On my most recent visit to Auburn, AL, home of my alma mater, Auburn University, I found myself here…
The place: Auburn University Student Activity Center
The day: Sunday morning
The time: 10:00 a.m.
And the place lived up to its name:
- Auburn University? ✔︎ (War Eagle, y’all)
- Student? ✔︎ (mostly, anyway)
- Activity? ✔︎
- Center? Mmm… (Actually, it’s kind of on the edge of campus, but let’s not get too bogged down.)
The “activity” that was happening that particular Sunday was probably not the reason the Student Act Center was built. While you would probably be more apt to take part in a pick-up basketball game there, the activity that morning was a church service.
Let that sink in: a CHURCH service held IN the Auburn University Student Activity Center ON the Auburn University campus. (Where else but sweet home Alabama could a church meet on a public university campus. God bless ‘Merica…) The Sunday before, the service was held in the Auburn Convention Center ballroom. The first service I attended several months earlier was held in the Auburn Livestock Arena. (No jokes—if you like burgers and ribs somebody’s got to teach animal husbandry.)
Regardless of the tabernacle du jour, the church meeting on and around Auburn University that I attended that morning is Auburn Community Church; ACC for short—a church without walls, as their tagline says. But let there be no doubt—it IS a church: a Spirit-led, God-honoring, Jesus-made-real, truth-preaching church.
And what a preacher—Miles Fidell, not yet 30, but with a depth of Biblical, theological, and practical wisdom shared freely and unapologetically; wisdom men of the cloth three times his age sometimes lack; wisdom appropriate for living la vida Jesus, whether you’re 21 or 81.
The first time a friend/church member sent me a link to one of Miles’ messages via the church’s podcast with a “you have GOT to listen to this” imperative, I admit it—I eye-rolled. Without even listening to a second of his message, I decided it was going to be some hip and trendy watered-down pablum he fed to the “kids” in his congregation—something all jargon-y and touchy-feely to placate them and make them feel good about their collective selves to keep them coming back. Knowing my friend would follow up to see what I thought, though, I figured I would just listen to a few minutes, make note of a couple points, and report back about how cool it was.
Not what happened.
I couldn’t stop listening. I kept tapping the repeat-the-last-15-seconds button on my podcast app so I could hear a particular point Miles made again. And again.
In the short term, that message wrecked me. In the long term, I haven’t missed a message since. (Quick note: I have an a-MAY-zing pastor at my home church who makes even the most unlearn-ed among us leave church every Sunday morning thinking we’re smart enough to actually understand those three alternate meanings of that Greek word John used. Plus, he also wrecks me. Then on Monday, I listen to Miles. It’s an embarrassment of preacherly riches. And wreckage.)
What’s amazing about ACC—actually, there’s a lot that’s amazing, but this particular thing could only happen in the 21st century in a college town—is if the service needs to change venue, it’s announced the Sunday before and on social media and texting ensues and everybody shows up the next week at the right place. (I can imagine my pastor telling our First Baptist congregation that we’re going to be meeting at a hotel ballroom next Sunday and in the gym the next Sunday and at the livestock arena the next Sunday. He might see exactly what that verse in Matthew 18 about “two or three” being gathered in Jesus’ name really means.)
Every Sunday the flock flocks: coeds, frat boys, pharmacy majors, engineers-to-be, singers, teachers, vet students, more than a few older folks (and growing)—all clutching a Bible, whether analog or digital, all tithing via Venmo, all singing with hands raised, all hungry to hear the Word presented with Miles’ unique delivery and incredibly clear presentation of the depth and goodness of a relationship with God.
And lest you get the wrong idea, this post isn’t about the “heresy” of a permanent church building. My home church grew so rapidly through the years that we finally bought an empty mall and turned it into a church complex that would amaze and astound you. So we definitely have a perma-building and God is definitely at work there. Nothing wrong with that.
(We gutted the Sam’s Club and built a 2,300 seat, state-of-the-art worship center; gutted the Montgomery Ward and created a meeting space that will accommodate 1,500-2,000 folks; turned all the stores into classrooms and children’s areas and teen hangouts and banquet halls; kept the two-screen cinema; built a coffee shop. It’s pure awesomeness…)
But that place (with enough parking to host Black Friday sales for the entire county, I might add) is just that—a place. A place that’s big enough to hold us all, with weekly messages presenting the majesty and glory of the great I AM along with the “oh, that has got to be wrong—it can’t be that easy” Gospel message of grace and mercy and eternality, but, again—just a place.
And while I don’t have an inside on ACC’s marketing plan, I suspect the phrase “church without walls” isn’t referring to physical walls as much as it is to more abstract ones:
- The “not one of us” walls we tend to erect—not to shut people out so much as to shut ourselves in.
- The imaginary walls we hide behind because we think we can’t go to church until we get our hearts right with God or stop sleeping around or buy some socks or a coat and tie.
- The walls we erect between our carefully-honed-comfort-zone-addicted selves and the tail-spinning, Katie-bar-the-door, dizzying fullness of a relationship with God.
Those kinds of walls.
I love that ACC doesn’t have those kinds of walls; it’s not that kind of church. Every church should be that kind of church…
…one where no one is shut out and no one is shut in.
…one where EVERYONE needs to get right with God in some area… and needs to stop (or start) doing something… and is welcome to be a part, socks or not.
…one where members are encouraged to pull the lap bar down, keep their hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times, dive headlong and with abandon into God’s arms, and hold on for dear life.
“Church without walls”—that’s what church should be, a place where…
…in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:5 NIV
A place where…
…we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another… Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV
A place where we…
…teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16 NIV
And if we can tear down those walls, then maybe—just maybe—like the very first Church, it could be said of our churches…
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:47 NIV
For in the end, y’all, that’s what we’re all about…
For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Acts 13:47
(and just to make sure we get it…)
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
That name? Jesus. And because we are His followers, we are His body, the Church—and to be the Church, we must be the Church without walls.
So whether your life as a Christian includes attending church in the gym, under a tree, or in a tricked out, comfortable, state-of-the-art worship center, the absence or presence of physical walls doesn’t matter. Those other walls, though?
Tear them down.
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Click here to go to the Auburn Community Church website. While there, you can listen to Miles’ sermons online, or search for “Auburn Community Church” on your phone’s podcast app. But heed this warning: do so at your own risk… Once you’re done being wrecked, click here or on the logo below and follow me on Facebook.