I’ve been thinking lately of what roles the church is designed to fulfill. How does one go about finding a good church (especially if they are moving to a new area)? There are four qualities that I believe a local gathering of believers must have in order to effectively function as the presence of Jesus in this world. What follows is a description of each of those qualities. Every gathering of believers will fulfill these qualities in diverse ways, so what I propose below is not a detailed description of how it should be done in every church – there is no one cookie-cutter model. It is important to recognize the people and culture that every gathering has been placed within and then live out the Gospel in a way that communicates that good news to all those around. So, what follows are broad brushstrokes rather than detailed steps – it remains for each individual gathering to define how God has called them to fulfill these qualities with the gifts and talents He has given them.Personal Discipleship –
Our goal as disciples of Jesus is holiness. We are to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called. This holiness is not a strict legalism though there are commands to follow. It is not separatism from the world though it is not being like the world. It is not anti-cultural though it is counter-cultural. It will set us apart but in such a way that causes people to desire to have what we have – a personal relationship with the God of the whole universe. It is a life that is lived – mind, heart, soul and strength – in a completely pleasing, worshipful way to God. Such a life cannot be accomplished or lived alone. This is where corporate worship services are so important. These are times for the church to come together as a gathering of believers to worship God in His holiness and be challenged and called to holiness ourselves. But nor can the individual complexities of each person’s walk be addressed in a corporate environment. This is why it is also important for spiritually mature believers in each gathering to serve the younger by walking alongside them and challenging them to live like Christ. This can be done either one-on-one, through small groups or through larger fellowship groups. It is accomplished through the declaration of Jesus as Messiah through the Scriptures, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God. Each person, through this discipleship, will be encouraged and challenged to take the gifts and talents that God has given them and to serve Him and others. These acts of obedience and faith will begin to develop each believer so that more may become mature followers of Jesus.Unity with the Body –
All true believers trust that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again that we might have life. However, many true believers will differ with us in doctrinal areas. These differences can (and should) be debated. But to separate ourselves from working together with other believers over doctrinal differences does little to further the Kingdom of God. Thus, it is important for local gatherings to work together in whatever way they can to help the lost realize God’s love for them. This working together does not necessarily result in a removal of doctrinal distinctives. Instead, it is a recognition that those who also have placed their faith in Jesus are our brothers and sisters and that it is better to work together rather than against, separate from, or at odds with them. Thus, it is important for a gathering of believers to begin the process of reconciliation with other local gatherings so that together they might impact the world for God’s glory. This love, even in the midst of diversity, will be a strong testimony to the world of the life-change that comes through Jesus.Reclaiming the Community –
The church is not designed to be a reclusive abode. Instead, it is to be a light in the midst of darkness, salt that brings flavor to a bland world. To this end, every gathering of believers should be actively involved in reclaiming their community for Christ. At times, this will be done through ‘church sponsored events,’ however, it can just as easily be done through the interaction with non-believers at any level. More often than not, Jesus was found eating and socializing with the non-religious. If we are to be His followers, we need to find ourselves where He is found – and that is among the lost. On an individual basis, this will mean actively encouraging believers to be involved in the lives of neighbors (though neighbors may not necessarily be the person living next door – it may be the person in the cubicle next to you or the other parent on your child’s town sports team). On a corporate level, it will mean being involved in community building activities (These activities may or may not be specifically tied with a religious organization. Examples of these types of outreaches might include committing to: providing servers at a local homeless shelter; volunteering in an AIDS hospital; visiting a local nursing home). As the believers from the gathering intermingle with those not yet followers of Jesus, our light is shone, our salt is sprinkled, and people will be introduced to God’s compassion, care, and mercy. They will see that what we believe truly does make a difference in how we live.Transforming the World –
Scripture is peppered throughout with images of a world completely under the rule of God. Whether politically, naturally, relationally or spiritually, these glimpses of the future are radically different than the sinful world we now live in. However, I do not believe that God has given us these pictorial foretastes simply so that we can wait for Him to bring it about. In just about every context of these glimpses into the future, the question is asked (phrased in various ways) ‘Since this will occur, how then should you now live?’ I believe that these challenges to live differently today because of what will occur tomorrow are challenges for us to bring about these realities in our world today. Like our pursuit of holiness, we will never fully accomplish this – only Jesus’ final transformation of the world under His rule will. But nor does that lower the level of expectation on our part to attempt to bring about these qualities in our day. Every gathering should be actively involved in bringing about justice for the disenfranchised, purifying God’s creation, mending social and international relationships, and pursuing a world where every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
I'm sure that some will feel that I've missed important components...in many ways, describing the church is like describing your wife - you always focus on important attributes that are meaningful to you, but if you got someone else's opinion, you might see a completely different person. For what its worth, this is what I'd like to see the local church be.
--Posted by PhilThreeten to PhilThreeten at 1/09/2006 12:09:00 PM