Today, I'm starting a series of posts on the church. I'm starting with the question, "what is the church"? This may sound like a superficial question but how we answer it says a lot about how we view the church. We live in a very interesting time. On one hand, many parents that have kids that are in High School and College grew up in the church and likely raised their kids in the church to some degree. On the other hand, there are others who have perhaps never set foot in a worship gathering or think of the church as an institution. How should we think about the church? What is the church?
Organism Not Institution
When we think of the church, we can often think of it in an institutional sense. Some think of church as the building. Others think of the church in terms of programs. Still others think of the church in terms of a business. When we hear these answers, it is easy to see why people view the church as expendable or unimportant. These terms or ways of thinking of the church are largely influenced by culture. The result is that the church is there to provide a service. Just like with any business in a free market economy, it is there to cater to the customer. This becomes even more evident in what people look for in a church. A specific vibe, a certain style of music, x, y, or z programs, the personality of the pastor, the size of the church, what the church can do for me, will my felt needs be met. These are all things that people look for in a church and I would submit that in this mentality, one will never find a church that meets all their requirements.
When we look to Scripture, we see something totally different. The Bible does not define the church on the basis of programs, institution, or property. The church is an organism. The New Testament writers call the church "the body of Christ" (Col 1:24), "the flock of God" (1 Peter 5:2), "the dwelling place of God" (Eph 2:22), "the household of God" (Eph 2:19), "the bride of Christ" (Eph 5:22-33, Revelation 21:2), and "the household of God" (1 Timothy 3:15). It is interesting how many analogies for the church are relational, both in how we relate to God and how we relate to one another.
Think of a family. A family is characterized by relationships, not location. I grew up in a military household. Our family was not defined by the house we lived in. It was defined by the relationships. In the same way, the church is not a building, but a people, bound together by a common faith in a common Savior. The local church is a group of people who are all adopted into the family of God and live life together as brothers and sisters. The church is about relationships. It's an organism of living, born-again children of God. It's a family, a household.
A Family Is Not Expendable
Some people come from healthy families, some from unhealthy families, so the analogy of the church being a family presented in Scripture can cause some problems if you've come from a broken home. A family, however, is designed to be an organic unit that is made for the growth and flourishing of those who are a part of it. A family is not expendable, it's essential. A family is made up of sinners who will hurt each other, but the family bond should be so strong that we willingly and joyfully forgive one another and seek forgiveness of those we have hurt. A family should be characterized by love for one another and care for one another (Colossians 3:12-17). The same is true in the family of God. Our relationship with God through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the family glue that binds us together. We are all adopted into God's family through faith in Christ, and therefore, we need one another.
When I was hurt growing up by my sisters or my parents, I didn't stop being a part of the family. I didn't bail and find a better family. The church is a family and though our relationships might get strained at times because of sin, we still need each other. We still belong to one another.
Looking To Belong In All The Wrong Places
Everyone is looking to belong. We can belong to a sports team, or a school, or a social club. Unbelievers all around us seek to belong to organizations that give a sense of purpose, belonging and meaning. The church is not a social club. The church is not about programs, preferences, or meeting felt-needs. The church should be totally unique from the world. What do we have to offer that cannot be replicated by any sports team, social club, or organization? Christ. And in Christ, we find true belonging and meaning. In Christ we are adopted into His family. We belong to Him, purchased by His blood and redeemed to live together as brothers and sisters and continue His mission to tell others about Him. More than that, we need one another to help us grow and mature in our relationship with Him (Heb 10:24). When you belong to Christ, you belong to His church. You become part of His family and need brothers and sisters. The most important relationships you can cultivate are in the local church because they are the relationships that will point you to Christ, encourage you when you're discouraged, be there for you when you are in need, and where you can truly serve others in a way that matters for eternity.
We don't always act this way. Sin causes us to be selfish and self-seeking. Sin causes us to put up walls and withhold forgiveness. Sin causes us to not seek forgiveness when we have wronged one another. But the church is the family of God. Because of Christ, we are able to forgive as He forgave us. We are able to see relationships that have been damaged by sin renewed. We are able to have meaningful community in a world where relationships are expendable because we have been saved from our sins and reconciled to Christ.
So, I return to the original question... What is the church? Do you view the church as a social club? Do you view it as a business? Do you view it as a collection of programs? Or, do you view the church as a family? For many people, a wrong view of church hinders relationships that are needed for growth. If you have trusted in Christ, you are a part of His family and you belong. More than that, you are needed. Your brothers and sisters need you and you need them. So, are you cultivating relationships with other believers in the local church? Do you prioritize participation in the life of the church? Or is the church an expendable option to pull out when it suits you or when it is convenient?
Jon is a follower of Jesus, husband to Carlee, Papa to Finleigh and Ainsley, and a pastor at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Nebraska.