"Speed up browsing by disabling add-ons." I keep getting this message when I use Internet Explorer. I just checked Firefox and counted 13 plugins and extensions. I should sort through which ones I need to keep and discard the rest. If you have too many add-ons life slows down. We all know people who fill up every spare minute of their lives with activities and clubs. Its worth taking a moment now and then to sort out our priorities, and disable some add-ons.
From the studies I've done on what church meant in the New Testament here, here and here I believe church is people of God and when they get together. However when I look at church today I see a lot of extra things that have been added over the years. Extra additions are not necessarily bad. Sometimes people get so used to these extra things that they can't imagine church without them. Sometimes these extra things get most of the focus, a lot of resources and time.
I think it is worth recognizing that the way church is now is not the way it has always been, and it is not the way it has to be.
This is a simple summary list of some extras the church has added over the years. I won't attempt to do in-depth research here on any of it. If you have any questions feel free to comment.
Video/Multimedia presentations - a recent addition by our generation
Sound technicians - another fairly recent addition
Worship Band - styles of music have changed throughout the years. There was a time when the only musical instruments were voices.
Youth Groups - YMCA and YWCA were some of the first ministries aimed at young adults and teens. These were founded in the 1850s. Now youth groups are seen as an important part of most church communities.
Sunday School - Started in the 1780s, originally started to teach poor children to read. Now it is hard to imagine a church community without a Sunday School program for children.
VBS - I was surprised at this one. VBS ministries have actually been going for over 100 years. But still in the scope of church history a relatively recent addition.
Bible College - it seems Christian education in the early days was more of an apprenticeship model. Studying Scriptures would have been important to the early church, but there is no mention of Bible Colleges in the New Testament. Christian leaders haven't always had certificates, diplomas, and degrees in Christian education.
Church Libraries - early church gatherings would have been lucky if they had copies of some of the New testament writings. It took a few hundred years to put them together into a collection we call the Bible. Today most church communities have libraries with hundreds of books and audio and video resources.
Pews/Chairs - people sitting in rows of pews were not common until the Reformation 500 years ago, around the same time when the sermons became more of a focus.
Ushers - just a guess here, but I suspect ushers were not needed before the pews.
Sermons as the main part of the gathering - I guess it depends what you call a sermon. There were lengthy speeches or sermons in the NT. And believers obviously spoke and taught each other whenever they got together. However it seems there was usually audience participation during these speeches. When did a 30 minute monolog become the main part of the gatherings?
Church Buildings - the early church met in homes, and in public spaces. Some of these private homes were converted to accommodate growing gatherings. However there were over 3000 believers in the church in Jerusalem with no records of an early mega-church building project.
Staff - some research suggest it wasn't until 300 years after Christ that some introduced the practice of tithing to support a paid clergy. This practice did not become widespread until about 700 AD. It is now common to have multiple staff on a payroll.
Church annual meetings - they make sense if you have buildings, staff, programs and a leadership structure that wants input from a membership. It is unlikely the NT church held annual meeting to vote on a budgets and discuss programs if they didn't have staff, programs and special buildings.
Board meetings - with all the above extras added to the church, it seems there is a need for a group of leaders to make decisions about these things.
Most Christian (in the West at least) value these extras. Many of these extras can help build relationships that build up believers to become more like Christ. It's not all bad.
Take a moment though and try to imagine church without the add-ons.
What would the church be left with? You may find it hard to imagine what the church was like before these things were added. I can imagine a group of believers with a simple focus of loving God and loving others.
I find myself fellowshipping with others who value more plugins and add-ons than I do. But when I can, I am now saying no-thanks to some of the add-ons. I see value in focusing on the church, the people, without the extras. That is the church I am committed to.