Trail Blazer Ministries
Base Camp for Life: A Spiritual Journey...

Church vs. Community

A question that arises a lot in relation to Trailblazer Ministries is: "are you a church?" It's an interesting question, because it touches on an issue that is central to all of us as Christians - what does it mean to be a community in Christ? When cast in this light, my answer to the question is... yes and no.

Let me explain. The word "church" has a lot of different connotations, depending on the context in which it is used. I attend a Baptist church. Jesse attends a Presbyterian church. But we are also a members of the Church (capital "C") that includes all believers in all places and at all times. In that sense, Jesse and I both belong to the same "Church," even though we attend different "churches" (with small "c") on Sunday.

But the question runs even deeper than that. In the practical sense, what does it mean to say that Trailblazer is or is not a "church?" I really like what Chris has shared on this topic. More and more, we see today's Christianity taking a programmatic approach to "doing church." I think the term that Chris used was "event mentality." That is, "church" is what you do on Sunday morning. You get together in a building, sing a few songs, and listen to a sermon. For many people, church is an event that takes place once (or maybe twice) a week, and it involves certain preconceived notions of what we expect a "church" to be.

But is this the Biblical picture of what it means to be the "church?" I don't believe it is. The Greek word that is translated as "church" in our Bibles is "ekklesia," and it literally refers to a "gathering" or "assembly." An "ekklesia" occurred whenever Christians gathered together to study Biblical teaching, pray, partake of the Lord's Supper, and have community-based fellowship with one another (Acts 2:42). In other words, "ekklesia" is not a programmatic concept. It refers to both the general and particular communities in which God's people gather, and may manifest itself in a variety of ways.

So what exactly is Trailblazer? Are we a church?

Again, the answer is both "yes" and "no."

In the programmatic sense, the answer is "no." We are not a denominational body, we do not meet on Sunday morning, and we are not competing with any existing congregations in the Gallatin Valley. Our intent is to supplement the experience of Christians from a variety of backgrounds by providing a venue for genuine fellowship and mutual dialogue. We don't say "leave your Baptist church." Instead, we say: "We want you to become an even better Baptist by deepening your experience as a disciple of Jesus." We actively encourage our members to participate in a local congregation of their choosing and we work in cooperation with many of the local ministries throughout Gallatin Valley.

On the other hand, the answer to the question "are we a church" is an emphatic yes. We may not fit the programmatic paradigm of what a "church" is in today's society, but we are a community of Christian disciples seeking to deepen our experience of Christ. And maybe that's the whole "point" of this adventure - breaking outside of the mold of the traditional, "event" oriented paradigm of church to become an authentic and thriving community of disciples. We are united by a shared belief that it's time to stop "going to church" and time to start "being the church." Our community does not exist only from 7:00-9:00 on Thursday morning. Nor will it exist exclusively within the confines of our worship services. Rather, our community exists throughout Bozeman at all hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

As a Christian pastor and seminary student, it took me years to get beyond the inherited paradigm of "church" that I received from previous generations of Christian experience. When I finally realized that the "church" was a community of disciples, rather than a place or an event, a revolution occurred in my thinking. I realized that I didn't necessarily need to be involved with a formal congregation in order to be fully involved with Christ's community. I realized that "starting a church" didn't need to be a legal affair; I could just grab some buddies, a cup of coffee, and a Bible, and I was all set. Church isn't something that happens, church is something we are as a group of disciples dedicated to the message of Christ.

The description that I have chosen for Trailblazer is "a community in Christ." That is what we are, and that is what I hope we will continue to be as we grow and expand our ministry in Bozeman. Let's strive to be a community of disciples here in the Gallatin Valley, living the message of Christ every day of the year. And let's live it for real. Together. One day at a time.

In His Peace,
Pastor Michael

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