What is “church” really all about? I mean, really? In over 2,000 years of church history, followers of Jesus have voluntarily committed to one another in local contexts all over the world to be the church. But what does that mean? Jesus Christ declared, “I will build My Church” (Matt. 16:18). No matter how we interpret it, this passage talks of one church. Christ continues, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He promised that His Church could never be destroyed.
Externally, most of us have a pretty good idea of church. It means people meet together on Sunday mornings for worship services, Sunday school classes, and children’s classes. Many American churches have some type of mid-week service for prayer and study of God’s Word. Most churches have a pastor, minister, and/or elders, and/or deacons. Most churches have some type of facility whether it’s rented or owned. Most have a few, if not many, ministries for women’s and men’s groups, students, and children. Most will have some type of missions program and perhaps some type of community outreach.
But what is it all for? Or, to phrase the question in proper English, For what purpose do all these ministries, programs, and activities exist?
Laura and I have recently sold our house to move closer to the church we serve and to the school our children attend. Plus, thanks to Dave Ramsey, we’re downsizing. Way to go, Dave. In preparation for selling our house, we went through all our closets to de-clutter, we did some touch up painting, and we made a few minor repairs where needed. As we were going through all this prep work, I asked myself, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” Why did we get so comfortable with things as they were and not pay as much attention to the details of fixing that bathroom tile caulk or that carpet that needed to be cleaned? Why? Because the purpose of our home was for us and our comfort. If it didn’t bother us that the carpet had a few stains, then so be it. The purpose of our home drove the upkeep and activities we did inside the home.
So it is with church. The purpose of the church drives the upkeep and activities we do inside—and outside—the church. If the purpose of the church is for us and our comfort, then guess what? We’ll keep the focus, activities, ministries and programs about us and our comfort. But what if the purpose of the church is not primarily for our comfort? What if the purpose of the church is for something far greater and compelling? What if Jesus, the One we claim to follow and Who is the Center of the Church, calls us to join Him on His mission, not ours? If I’m left to my own devices, I will make my life mission and our church mission to be as I want it to be for my needs, preferences and comfort. But if I align my life mission and our church mission with Jesus’ mission, then all of a sudden the tables are turned (which Jesus had a way of doing, cp. Matthew 21:12).
What is Jesus’ mission? Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus’ mission was to reconcile the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for others (Mark 10:45). This is Jesus’ mission, and He invites us to join Him in it. Your life mission and church mission should be Jesus’ mission. The purpose of our “house” is not for us and our comfort. The building is simply a tool to gather, equip, mobilize, and release us to be the church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as we live our lives to love God, follow Jesus and serve our world. Those are more than mere words; they are a mission for the ecclesia, the “called out community” that is God’s chosen vehicle to bring the redemptive power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors, friends, family, co-workers and, yes, to people all over the world.