The Redemptive Road Trip: Church Is Not a Gas Station

As mentioned previously, I have been reading David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

In the first part of the book, VanDrunen explains the story of the two kingdoms, starting with the first Adam, and ending with the last. In the second part, he explains how we as humans are to participate in both kingdoms, relying heavily on the term “sojourner” to characterize our role on this earth.

In the third and final part, VanDrunen discusses what he believes to be the overarching purpose for earthbound Christians: the church. If we are only sojourners on this earth, how are we to treat the church in the larger earthly context? (Or is the church the larger earthly context?) It is is this point that I want to explore for a bit.

VanDrunen begins by summarizing two popular analogies for going to church that I’m sure you’ve all heard:

One popular analogy is that going to church is like stopping at a gas station. Church is a place where we stop to fill up our tanks after a tiring and stressful week and thus get recharged for the week ahead. Another analogy compares going to church to a huddle in a football game. Church is the gathering of all the team’s players so that they can regroup, encourage each other, and prepare for separating again and facing the opponent through the coming week.

VanDrunen quickly moves on to explain why he thinks such analogies are “radically insufficient and misleading.” Here are the two primary deficiencies as VanDrunen sees them:

Deficiency #1: Church is not a human-centered event.

Perhaps most obviously, these analogies portray going to church as a human-centered event. Going to church is not primarily about me or even about us, but about God. I go to church not first of all to benefit myself (though that is a very important secondary effect) but to worship the Lord.

Deficiency #2: Church is not a pit stop. Church is the journey.

A second deficiency in these analogies is that they place the real action of the Christian life somewhere other than in the gathering of God’s people for worship. Athletes do not play football in order to huddle and fans do not attend games in order to watch the huddles — what athletes and fans really care about are the plays executed when the ball is snapped. People do not go on road trips in order to stop for gas—drivers and passengers set out to enjoy the scenery and to arrive at a destination.

Given VanDrunen’s overarching thesis, such positioning makes perfect sense. For VanDrunen, we are exiles until Jesus’ return, and while we are here, our activities and priorities should resemble those of the Israelites’ while they were in exile (think Daniel). Although we are meant to engage in cultural activities like family, philanthropy, commerce, and art, all of these institutions will eventually pass away. The ultimate mission, therefore, is the church.

As VanDrunen summarizes:

Huddles and gas stations are means to an end. The life and ministry of the church are not means to an end. They do not exist to recharge our batteries or to give us a strategy for facing the week ahead. The church’s worship and fellowship are ends in themselves. Nothing that we do in this world is more important than participating in these activities. Participation in the life of the church, not participating in the cultural activities of the broader world, is central for the Christian life.

Living in God's Two Kingdoms, David VanDrunenVanDrunen certainly doesn’t think we should become claustrophobic Christians (read the book if you’re looking for nuance), but where is the balance? How do we center our lives around the church while also remaining productive and culturally active in the world at large? (Note: I didn’t say “relevant.”)

How do we live a life of specific, intentional worship when the Lord’s Day consists of a one-hour church service followed by a football game?

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the infrastructure for corporate community is stronger than ever. How do we begin to tap it more effectively?

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  • pjmerc

    Just a question. If we are to carry out the mission of bringing the Gospel to unbelievers, aren't we, as active “tentacles” of the Church actually the Church to the unsaved? We are still the Church representing Christ when we interact with those we come in contact with. I see no difference between serving at the church building and serving in the marketplace.
    Corporate worship does recharge our batteries, but only because we are blessed as a community by honoring God.

  • Joseph Sunde

    Church is not (just) a gas station. Church is the road trip.

  • Remnant Culture

    Is church primary? Is culture secondary?

  • Revivalhut

    Not only is church not an event nor is it a journey… It is a called out people. Without this awareness we cannot talk about Kingdom Economics at all. We are His people. God hears our cry (Ex 3:6-10) and sees our affliction, but will respond to our need because of faith. Fancy though our words might be, creative as our books might feel, we are still a people who must humble ourselves turn from our wicked ways and begin to seek His counsel. Jesus came to be the “Desire of the Nations” (Hag 2:7) and He sends us to be the Ambassadors of the Kingdom (Mt 28:18-20)(2 Cor 5:20). Yet our eyes, our voice and our activity must have its focus on the Spiritual Realm not on the natural (Eph 3:10). Lets begin to speak to some principalities and powers, in heavenly places… pray, fast and believe God.