Free files for my fellow youth pastor friends…
I close friend told me a story once where he was playing golf with an unbeliever on a Sunday evening since his church had canceled the worship service for that night. He simply remarked to his friend on the course, “It just doesn’t feel like Sunday right now to me.” His unbelieving friend turned his head and replied back, “Why, because you don’t have to go to church tonight?” Is that the way we are tempted to think about the church? Is it a place that we have to go? It is a just requirement in our life? Should it be a people rather than a place?
To understand what in the world the church is, we must first understand the church biblically. Some people (hardcore dispensationalists) say that Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church should stay very separate in the way we read the Bible. Others say (hardcore covenant theologians) that the church is “spiritual” Israel and they are exactly the same thing except for under two different covenants. Many people ask me where I stand. I really stand right in the middle. I don’t think the point of the OT or NT is Israel or the church. Rather, I think the point is Jesus Christ! Both the church and Israel are to find their identity in Him.
To understand what the church is, I think we have to understand WHO the church is. The church is not a building, its not a place where we can go, its not a time of worship, its not a ministry for children, and its not a ticket to heaven. The church can include all of those things, but ultimately the church is a community of people who are together in Christ. Christianity far too often speaks of salvation in merely individual terms. Salvation includes the community gathering of the people of Christ in what we call the church. Just as OT Israel was to look forward to their Messiah to come, the church is to look back at her Messiah as she looks forward to His coming. The church is to receive everything flowing from Jesus and be supremely connected to Him. That is why the church is called His body (Eph 1:23). The church is to follow and share everything from Jesus. That’s why the church is called His bride (Eph 5). Who is the church? What is true of Jesus Christ is true of the church (Eph 1:3-4). The church, is the fullness of Jesus (Eph 1:23). We can’t understand the church without understanding Him! This is why a biblical church must have shepherds (pastors). Shepherds reflect Christ by overseeing the flock (1 Pet 5). Churches have deacons because they reflect Jesus Christ as The Servant of God (Isa 53). Churches have members who serve because Jesus gifts His body to build the church up (Eph 4). Churches baptize because God baptized His children in the Red Sea (1 Cor 10) and believer’s baptism is the clearest sign of belief in the gospel (Rom 6). Churches share the Lord’s Supper together because the Israelites at the Passover together, Jesus ate it with His disciples, and we share it together as a proclamation of Christ’s death and coming kingdom (Luke 22). Lastly, the church practices church discipline because it is series business when you recognize someone as a member of Christ’s body when they aren’t living for Him obediently.
Besides everything that is mentioned above, the church is commonly known for its six purposes. The six purposes of the church are WHAT the church does. Every New Testament church must be known for worship, discipleship, evangelism, fellowship, ministry, and prayer. I’m privileged to be in a church where each of those things is present and growing!
Lastly, I just want to encourage you to be an active participant in your church. First of all, because you only experience Jesus as much as you are with your church. Secondly, because your church needs you to use the gifts Jesus has given you through His Spirit to use and mature His body in His likeness (Eph 4). Lastly, because you need your church. You need people in your life to hold you accountable, you need a pastor to preach to you, you need teachers to disciple you, you need friends in Christ to fellowship with, and you need to be encouraged to share the gospel of Christ with those God has placed in your life. The church is more than a place, it is a community of people that God is bringing together and saving for His Son.