REAL CHURCH: It’s not what you go to, it’s who you are
When we speak of the church today, we predominantly speak of it as something we go to—a place, a building, an event. Of course most evangelicals will readily admit that the church is not the building but the people. Yet our everyday language betrays us, and it’s more than mere semantics.
When we mainly speak of the church as something we go to, we create an image in our minds and hearts of something that is static and isolated. A place we gather one morning a week for an event we call worship. It is often a cherished place and event, but one that becomes rather disconnected in our minds from the rest of the world, even the rest of our lives and relationships. If we want to help someone meet God, we think we must get them to church. If we want to spend meaningful time with other Christians, or help each other grow in our faith and skill for ministry, we look for events or programs at the church.
Though we are loath to admit it, our sense of identity and mission as Christians becomes tightly associated with a building and what goes on within its walls. Combine that with the consumer- and therapy-oriented nature of our modern culture, and you have yourself an ecclesial battleground with every hill worth dying on. For instance, if meeting with God personally is contingent on what happens during the service on Sunday morning, then unless the music and preaching style is exactly what moves me personally, you’re taking away my experience of meeting with God, and I’ll fight for that. But if reaching people for Christ means getting them to church, then it needs to be the kind of building and service they’re willing come back to a second and third time; otherwise you’re undercutting the advance of the gospel, and we’ll fight for that too. But if we’re not careful, we’ll allow the culture to change the church instead of the church changing the culture, and so we must be suspicious of all change, lest we forsake the status quo. And on it goes.
Now I’m not suggesting here that every church squabble can be explained by viewing the church primarily as something we go to. Nor am I suggesting that gathering together as a Body (which requires some sort of place) for the collective worship of God’s people (which is a type of event) is not a central part of what the church does. I am suggesting that how we think and speak of the church has a massive impact on our sense of identity and calling as God’s people, as well as our faithfulness before God.
According to Scripture, church is not what you go to; it’s who you are. It is the people of God in Christ Jesus. It’s a family of missionary servants empowered by God’s Spirit to make disciples for Christ. Or to use the language of our vision, it is a gospel-centered community living each day on mission for Christ.
Thinking and speaking of it in these terms paints a different picture in our hearts and minds. Rather than the static and isolated picture of something we go to, we see the church as dynamic and relational. Our gathered worship is not just about me connecting to God, it’s about us connecting to God as a Body and building one another up in Christ. Whether we are gathered in one place or scattered throughout cities and neighborhoods, we are still the people of God in Christ, making much of God, sharing life together, and laying down our lives to make Christ known. We don’t neglect our weekly gathering, but neither are fellowship, discipleship, evangelism dependent on getting people to a building. Neither do we despise our heritage, but faithfulness to our gospel-driven mission trumps preserving our preferences and traditions.
This dynamic and relational image is what we see in the New Testament’s portrait of the church. A church that is neither isolated from the world nor compromised by the world. A church that displays the beauty and glory of the gospel amid the opposition and trials of the world. A church wherein Christ is present by his Spirit to make God’s glory known.
At Westgate Church, we want take time at the beginning of 2014 to think freshly about what it means for us to be the church, and what that means for us in moving forward with our vision.
We began last year by asking the question, “What will it take for our experience of ‘church’ to be less like something we go to, and more like something we are—a family of missionary servants empowered by God’s Spirit to make disciples for Christ?” We’re going to pick up this question again with our January 2014 preaching series in 1 Peter 1-2: “Real Church.”
January 5: Real Faith (1 Pet. 1:1-12)
January 12: Real Community (1 Pet. 1:13-25)
January 19: Real Worship (1 Pet. 2:1-10)
January 26: Real Mission (1 Pet. 2:11-25)
Join us as at Westgate we think freshly about who we are and what it means to be a gospel-centered community living each day on mission for Christ.