn more. The owner of the farm, after noticing their dedication, even built them a small strucure to shield them from the elements during their continued morning prayer gatherings before work. Something or Someone truly beautiful was at work among them, because no human could be accredited with this report.
I was bedazzled. This didn't make sense in my frame of reference growing up in organised religious settings. There was NO institution/central system, and yet they shared what we dreamed of sharing in all our efforts back home.
So, me pondering the implications of this profound experience was the beginning of the end of my time serving from within a formal institution that people called 'church'. It's not so easy when there are no strucures to tell you what you should be doing, but the taste of life that I experienced on that farm and the jaw-dropping fruit coming from it ruined me for anything less. I've seen God's Spirit produce in people what their hearts truly longed for, once other people stepped out of the way.
I'm looking forward to engaging with others on this journey, appreciate the space you've created Wayne.
Ruan from Johannesburg, South Africa