bits from bob....

Why does the Church Exist? (1)

by Robert J. Young
©, 2006, Robert J. Young

[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

What is the church to be about? What is the purpose of the church? What is the work of the church? The church exists in thousands of places around the world-what is its job? What is the church to do? What is the church to be about?

I have spent much of my ministry studying and encouraging smaller churches. Along the way I have thought at length about the dynamics and characteristics of enduring churches-churches that persevere in the midst of adversity. I have spent time analyzing numerous older churches in an attempt to determine whether the dynamics at work can be changed. As I ask about the purpose and mission of the church, I am specifically thinking about the myriad of smaller churches in the United States, scattered from New England villages and cities to the rural towns of the "Bible Belt" and westward to the Rockies and the Pacific shore. I am thinking of the church in the places I have preached. I am asking about the dynamics of church renewal. How can be church find genuine restoration in the plan and purpose of God and begin to grow again?

When I was an undergraduate student (many moons ago in a previous millennium), a traditional description of the activities of the church was benevolence, evangelism, and education or edification. In this model it was sometimes expressed that "evangelism was external, edification was internal, and benevolence was both internal and external." For many, benevolence gave the church the opportunity to demonstrate the compassion, spirit, attitude, and mind of Christ, and was only infrequently connected to evangelistic efforts or keeping members connected to the church. I have frequently told ministry students that the church has only two goals-saving people and keeping them saved. Such is overly simplistic, but it does focus the truth that everything the church does should contribute to its God-given purpose. While I do disagree with either of the above explanations of the church's activities, the answer I now give when I think about our contemporary world is both different and broader. The church is called to action based on its nature. Some things the church does are less connected to its mission than others.

I. The church is a worshiping community. The church comes together for many reasons, but a primary reason for the weekly assembly and the time shared is that God has called us together as a community to praise and adore him. Our witness to the world around us begins in our worship. The church seldom rises above the quality of its shared worship experience. In the eyes of the world, the church is often defined by its worship. The church is by nature a worshiping community, celebrating and remembering God's saving action, giving thanks to God, and proclaiming God's presence and truth.

II. The church is an educating or teaching community. The church is called to involvement in teaching both internally and externally, that is both to church members and to those who are outsiders. This teaching includes the gospel, but is not limited to the gospel. The teaching process seeks to inculcate general biblical principles into the lives of those taught-both believers and unbelievers. Teaching may be designed to help members grow in the knowledge of Jesus, thus our traditional Bible school models. Teaching may also include outreach, as in VBS or other special series. The church committed to its teaching and educating task may choose to provide needs-meeting teaching through seminars or special series focused on various needs-oriented themes (e.g. family, marriage, addictions, parenting, grand-parenting, etc.)
One of my favorite descriptions of the work of the church is summarized in the word "nurturing." Nurturing summaries well the educating role of the church. Others may prefer to describe this task as discipling or discipleship.

III. The church is a sharing community. This concept includes, but is not limited to fellowship-koinonia. This concept encompasses also the commitment of the church in encouraging, serving and supporting. Such service may be directed toward other Christians or toward unbelievers. The benevolent activity of the church, regardless of the recipients, likely should be included here. The church as a sharing community is committed to service-both in members serving one another and in the body of Christ serving the community around it. Some would prefer to include concepts like nurturing and discipleship in this category since these involve both how we think and what we do.

IV. The church is a proclaiming community. This includes local evangelism, by whatever means, as well as missions. This point reflects God's purpose that the church be a declaration of his wisdom, and that he be made known in the world.

These four headings provide a beginning point. The church does many things. I believe virtually all of the activities of the church can be placed in this framework. The church is involved in meeting needs, supporting families, and encouraging morality. Frequently the church is an instrument of social change. These may be connected to education, sharing, and proclamation. I know one church that developed the motto, "The Church with Good News!" based on this four-fold description: Nurturing, Evangelizing, Worshiping, Serving.

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Last updated November 7, 2006