We didn’t go to Church - We were “Church”
One of the biggest distinctions of the Jesus Movement Days was that we didn’t “go to Church!” We were the church. There were no buildings, clergy/laity, programs and such. There was a group of people with different giftings, not positions or offices. Among us there were people who were gifted teachers, pastors, evangelists, teachers, exhorters and servers. Everyone participated. Everyone shared a song, a testimony, a teaching, a revelation. There was no one-man show. People participated according to their experience and their giftings.
We were connected to groups all over the country and the pattern was pretty much the same whether in Eureka, Sacramento, the Bay Area or the beaches of SoCal. We were young and lived in the same area. When we were single, we had some brothers and sisters’ houses or just apartments, living near one another. We would meet in homes or public places (beaches, parks or even malls). Some would bring guitar. We would sing and worship the Lord together and others would mingle with the crowd sharing the Lord with people milling around watching. Sometimes we were more organized and would go to a place like Grant Park in San Francisco. There would be a PA system and we would sing and share. In the mid ‘60s the crowds were more receptive than later in the ‘70s. Hundreds were led to the Lord along the beaches.
We met wherever we could. Sometimes in homes or rented space in a school, store front, etc. The place didn’t matter. The feeling was all about being a part of the family of God, of one another. It was spontaneous and real. Mature saints often functioned as elders without holding the official office. Those who could teach, taught. But everyone participated in the meetings and shared what the Lord was doing in their lives. In neighborhoods we brought the kids to the Lord, then their parents and soon had the neighborhood full of saints loving the Lord and one another.
But if you ever took a class in sociology, you probably studied the Salvation Army and how it went from a spontaneous movement and turned into a well-run organization. We didn’t have a chance over the long term. Many in the Jesus Movement of that era became the mega churches of today. The Calvary Chapels, Vineyards, Gospel Outreach sprung out of the Jesus movement. Self-appointed leaders raised up churches. Some started their own Bible Schools and Seminaries and within a few years, they began to look more and more like traditional churches, maybe more contemporary in music and style but pretty soon the building became the center of activity, the place where they met once or twice a week. The leaders who at one time led spontaneously, became the pastors, worship leaders, deacons and elders, etc. The “church” took on the structure of churches around them. Rather than participants, the saints became pew sitting observers of the “worship team” and various pastors, working in their professional roles.
The practice of the Jesus Movement where everyone learned by doing was lost and the meetings and “church life” lost its spontaneity and programs and professionals took over. Just a side note here. I understand why the Bible says God hates the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:15) – those who “subdue the laity.” God does not want an organization but a functioning body. The church organization today guarantees a stunted and ineffective body. This is what the Jesus Movement was reacting against – dead, artificial, meetings run by professional clergy while the laity vegetates.
The Jesus Movement died when the spontaneity and opportunity for all to participate was removed and the “church” fell into the hand of the professionals.