How Should We Define and Discuss the Church?

A chasm stretches between the words “is” and “does”. Unfortunately, we live in a culture far more interested in “does” than “is”, and this interest negatively affects the way we think about the church. If I were to ask the average church member to tell me about the church I would get hundreds of “does” answers.

  • The church is where we worship.
  • The church is where we have small groups/bible studies.
  • The church is where we experience discipleship.
  • The church is where we serve.
  • The church where we do evangelism.
  • The church is where we hear preaching

You get the picture. When asked about the church we immediately jump to things the church does rather than what the church is. We live in a world that defines people, institutions, governments, and even churches by what they do rather than what they are. Why am I bringing this up? Why is this important? I’m bringing it up because confusion over what the church should or should not be doing arises from confusion over what the church is and is not. If you first know what the church is then discussions on what the church should do become easier, if not obvious. Let’s face it, most church members, and far too many pastors, can go on and on about what the church does. But, can they tell you what the church is? How chilling to think someone would join a body in membership which they could not define. I believe our churches will reflect the glory of our God in their functions, as they better understand their essence. I believe the church will experience increasing faithfulness to her mission as she does commerce with her nature.

Pastors must first be about answering the “is” question. What is the church? Do our people know? Can they explain what the church is, or would they just list stuff the church does? Are they operating out of a sense of “is” or “does”? Does “is” drive “does” in your membership? What do you talk about more: how many people are engaged in your church or how well your people understand who they are? Are you satisfied with busy people who don’t know their identity? I’m not saying you can’t have both. What I am saying is that one naturally flows from the other, but not the other way around.

Church members must take responsibility for answering this question for themselves. Christ has called you to be a member of the church, not just a spectator. Members take church seriously. Much of the church membership/”active attenders” turn-over we experience today results from the fact that many church members are, at best, doing what their pastor says without knowing why or, at worst, spectators and pastors have let that happen without a struggle. If you don’t know where to find these answers, ask someone. Your pastor should know. If he doesn’t then you need to find a new church. And, if someone begins to define the church around stuff it does sirens should be going off in your brain. The church absolutely has functions but, the church isn’t its functions. Are you a church member? Are you a spectator? Do you know who you are? Do you know what the church is? Is a sense of what the church is driving what you do at your church? Is your activity the result of a rich understanding of what the church is and who you are as a part of it, or is your church activity a quest for meaning?

I hope to dedicate future posts to answering the questions I raised in this post. But for now, I think it more important for us all to consider the questions.

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