What is a church? What should a church be like? I have developed a functional definition from my reading and study of the Bible. A church should be:
- Ministering or Serving
Let’s look at these in turn. First of all as a result of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19a ”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”. The church is called to make disciples. This expected process is written about by Paul when he writes “follow me as I follow Christ”. The leadership in the church should be leading lives that demonstrate that they are following Christ. They need to be living letters of the truth that they proclaim. The leadership should be actively trying to replicate this dynamic God honoring and serving lifestyle in those whom they lead. Preaching is great but it is not discipleship. Teaching is great but it is not discipleship. Great worship services are great but they are not discipleship. People who just attend events where they are talked to, entertained, motivated or taught are not discipled. They are missing the main ingredient that Jesus expected in the church.
Worship is fundamentally our response to God. It is about the congregation expressing their love, awe, and reverence for the great and mighty God. Worship is not about the emotions although we can become very emotional when we worship. Jesus said in John 4:23 that true worshippers would worship in Spirit and in truth. I need to repeat that worship is our response to God. Worship is not Christian-themed music that entertains us. It is not our favorite type of music e.g., go go, hip hop, soft rock etc. with Christian lyrics. Worship may use music. It may use dance. It may use other means of expression but the bottom line is that true worship rises up from children of God focusing their minds and hearts on God. When we believe that worship is a good performance we miss the out on the joy and obedience connected to true worship.
Fellowship is a horizontal relationship between children of God. Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to neglect to assemble or meet together. God intends for us to gather together and be in relationships with one another so that we can encourage each other, hold each other accountable, pray for each other… If you look at the “one another” verses in the New Testament, they were intended to be carried out in a fellowship. We cannot fellowship with the back of someone’s head in a 3,000 seat auditorium or even a 150 seat auditorium. To fellowship, we have to be in a setting where we can interact with each other. We need to know and be known by each other. A personal example of our lack of fellowship comes to mind. One Saturday morning, I had a breakfast for some men at the church I was attending at my house. One of the men, a longtime member of the church, was surprised when my wife came down the stairs. He asked her, “What are you doing here?” “I live here was here”, was her reply. He had seen her at the church services but did not know that she was my wife. Our church was short on fellowship.
Ephesians 4:11-12a states, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry”. My simplification of this passage is that “he gave the clergy to fix up, prepare, and dispatch the laity to serve”. God intended for Christian leadership to serve the people leading them in identifying what God was calling them to do and then helping them to do it. I have never understood how so many pastors and churches have gotten this so turned around. Too often we teach and believe that the pastor has the vision for “the house” and that the people are to merely carry out and pay for the pastor’s vision. With so little equipping happening our churches are full of gifted people sitting down on their gifts because their gifts are unnecessary to fulfill the pastor’s vision.
The last characteristic of an authentic church is that of ministering or serving. Churches are not “arks of safety” where people can retreat from the world and gather with their kind until they die or are raptured. Churches are local manifestations of the Body of Christ. They exist not only for the benefit of their members but as tools in the hands of God to extend his Kingdom on the earth. Churches collectively and believers individually are called to serve or to minister to the world.
I have purposefully stayed away from the normal definitions of a church. I wanted to encourage you to ask yourself, “If this is what a church should be doing, am I attending a church?” When looking back over my Christian walk, I have to admit reluctantly that for many years I did not attend a church. I was not a part of a discipling, worshiping, equipping, fellowshipping and serving body of believers. On Sundays, I went to organizations with the name of a church or the building of a church but without the function of a church. I wonder what effect my lack of participation in a real church had on my Christian walk and the life of my family.