What is the church? If you were to attempt to define church, where would you begin? How would your own experiences and culture shape your definition? And once you had arrived at your confident definition, how would your perspective compare to the view of a believer in Iran, Sudan, or parts of Asia? Would non-Western believers agree with you about what the church is? Does church mean the same thing to them as it means to you? In other words, if you had to draw a picture of the church highlighting its purpose, identity and mission and the only resource you had was the Bible without cultural context at all, would you ever arrive at anything that looks like the typical church in America? Your answer is your own, but I must confess that after many years of studying what the Bible teaches about God, His mission and the community through which the mission is to be carried out, I conclude that the church in America bears little resemblance to the missionary movement of the New Testament called the church.
By the day, our culture spirals like a plane out of control, but as our world plummets to the abyss of a godless existence, the church continues to embrace and even celebrate lifeless forms and dead processes that have become obstacles that keep us from engaging the world around us. Truly, many churches are little more than “white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27). The church in America desperately needs to shake off its grave clothes and repent of its failure to embody our King and his mission.
There is nothing more important the church does than worship. What happens when the church gathers corporately on the Lord’s Day or any other day for that matter is nothing less than miraculous. The worshipping body becomes the place where heaven and earth meet once again and foreshadows a day when the two will be eternally restored in the presence of our resurrected King.
However, it seems that somewhere along the way the church in America changed the metric by which church health is measured. Biblically speaking, the church is to be something far different than what it has become in many of our communities. Spiritual maturity, deepening faith, radical obedience to God’s Word, loving community, the centrality of authentic worship, sacrificial service, and resolute commitment to the local body of Christ and a clear understanding of its mission are but a few of the undeniable characteristics of a church that faithfully represent its King.
And though few church leaders would disagree with this summary of a healthy church, the average church in America continues striving to attract those who will fill our buildings and if, by chance, we succeed in bringing more people into our buildings and populating our programs then we go home happy and convinced that God is at work. But such an image is not to be found in the Bible.
In the Scriptures, the movement of Christ, the apostles and the early church is ALWAYS toward the world. There is not a single clear example of a church in the Bible whose energy was spent on drawing people into and growing its own presence in a central location!
The church then and the church now is a gospel movement, by which the Spirit-filled people of God are deliberately and strategically seeking to create missional encounters with people in every sphere of life. It’s not unusual at all for a pastor or Bible teacher to make the claim that all of God’s people are missionaries. But there is little reason to believe that either the average church or the members on its rolls live as though this were the case. The greatest missionary opportunity in the world exists in our own backyards, not within the sanctuary walls. More than ever before the church needs to be driven out of our institutions to become, once again, the kingdom movement of the redeemed who are creating missionary encounters with the culture around us.
What do you mean when you use the word, church? The better question is what did Christ intend when he created and breathed life into this body? With great urgency the church must become a mobile community that reflects our Savior and his mission rather than one crafted to meet the perceived needs of man.