"Esse quam videri"... To be rather than to seem. To actually live out what you profess rather than just trying to act the part. That is the state motto of North Carolina. Being from North Carolina has always been a source of pride for me. You can see the motto on the state seal. I was shaped by the people and culture of that state and felt like I was given a foundation for adulthood and life. The state motto summarizes a great philosophy of life. It may not be as catchy as some other state mottos, like "I Lead", "Manly deeds, womanly words", "We dare defend our rights", "The people rule" or "Ever upward", but it encapsulates an idea sorely lacking today.
When I look at the church, our challenge is to BE the church rather than DO church. Today, it's not easy being the church. So many who claim to be followers of Christ spend lots of time broadcasting the faults of the church. Their time is often spent critiquing the church rather than being the church. They don't participate in the church and have a multitude of reasons why they are not being the church. They can tell you things that happened years ago and sound so very intellectual in why the church is no longer a place for them. It seems the church just doesn't measure up to their high standard that their Jesus has set. Yet these same people have never planted a church that would show us what this standard looks like. Many in our culture also like to evaluate a church by her ability to entertain. If the church doesn't thrill their senses, then they move on until they find one that can give them what they are looking for. Others have been going to the same church for years and years and are opposed to the church ever changing. When you walk into the church, you feel as if you are in a different world, and not an inviting one. So it's not easy being the church because the church is constantly critiqued by those who aren't saved and those who claim to be saved.
The problem boils down to this: We are trying to DO church rather than BE the church. When we do church, program and activities become the driving power. When we are the church, ministering to others is more important than the size and scope of a ministry. When we do church, we become stagnant and structured. When we are the church, we are flexible and are led to do the unexpected. When we do church, the sermon and the worship service is most important. So the sermons, pastor, music and flow of the service become focal points. When we are the church, the Holy Spirit leading us to support, encourage, pray for and minister to each other is more important. When we do church,, survival of the church becomes paramount. When we are the church, reaching the lost world becomes paramount. When we do church, our own priorities become more important. When we are the church, the priorities of Jesus overwhelm our own needs and desires. The church need to be rather than to seem.
A great example of that was this past Sunday at the El Sobrante Stroll. With 10,000 people at an event half a mile from our church, we had the opportunity to be the church rather than do church. Many of you did the unthinkable - You skipped church so you could minister at our booth. Hillcrest did an unchurch thing by having a booth open while our worship service was taking place. Many of you wore your Hillcrest T-shirts to church because you were going to minister at the Stroll once church was over. You donated your time and candy to connect with our community. Being the church means we go out into the community with the love of Christ. We don't go because we will have tangible results. We go because we are called to be the church. Jesus told us in Matthew 28 that being the church meant going out into the world to make disciples. Rather than expecting the world to come to us, we engaged the world on their terms. How exciting was it to have our booth set up just a few booths away from Satan's Sons and Hells Angels? Rather than being afraid of the culture, we embraced the opportunity to be light in darkness. The smiles on the faces of the people who played our games, received New Testaments or tracts was a reminder that being the church is more important than doing church.
So this week, as you are out in your world - Be the church. Live Jesus and preach Jesus. Take a moment to listen to those around you, to encourage them and give them hope. Invite them to church. Invite them to Jesus. Go out and actually be the church. Be rather than seem!