My church is in transition, which is a nice way to say, we are foundering. We are a church that had, for fifty years, been known for the teaching of the word of God. We conducted what would be considered a traditional worship service. We prayed, read Scripture, passed the offering plate, sang—some hymns, some choruses, some contemporary songs—but mostly we listened to expository preaching.
From the instruction of God’s word, we slowly began to reach out. As long as I’ve been at that church, we’ve been actively supporting missionaries, but we also began to involve ourselves more directly with the community. We do various things for the homeless. We’ve started a tutoring program in a nearby school which ended up leading to a church plant. We’ve had a prison ministry and involvement with international students at a local university. We have participated in programs for unwed mothers and have a vibrant ministry for the disabled.
In short, God’s word faithfully preached has spilled out of the church building and become active, alive.
Some years ago, however, a new “movement” started in America, a type of push back against the traditional Church. As so often happens, the movement itself faded from prominence, but some of the ideas remained and even began to be incorporated within churches at large, our own included.
Meanwhile, there was the megachurch phenomenon that offered another model for churches to follow, and suddenly “church” in America seems to be more about style and keeping up with the Joneses than it is about doing what the Bible sets down for people who believe in Jesus should do.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the subject. First, what is the Church? It’s not an institution set up by humankind, though we operated as if it were. We choose leaders and have boards (or teams) pay bills and build buildings and hire people and act in many ways like a business put together by a group of people.
In fact, the Church is the body of Christ, who is our head. The Church is Christ’s bride. The Church is the family of God. All these metaphors portray the close relationship the Church has to God. He is the leader, we are His servants, His functionaries, His intimate partner.
But that’s the Church, not a church. A local church is part of that Body, part of that Church universal.
The local church exists as an arm (or a hand or a foot or a liver) of the Church universal, though many denominations make up that Body. And believers as we assemble ourselves together, in obedience to Scripture, are unique parts of the local body—the fingers, the toes, the nose.
Our coming together is an act of obedience, but it is also an act of need. It is in church that we both receive and give. We receive encouragement and instruction in the word of God so that we can go out into the world and serve. We also give according to the giftedness God has equipped us with, so that the entire body grows. Those who are equipped to teach, do that. Those who serve, find places where they can serve in the church, and so on.
But God set this all up, not people.
Our challenge today is to ignore the whims of society and the cool new trends in order to be what God intends the Church to be. I don’t think a church should lose sight of what the Church is supposed to be and do.
If the local church doesn’t equip the saints to be people who live out the word of God, where else will believers receive such instruction? From Scripture, true. But I don’t know about other people, I first heard I was should regularly read God’s word from someone in church.
Churches aren’t perfect—that should be a given since they are made up of sinful people, redeemed though we are. Nevertheless, they serve as the gathering place for believers. This false teaching that has been introduced about “seeker friendly” churches needs to be held up to the light of Scripture.
Clearly no one should be turned away from church. Everyone is welcome. But churches don’t exist to evangelize. They exist, or ought to, in order to equip believers. If nonbelievers want to come and learn what believers are learning, it’s possible God will use His word to open the eyes of their heart. Praise God if that happens.
But the purpose of church is preparation for those who already believe. It’s not up to the “professional class of ministers” to give the gospel to “seekers.” It’s up to our teachers to prepare us to serve God day in and day out. We who believe need to go out into the world and share Christ, love our neighbor, love our enemy, do good to those in our world. Church prepares us to do what we’ve been called to do. Or it should.