Over at Seth’s blog yesterday he was referring to the question ‘What is school for?’ I think there are far too many churchgoers who have never asked themselves the question ‘What’s the Church for?’ Church leaders tend to avoid it too.
To some people the answer seems obvious. Church is for Sunday morning: running inspiring worship services that hold my attention and don’t go on too long. Church budgets seem to bear this out too; just count up the dollars that go, directly or indirectly, to running Sunday morning (or whenever you have your main worship service). Factor in that a good proportion of your pastor’s time goes to preparing for worship each week.
Other people might say, ‘the Church is there to help me in times of need’. Counselling is expensive, but at the Church, it’s free. And sometimes churches ‘help’ people (i.e. people call up with financial needs, real or spurious, with the expectation that the church will have a fund somewhere that they can draw from).
Still others might say, ‘the Church is there to provide rituals to mark the major transitions of life’. Christen our kids when they’re born. Marry them when they get older. Christen their kids when they have them. Officiate at funerals when people die.
Well, okay, but where does Jesus fit in? Where does the Gospel fit in? Why did God think the Church was a good idea? What was in God’s mind when he decided to call people together to be the Church? (If Church is not somehow the plan of God, we may as well quit now, don’t you think?)
I have two things to say about that question. First, the New Testament tells us that Jesus spent a lot of time announcing ‘the good news of the kingdom of God‘ – that is, the reign or rule of God. Despite appearances, the real ruler of planet Earth is not Google or Microsoft, Vladimir Putin or Barack Obama, Halliburton or Monsanto. God is the true king, and although he has allowed humans free will, he will not allow the human tendency to screw things up to go on forever. Every single one of us is accountable to him, and the day will come when he will set the world to rights and heal all its hurts. In fact, he has already begun that process through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and that process continues to this day. The Church exists to serve God’s Kingdom, to model of it for the world around, and to spread it to others.
Second, the way the Kingdom spreads is through the transformation of human lives by holistic discipleship. What is ‘holistic discipleship’? It’s simply this: human beings learning to follow the teaching and example of Jesus in every part of their daily lives – not just church and family life, but work, leisure, finances, politics, community activities and so on. The New Testament says, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord of all’; that means no part of my life can be outside the sphere of his Lordship.
The Church exists to announce the Kingdom of God, to invite people to become disciples of Jesus, and to help them learn to practice that in their daily lives. There are many other things we do, of course, but they are all secondary to this. And when we’re evaluating ourselves, this ought to be the question we ask: ‘How are we doing in our primary work of spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God, making new disciples for Jesus, and helping those disciples put his teaching and example into practice in their daily lives, so that the world can be transformed?’