I never went to a Sunday church service as a youngster. My mother had a typically rigid religious upbringing. Her parents embraced the heart behind it but were constrained consciously or unconsciously when it came to the free expression of their hearts. Typical of their day, faith seemed more a contract. Good behavior was reciprocated with love and forgiveness.
I did go to Sunday School. My remembrance was that I learned the basic story of the Bible in those days. Even more than the storyline, I remember the story tellers. Three of the most significant are no longer churched. Two are most certainly walking in relationship to God but otherwise institutionally estranged. The lasting impact of these men was not informational but relational.
As a relatively young Christian I went to bible college. Here I was to gather more information to equip me as a pastor. I was always good at exams. I knew innately what to take note of and was able to retain it long enough to regurgitate it. But it wasn’t about learning … it was about passing exams. Consequently, bible college prepared me for nothing … my fault, not theirs.
There were however a number of enduring relationships that prepared me for ministry and continue to influence me to this day, my father-in-law being perhaps the most influential.
My confession and personal experience is that it is all about relationships. The thing that we sometimes take for granted and care for least is most formative in our spiritual journey.
It has never been sermons or lectures that God has used most in my life. When it comes to the deep, ongoing renovation of my heart, it has been my relationship with God and His people.
You see we live in the Information Age. You can go to school online. You can go to church online. Most of us carry more books on our smartphones than we have in our libraries. You can be a sermon junky and listen to more of the planet’s best orators in a day than you would in a month of Sunday’s. (Hyperbole). Sitting and listening in a church gathering on Sunday is not necessarily better or worse than sitting and listening from the comfort of your home any day. So if the gospel is information it doesn’t matter where or how you receive it.
If it is relationship, then you need people. The place doesn’t matter. The time doesn’t matter. People matter. Relationships provide context for the gospel to take root and become fruitful in our lives.