Church Refrigerators

Rick Klippenstein
If we connected at all with a church when we were young, we probably learned this finger rhyme: “Here is the church and here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.” That’s a catchy little lesson but it can also legitimately be filed with other false teachings. I’ll explain that in a little bit.
My wife and I have lived in Caronport since 1995. It was the year of my midlife crisis. No, I did not buy a Harley or a Mustang, and I did not get a new wife, but I did end up resigning from my job with Ducks Unlimited, a wildlife habitat preservation organization. I had sensed God’s calling in February of 1995 when I had taken some young people to Youth Quake, an energy-filled weekend where students were encouraged to become disciples of Christ and to live the new life that he promises. God used that youth retreat to redirect my path and my family’s path into a season of seminary studies. My seminary studies lead into a pastoral role serving the church in Caronport, first as youth pastor and more recently in a community engagement role.
As I read God’s word and became more alert to the church culture that we live in, I started to question the basic idea of “church” and the way we use that word … and the wrestling match was on.
The phrase “go to church” may be the most common way we use the word “church.” What does the phrase “go to church” mean? It serves as code for gathering together as believers for a service of worship. But when we talk about going to church, we find the word “church” could easily be substituted by any word that describes any optional destination. Are you “going to” McDonald’s on Sunday? Which movie theatre should we “go to”? “Welcome to Walmart!” “Welcome to church!” Whether the destination promises a great meal, a heart-breaking movie or a low price on toilet paper, we don’t anticipate or expect that our decision to go will have any significant impact on how we live during the rest of the week. As I discuss this issue with others, I can see how many people, including myself, have been conditioned, possibly subconsciously, to understand “church” as a destination, a building, and the things that happen in that building.
When we step back and observe the church culture that we are a part of, what do we see?, and how does what we see line up with scripture’s teaching on the church? The word “church” is a translation of the Greek word “ekklesia”, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” Romans 16:5 says, “Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home.” Paul understands that the church is the people, not a building. We read in Ephesians 1:22-23, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, which is his body, not his building.
Many people today, even those who are not a part of the church, think of a building when they hear the word church. I have discussed this with many church-goers. It is not hard to get them to agree that the church is the people and not the building. I sometimes give them 15 seconds to draw an image that represents the church they are a part of. The short time limit stimulates a sense of urgency with little time for reflection. What appears on the artist’s canvas comes from their default understanding of church. Even if they have agreed that the church is the people, when given the artwork project the majority will draw something that looks like a building, often with a cross on the peak of the roof.
I have also discovered a diagnostic question that helps people discern their default understanding of the word “church”. It gives a glimpse of how they have been conditioned to understand the word “church” consciously or subconsciously. I ask, “How many refrigerators would you say the church that you are a part of has”. Again, even after agreeing that the church is the people, they come up with an answer of 1 or 2 refrigerators. When pressed to explain how all the people who are part of the church can share 1 or 2 refrigerators, they are hard pressed to know how to respond. Their minds went automatically to the building where the church meets. Some are excited about the opportunity to brag about the new walk-in refrigerator their church has installed, or the number of refrigerators in their church building that are used for the soup kitchen they operate. Is it helpful to think of the refrigerators we have in our homes as church assets? What about all the other stuff we have? How does it fit with our understanding of church? What about our time and our weekly schedule? Will they look different if we live as the church in our community, not just Sunday morning but 7 days a week?
As I continue to wrestle with “church” my mantra has become “Don’t go to church, be the church”. I believe the health of our local churches and the church universal will improve if we can be intentional about living as a body of believers. If we can re-boot our basic understanding of “church” so it comes in line with Scripture, we will see more clearly God’s purpose for his church, the body of believers. We will find that being the church is not just an optional Sunday morning destination for a 90-minute worship experience, but it is a refreshing way to live each day of our lives. As we learn to live as the church, we will discover the blessings of loving each other, the blessing of loving our neighbors and the blessings that come as the Holy Spirit leads us to the good works God has prepared for each of us. Being the church in community will make it harder to shop for a church that we like as we seek to become the church that our Heavenly Father likes, to glorify the One whom we worship when we “go to church”, whenever we gather as the called-out ones to praise our heavenly Father.
If you identify with the catchy, easy to memorize rhyme, ”Here is the church and here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the “people”, you are not alone. I would encourage you to substitute that rhyme with this, “Here is the building and if you search, open the doors and you’ll find the church – (unless the church has left the building). You may discover that being the church is what God had in mind all along!
Ps: I ordered a magnetic “Don’t Go to Church, Be the Church” sign and displayed it on my vehicle. It was a great conversation starter. I gave it to a friend who does a lot more travelling than I do. After a few months he called and chuckled as he let me know that the sign had been stolen. We are hoping that it found a fruitful home.

Rick Klippenstein graduated from Briercrest College & Seminary in 1999 and serves with the Church in Caronport. He and his wife Barb enjoy being grandparents. Rick loves the outdoors, whether fishing with family, fishing with friends, or just fishing.