When I was a kid, I would have my mom buy the huge boxes of cereal. Why? To my childhood eyes, they looked SO cool.
On the Fruity Pebbles and Froot Loops boxes, there was always some sort of celebrity, like Shaq, and the backs always had some cool design.
Once, I got so focused on the box, I almost forgot that there was cereal on the inside. It was only for a few minutes, but if I had not snapped out of it, I would’ve kept staring at the packaging while the good stuff remained untouched.
It’s quite a funny thing, to focus on the packaging and leaving the contents alone instead of actually partaking of what’s inside.
But I see it all too many times with churches. They focus way too much on the church itself instead of the REASON for the church. They run campaigns about the church, their mission statements are purely about changing how people think about church, and they have sermon series dedicated to talking about church, but there’s zero mention of the name of Jesus, no proclamation of the Gospel, and no call to repentance in Jesus’ name.
When a church focuses more on themselves than Jesus, then the church has lost its focus altogether.
Hear me out on this: I love the concept and institution of the church. It’s a body of Christ-followers united around the purpose of glorifying God and living in community while growing in godliness and pursuing holiness. I’ve worked in churches for years, and I yearn to be back in church ministry, serving the community and working side-by-side with other pastors who seek to glorify God.
So why exactly does the (global) Church exist? How did the Church come to exist? What’s its purpose?
Here are some facts about the Church, which is defined as the global body of believers.
- The Church is called the “bride of Christ” (Jn. 3:29, Eph. 5:22, Rev. 19:7), which Paul uses to instruct husbands how to love their wives just like Christ loves the Church in Ephesians 5.
- Colossians 1:18 says, “And he [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church.”
- Throughout Acts, we see how the Church is supposed to function: taking care of those that belong to it, welcoming new members in who have repented and been baptized, and spreading the message of Christ to the ends of the world.
- According to Revelation, when Christ returns, He will come back to save His Church and be one with them.
It’s clear in Scripture that the Church is meant to be the agent of reconciliation and grace through proclaiming the truth.
So, in light of this, how is the local church supposed to function?
It seems like a no-brainer at times, but this is where Scripture doesn’t necessarily speak. Any mention of church is almost exclusively in reference to the global Church. So, we must turn to principlization and look at the overarching themes and principles of each mention.
- The majority of the New Testament, written by Paul, is letters to individual churches. So it’s clear that the local church was always a part of the plan.
- They operated autonomously, yet still under the supervision and guidance of Paul (or Paul would send Timothy, like he did to Ephesus).
- There was a universal way to operate in regards to discipline, membership, and pastoral care.
But the biggest thing about the individual churches? It was never about them in the first place.
Their entire purpose, mission, and vision was never to change how people viewed the church, but to lift Jesus high and see people meet Him.
Pastors: if this sounds like the church where you serve, then you and your staff need to take a long, hard look at your mission statement, core values, bylaws, etc., and reevaluate the real focus of your operation. Before you plan anymore events, write any sermon series, or create any budgets, you need to set aside a solid chunk of time where you take a fine-toothed comb and rake it over every governing document that constitutes the way your church operates. You’re idolizing a non-profit 501(c)(3), not worshiping a living and mighty God, and if you continue in this pattern, you will be the church that Ephesus became when John wrote Revelation, who abandoned their first love (Rev. 2:4).
Church members: if this sounds like the church to which you belong, where there’s more talk about and focus on the church itself instead of Jesus, then run. Leave. Get out. Talk to your pastor and tell him that the church has lost focus, then prayerfully search for another church in your area that is preaching the Gospel, serving the needs of the community, and promoting Gospel-driven community within the church.