What do you think comes to mind when most people hear the word church? Your friends, neighbors, coworkers… when they hear the word church, what do you think comes to their mind?
What comes to mind when YOU hear the word church?
You may wonder why we would ask these questions. Well, we’ve been a series where over the last 3 weeks we have been trying to ask and answer the question, “What’s the point?” This is a question that can wreak havoc in our lives if it goes unanswered in any area, but especially in the area of faith.
So, we have been looking at the point of Jesus’ life, which was to live as an example for our lives, but to also reveal to us a God who is passionately pursing his creation and to give us a glimpse of what life in the Kingdom of God looks like. We looked at the point of Jesus’ death, which was to give us victory and life, as well as to restore and reconcile us to God. And last week we looked at the point of judgment, which is not to punish, but to remove the evil from the world so that when the kingdom of God comes completely, it is perfect. God’s judgment is what’s best for the world.
And today, as you might have deduced, we are looking at the point of church. Is church necessary? After all, many of you come to church week after week, but why? Is it necessary? Or is it some man-made construct used to manipulate and control the masses? Let’s see if we can shed some light on the point of this thing we call church.
A Church in Trouble
By some of the answers found in recent research, we could say that it appears that the church in the U.S. is in a bit of trouble. We hear of studies that constantly remind us of the “Nones,” the ever growing group of people who claim no religious affiliation. And then there is also the group of “Dones,” those who are done with religion and church. These groups are growing at a rate of about 3 million people per year.
A few years ago, a study by the Hartford Institute of Religion Research said that 40% of Americans say they go to church weekly. It’s not a great number to start with, but then they discovered that less than 20% are actually in church. In other words, more than 80% of Americans are finding something better to do on the weekends.
It seems like every week there is more information about people walking away from church or people becoming less and less involved in it.
Barna research actually looked at the reasons people have walked away from church and narrowed it down to five:
- The church is irrelevant, the leaders are hypocritical, and leaders have experienced too much moral failure.
- God is missing in church.
- Legitimate doubt is prohibited.
- They are not learning about God.
- They are not finding community.
Wow. Now I realize we can immediately get defensive and point to the problems of those answering the survey, pointing out why they are wrong, but I think that might just be revealing exactly what they are saying. Is this what Jesus intended? Is church necessary? And what’s the point?
The Point of Church
What’s the purpose of the church? There are a lot of ways we can break this down. Several years ago, pastor and author Rick Warren wrote a book that nearly every pastor in America tried to emulate, called The Purpose Driven Church. In it, he listed five purposes of the church. Worship, Ministry, Evangelism, Fellowship, and Discipleship. It’s a solid list.
Pastor Francis Chan said if we are to describe church just using what the Bible says, we would have only four purposes: Known for Love, On a Mission to get the message of Jesus out, Gathered and focused on Jesus, Equipping and training those who attend.
We have our own variation of these things here at Ashworth Road. They are our core values that define who we are and what we do. They begin with Jesus. People. Connection. Movement. Impact . Authenticity.
However we define them, no other place in this world should do these things better than the church. No one should be able to out-love the church. No one should be able to out-community the church.
What’s the point of church? To be a group of people where the mission of God is lived out and individuals connect with God, one another, and the world. And this idea of church isn’t just a nice idea, if it works, if you have time. It is essential. But why? What make this so essential?Can’t we just find another way other than church to do these things? How important is this?
Jesus Established and Loves the Church
To answer this, we need to see that it was Jesus himself who established the church. Church is Jesus’ idea. Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus, in a conversation with Peter and the other disciples, asked them about his identity. Look with me at Matthew 16:13-18.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Here in this moment, Jesus tells his disciples that there will be a church. In the original language, we find the word ekklesia, which is a Greek word without a religious origin that was used by the government to assemble the people, to summon them together. Even though it is translated as church , it simply means an assembly or gathering of people. It came to be used to describe the local church: a congregation.
The Apostle Paul picks up this word when he refers to the church as well. The use of this word implies something significant. When an ekklesia met, they were summoned. And when it was used of the early church, it referred to the called out ones who gathered together, those who heard the voice of Jesus and gave their lives to follow him.
The New Testament gives us other images to describe the church. Like in Ephesians 2:19-20 another important word is used to describe what is happening. It is the Greek word oikos, meaning household, family. This word is packed with meaning. The church, the called out ones are to be family to one another, an intertwining of relationships that exist for one another.
In 1 Corinthians 12:27 we read, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” So here is another image used to describe the church: a body, joined and fitted together, each part with a special place and function. The image of the body also reveals that there is something about being together that allows us to accomplish something together that we could not do on our own.
The apostles, those on the ground after Jesus ascended, had no doubt that gathering together as Christ followers was what Jesus planned and intended. And he didn’t do this to give us something to pass the time, something to occupy our weekends to keep us out of trouble. He established the church because he wanted us to know we need the church. And the world needs the church.
And when I say church, I am not saying we need this building. The church, every time it is talked about in the New Testament, never once refers to a building. It is referring to people…you and me.
Church is Not Optional
Unfortunately for many, we have turned church into an optional thing in our lives. And I am not just referring to Sunday attendance, although I think that to be important, but these relationships, this community, we find it all very disposable and optional.
We’ve taken the Christian faith, the idea of following Jesus, and turned it into an individual pursuit. And that was never, not once what God intended. We read the New Testament letters written by Paul and Peter and we see them as if they were written to us personally. But the you’s in the New Testament are plural. It’s most often NOT singular even though we take it that way. The emphasis is less of me and more of we.
In Hebrews 10:23-25 we read,
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Spurring one another on is difficult to do alone. God cares about our life together as his people.
We have done a really great job of turning a life of following Jesus into an individual pursuit. And this type of Christianity is not found in the New Testament. We may come to Christ in an individual fashion, but we were never meant to stay there. When we come to Christ we are joined into a body, interconnected, so much so that we cannot separate our relation with God from our relation with other people. They are so interwoven that they cannot exist in isolation.
Now I understand this idea of community, life together, these dependent relationships, for us in western culture, is extremely difficult. We live in a hyper-individualized society. Our entire culture is self-obsessed and self-centered. We are no longer committed to community unless we can get something out of it. We are no longer loyal to our jobs or employers, but to our own careers. We are no longer committed to marriage, but to our own happiness.
But as the church, we must push back against this. We have to know that we aren’t better alone. We are better together. But if we don’t see this, if we live as if we individually, our pursuits, our agendas, are the greatest there is, we will miss being part of something greater than ourselves.
Author and pastor Eugene Peterson said, “There can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life apart from an immersion in, and embrace of, community. I am not myself by myself. Community, not the highly vaunted individualism of our culture, is the setting with which Christ is [at work].”
If we see church as optional, how can we ever hope for others to see Jesus? As one author put it, “The church is not so much a collection of individuals pursuing God together as rather the body of people through whom God pursues the world.” We are the avenue through which God has chosen to make himself known. And if we think we can be closer to God alone in nature than we can be together, we have missed it altogether. We miss that Jesus didn’t just die for you and for me. He died for the church.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the
washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a
radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and
blameless. —Ephesians 5:25-27
Your Role in the Church
And because church is not optional, we must then take the next step to realize that we each have an important role to play in the church. But again, because we often fail to see the necessity of church, we look less like people on mission and more like judges onThe Voice or people at a buffet. We have become consumers, asking “What have you done for me lately?” instead of “What can I do?” We are spectators instead of servants, gluttons instead of givers, bystanders instead of the body of Christ.
God has called us out. God has gifted us. We are a part of the body, equipped and here, visible, so that the world might see Jesus Christ living in and through us. You have a part to play. There is little value in coming to church, but tremendous value in being part of the church.
Some of you have sat on the sidelines for far too long and it is time to find your role and start functioning in the body. You need the church and the church needs you. We all have a responsibility to build up the church. Only when every person fulfills his or her calling in the church is the church truly all it is supposed to be and can be.
So, what’s the point of church? Not to continue some archaic system and perpetuate a dead religious system so an organization doesn’t die. No! We are the body of Christ. The church is to continue what Jesus started, to reveal to this world what the kingdom of God is really like. To love. To encourage. To impact the world.
And yes, we would be remiss if we didn’t say that sometimes church can be a pain. It isn’t perfect, even with a great pastor and staff like we have here at Ashworth Road. But we still have our faults. As I heard someone once say, if you find the perfect church, don’t go there. You’ll just mess it up!
Even in the difficulty that is church, we shouldn’t just leave. If we do, we will miss out on something amazing. God doesn’t just want millions of scattered one-on-one relationships with isolated individuals. He is building a body, a community, a gathering of people to himself through himself to one another.
You need the church and the church needs you. Nothing is more fatal to faith than isolation and breaking away from the fellowship with God’s people.
How do you see church today? A boring necessity to keep Jesus happy? Or do you see it as the hope of the world? God’s chosen vehicle to reveal himself to his creation? What you need to know is that you can’t do it without us. But we can’t do it without you either. You are a part of the body. You belong. And you are needed.
And when we are the church, together in community, we will see the kingdom come, we will see lives transformed, we will see people connect with God, one another, and the world. We will see as Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20, “Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, according to his power, that is at work in us…” we will see the great and amazing things for the glory of God.