It seems to me a lot of pastors and church leaders are recognizing a need for the church to change. We tend to be very inward focused, and the tidal wave of current events is demonstrating that we are also pretty divided and even resentful within the church. Before we can lead change in the church, we need to reframe the way we see “church” in general. There are so many clues that indicate that we have an unbiblical and powerless view of “church.” We set goals for “getting people to church” as if the power is in the building, or worse, as if only the vocational ministers have the ability to do ministry. We value “going to church” as if a couple of hours one day a week is sufficient for transformation. We go to seminars and conferences so Christian celebrities can teach us how to “do church,” and then we go back and teach our people about “doing church.” “Church,” for us, looks a lot like buildings, programs, liturgies, doctrines and vocational ministers serving a membership. No wonder we find ourselves at odds with each other so much of the time. The truth is, the church is none of these things.
The Church is the people of God, loving God and following God for the purpose and glory of God. It is the church that is now the physical representation of the Father on earth. It is the Body of Christ (not merely individuals), together, who is inhabited by the Holy Spirit—the Ghost of God, if you will—in whom we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We need to understand the corporate nature of the Church as an organism if we are going to shift our thinking and thus change our habits and know freedom and power in Christ.
We don’t belong to a church like we belong to gym or a country club. In a club we can participate as much or as little as we like because we pay to be there. In the Church, we are bought with a price. God demands all we are and all we have because we are no longer our own, but his. We are not “in” because we paid a price, or even desired it. We are “in” because we were purchased and brought in at great cost.
Church is not something we attend, put on by professional clergy. It isn’t a show, nor is it a spectator’s sport. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Now the church is a body and each of you is a part of it.” The church doesn’t have hours of operation, and you aren’t only using your membership when you attend. You belong to the church no matter where you go, what you wear, what time it is, what you’re doing, or who you are with. You are the Church, just like you are a city on a hill, a lamp on a stand, and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). You are now, and you always will be. You belong to the church … more like property than membership.
Church is not an event. You don’t go, have an experience, get a t-shirt, and then move on to the next thing. The Church is what you are, not something you remember fondly until next time. It isn’t the Showtime Rotisserie where you set it and forget it. Church is who we are, it’s how we live, and it’s how we view the world. The Church is the people of God living in community with God and with one another. It’s something that saturates every day, not just one.
The Church is not here to serve you. I know what you’re thinking, but I mean that the church is neither a social service institution that is just here to meet your physical needs nor a consumer minded corporation here to fulfill your wants. We aren’t in the business of mere temporal comfort. Certainly, we serve people, but it is for the purpose of discipleship and repentance. We are in the business of restoration, we are not in the business of building a version of church that provides every amenity under the sun to make our membership happy and comfortable. We are meant to serve together for the purpose of God. Brothers who sweat together, stick together. We are co-laborers. We absolutely need to take care of each other’s needs and to carry one another’s burdens. We are not, however, meant to create a cozy Christian bubble for ourselves.
We need to hold a more corporate view of the church and cherish the diversity within orthodoxy. There is one church, and so we are never in competition with one another. Our differences enrich the kingdom and should not divide. The church is both exclusive (by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone) and inclusive (we are all children of God and members of the body, and we all have a function within God’s great purpose). Church is not about what we gain, but rather how we express our love for God — through obedience (John 15:14, 1 John 5:3, 2 John 6). Being the church is about how we surrender and pour ourselves out unto God. How would this reality transform your church?