The Church’s Intended Purpose

I wrote this article for my friend and former student, Maddie Stiles, for her blog, and I’d love to share it with you. Make sure to check her out her writing and support her!

You can’t do life alone.

We know this, deep down inside of our souls. We have this deep desire to be in what we call “community”: a group of people rallying around a common idea.

As I mull around the thought of togetherness within our world, clearly my mind shoots straight to how the thing we know as “Church” should operate. Being a person who’s been around church my whole life, both as a member and a leader, it’s become my whole life. There’s nothing more that I want to do other than serve in the church, because, as Bill Hybels says, “The local Church is the hope of the world.” It’s the one thing that has and will withstand the test of time, and the one thing that holds this crazy life in balance.

But, if we’re honest as we think about the Church, it’s clearly strayed from what God intended it to be.

When God established the Church in Acts, it operated all in unity, no matter how far west it spread. Today, we seemingly operate toward a common goal in massive division, whether over theology, practice, or interest.

God didn’t create denominations. We’ve set points of contention all throughout our bylaws and constitutions (yes, churches DO have constitutions and governing laws).

The Church used to rule culture. Now, culture determines how churches can and can’t operate.

We’ve strayed far from the original design of this beautiful, wonderful, crazy, and massive institution. And that breaks my heart.

So, let’s answer these questions in the following words: how did God intend the Church to operate? How can we achieve that in this day and age?

How It Should Be

To see how the Church should actually operate, we have to go back to start of it all. Now, if you haven’t spent much time around this thing called church or don’t really know much about how it all started, let’s take a short crash course to catch you up.

The Church was started as a new chapter in God’s beautiful story of restoration, redemption, and rescue. This “chapter” can be found in the latter half of what we call the Bible, a compiled two-volume history of close to everything: how the world was created, how everything got messed up, what life was like back then, how God set aside a people to bring back to Himself, how those people kept messing up, how God actually brought a remedy to the problem, and what we’re supposed to do now.

So, in this transformative history book, towards the end of the second half, called the New Testament, we get to the installment of The Acts Of The Apostles, or “Acts.” Acts was the second of two history books written by a guy named Luke, an early 1st century physician who spent a LOT of time with one of the main characters of Acts, a guy named Paul. If Luke’s name sounds familiar after looking through the books of the New Testament, it’s because he wrote a first book that bears his namesake, Luke. Luke is about Jesus, God’s Son whom He sent as the remedy to the problem, and Acts is about how the world first learned about the remedy.

Okay, that SHOULD be a basic crash course to get you caught up to speed. As we open up the book of Acts and see the early church forming and getting started, the biggest qualities that stick out can be found here:

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37)

So, here’s what we find:

  • They were of one heart and soul.
  • No one was selfish.
  • They had everything in common.
  • No one had any needs.

This is what the Church was intended to be: a place where people belong and are taken care of. God’s design for the Church, a physical gathering of His people, was meant to reflect the way that the Trinity, the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, operated in harmony.

Now, I get that that’s a big idea to comprehend, even for the wisest, most learned scholars. But, it’s necessary to take into account that the Church is simply a shadow cast by God Himself, meant to turn us toward His heart and mind as we gather together.

In Christ, we belong. In Christ, we’re taken care of. And it’s only appropriate that, in God’s family and in the Church, the same thing happens.

How It Can Happen Now

These seem like pretty straightforward goals for the modern-day Church. It seems pretty easy to just be welcoming and take care of other people, right?

Well, on paper it’s easy. In theory, it’s simple. But, when it comes to execution, at least for me, it’s pretty complicated.

If we want people to feel like they belong, it takes more than just a simple, “Great to see you today!” as they walk through the front doors of the church. Coming from the inside, it takes years and years to build a culture that communicates that everyone is welcome.

If we want to take care of people, it takes more than just a simple, “What can I get you?” when we see someone in need. Our culture has politicized this notion, whether by putting it in the government’s hands or putting in the person in need’s hands. And, when our own preferences and human selfishness gets in the way, it seems like an uphill battle just to muster up the courage to step outside of our comfort zones to help someone who isn’t like us.

You see, over the years, the Church has gone through a major, unfortunate transformation. At one point, for thousands of years, the world around it sought insight and information on how to establish major tenets of science, government, and geography. As a result of the Church’s influence, the earth became round, the sun became the center of the universe, and kingdoms rose and fell. The Church changed the world.

But, as the Renaissance Period ushered in anthropocentric thought and man-driven beliefs, the Church’s role was shifted to the peripheral instead of remaining in the center. Humanism, the cultural movement that turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought, put a whole lot of emphasis on the goodness of people over the importance of supernatural matters. Rational thought trumped divine dependence, and the Church was marginalized to a portion of society, not a driving factor.

So, as we’re living 300 years after this shift, our minds have been conditioned not to be very focused on the original intent of something that our world has said is a commodity instead of a necessity. This history has made our execution of God’s intended purpose of the Church so complicated and so difficult.

Where do we fit into this massive narrative? How do we, knowing that the culture has been pushing the Church to the margins, make waves in culture to bring the Church back towards the center?

There are 3 practical things we can do to achieve the intended purpose that God designed for the Church. Now remember, they’re practical, not easy, so it’s going to take discipline and determination in order to make strides.

Know the God of the Bible.

You can’t effectively carry out something that someone wants without knowing the person. You can’t do what God has commanded His people to do unless you’re in a growing, deepening relationship with Him. Your relationship with Him cannot deepen unless you are pursuing a deeper knowledge of Him. Before you can do anything worth accomplishing, you have to know God. You have to read His Word. You have to seek after Him. That’s non-negotiable. But, as J.I. Packer writes in his aptly titled book, Knowing God, “If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us.” Knowing about God isn’t an end, it’s a means to the greater end of God Himself

Live out what you believe.

Just knowing about God is part of the equation. Our knowledge should drive us to action, and the biggest action we can take is living out what we believe about God. If we believe that God is loving, we must strive to be loving. If we believe that God is kind, we must strive to be kind. If we believe that God is impartial, we must strive to be impartial. If we believe that God is light, then we must strive to be light. Our lives must reflect God and His character, which means that our character must be above reproach; we must seek to have high integrity and live up to a higher standard.

Teach others about God.

Finally, as we seek to know God and know more about Him and live out what we believe about Him, we must teach others to do the same. We have not learned what we’ve learned in order to keep it to ourselves. Jesus’ last commandment is to make disciples. Historically, we’ve made this command synonymous with “evangelizing people.” That’s just the first step in the process. The whole idea of discipleship can be found in the way that Jewish priests were trained and apprenticed. They devoted their whole lives to learning about the position, learning the laws, and learning everything in between. That’s what we must do as we make disciples: bring people into the family, then walk the journey with them.

As we pursue bringing about the intended purpose of the Church, and as we seek to know God better, I end the way I started: you can’t do life alone.

While it’s possible to get through life on your own, truthfully, you’ll never live up to your full potential and live out your true design if you live isolated.

Church was never meant to be a solitary institution. Neither is it a spectator sport. That’s why, in order for us to achieve the goal that God set for His Church, we can’t sit on the sidelines by ourselves. We have to work together, and we have to work hard.

Every ounce of effort is worth it, and every step of the way will bring heaven here to earth.

You can’t do life alone.

How Can I Reach Students Better?

Have you ever gone to the mall on a Friday night to get some clothes shopping done, and ended up spending more time people watching?

Don’t lie to me. You have, and I know it.

Normally, the big things you see at the mall on a Friday aren’t people accomplishing their gift shopping or locals supporting small businesses. You see so much more than just these rare gems.

No, you see high school students out on “dates,” which means the guy is aimlessly wandering around with a cute girl from school until their moms come to pick them up before the mall closes.

They’re the most interesting creatures on the face of this earth. They want to act like adults, spend mom and dad’s money like adults, but have none of the responsibilities of adults. They think they’re older than they really are, more mature than they really are, and more competent than they really are. They love their independence, but can’t help but flock to attention. They scorn authority, but want to be the ones in charge. They’re the most intricate oxymoron in society, and we adults know it because we once were one of them.

These high school students, and middle school students alike, are the ones who fascinate me and break my heart in the world right now. I’ve spent the last almost 6 years (3 years vocationally) pouring my heart and soul into seeing these kids take the next step in their faith, including the first step into seeing who Jesus really is. I fought the calling I had for student ministry for a good while when I stepped back from it in 2015, but I’m more convinced now than ever that student ministry, middle school through college, is where my heart is.

Over the past 6 years, I’ve learned so much about how to relate to students that stand where I once stood. I’ve learned that the way I understand things isn’t how they understand them, nor is the way I understood things in high school the same way high schoolers understand them now.

For all intents and purposes, as I move forward, here’s how I define the “students” to which I’ll be referring:

A student is anyone including, but not limited to, those in 6th grade through 12th grade, and at times including post-secondary education individuals. These individuals are held to a high standard in the academic world, being tasked to complete rigorous course requirements in order to certify mastery in any given subject.

This definition seems a little like a no-brainer, I’ll admit. But, I think our church culture has gotten this all wrong. The big C American Church has belittled the potential and the power of 6th through 12th graders and unknowingly confined them to their age instead of their position. When churches call their 6th through 12th grade programming grouping a “youth group” instead of a “student ministry,” they grossly mistake what these students can do.

A “youth group” is just a gathering of young people. A “student ministry” is a discipleship community of responsible individuals who have the potential to disciple others, which the church recognizes.

So, I’d like to share 5 thoughts on student ministry with you that I’ve observed over the past 6 years, and thoughts that I think can change the way you reach students better in the church and outside in the community.

1. Go where they are.

If you want to know the people you want to reach, you must be in the environments and places that those people are. It’s no different with students. If you want to know more about your students, then at the very least you need to be at the places they are. Seeing students in their normal lives, without the careful scrutiny of parents or people who want them to be something they aren’t, will tell you a great deal about what they believe, who their friends are, and what they’re dealing with at any given time.

Go to the mall, see how you can get into their school lunches, go to their football/baseball/basketball/soccer games, etc., and you’ll see what I mean. Not only does that let you see who they are; it lets them see that you care. It shows them that you care enough about them just to show up, and that goes a long way when ministering to students in this day and age.

2. Be who you really are.

If you want to know who your students really are, what makes you think that you can be some self-righteous, holier-than-thou person who puts on the church mask when you’re around them? Another big component to student ministry is being the real you. If you fake your life around your students, they’re going to know. They can smell fake from a mile away, since they’re so used to fake people at school with them. Being a part of a safe environment means being a source of truth in their lives, and that starts out the gate by being the real you.

When you’re real with students, they’re going to see that you don’t always know all the answers, you mess up just like them, and you haven’t figured it all out, which is really comforting to them in the most roundabout way possible. They’ll see that it’s okay to not be okay, and that even following after Jesus like you are doesn’t solve all the problems in the world; instead, it gives them rest and peace when everything around them is chaotic and disheartening.

3. Don’t skimp on the hard stuff.

With students, it may seem easier to give a watered down, easy-to-swallow lesson that contains basic principles of faith, like “Love Others” or “Tell The Truth”, without any sort of depth or substance to it. You may think that they’ve sat for 7 hours in a classroom all day, so they don’t need another weighty lecture at a place where they don’t actually have to be, even if their parents said they had to be there.

In as few words as possible, that’s wrong. That’s the furthest thing from what they need. They need the hard truths of Scripture, even if they don’t always say they want it. When crisis strikes, or when what they’re learning at school conflicts with what you’re saying on Wednesday nights, where will they turn? If you give them the right tools through theology, apologetics, and a deeper understanding of the Bible, they’ll more readily turn to Jesus when hard times hit. Go deep in your messages, lessons, and conversations; you’ll see your students think more critically and more objectively, and, in turn, will take what you’re saying more seriously.

4. Observe their culture.

Culture is a really interesting topic when it comes to student ministry. Do we bring culture into the church, or do we bring church into the culture? It’s a concept that has stumped me as I prepare my messages and lessons, and have conversations with students at church and out in the open. But, the reality is that culture shapes so much of what your students do. And not just culture as a whole; their culture specifically determines what’s “cool” and what’s trendy to them. The things they hear on the trending Spotify playlists, listen to on the radio, watch on TV, and see on the Internet are the defining pillars of their world; as a rule of thumb, whatever we see in the media sphere is what we can expect to determine what our students think.

So, in order to understand students better, take the time to study their cultural norms. Listen to their music. Watch some of their TV shows and movies. Ask them what their go-to playlist on Spotify is. Figure out what voices they’re listening to in their world, and figure out how to tune in your ear for just one moment. By doing so, you’ll put your finger closer to the pulse of culture, being able to reach your students through the media they enjoy and to which they respond best.

5. Take them on the journey of a lifetime.

This, by far, is the most important thing I’ve learned. Old-school church says, “Do this. Be here at this time. Don’t have too much fun. Don’t do these things.” And old-school church has pushed students further away from church than they’ve ever been before. Don’t do the things that are old and outdated when you relate to your students. Don’t tell them just to follow Jesus; show them how. I firmly believe that if we walk alongside our students in the relationship with Jesus, then they’ll see the wonders and beauty of our Lord and Savior more clearly.

Everything in their world is pulling their attention in multiple different directions. Show them the brightness, the vibrancy, the sufficiency of a relationship with Christ. Don’t change the Gospel message to be more attractive; let your life show them that it’s attractive to you, and that you’d stake your life on it. Turn their heads with how much you love Jesus for Jesus’ sake. Invite them on the most exciting, most interesting, and most thrilling journey they’ll ever go on in their lives: a journey with Jesus.

There’s so much more I wish I could tell you about these things. There are so many more components to these five thoughts, but it would take books upon books to give you a fuller picture. Student ministry has changed my life, because God changed my life through student ministry. Through men like my student pastors, Ben Trueblood and John Paul Basham, and my leaders in middle and high school, Jake Holland and Donald Whipple, God gave me life in my deadness and changed my world forevermore.

In closing, if you’ve ever wanted to change the world, then get involved with those whose world is still being formed. If you want to make a difference in your community, get involved in student ministry. Be a volunteer at your church. Call your church’s student pastor and say that you want to help, even if it’s just standing at a door while students funnel into service. I urge you and challenge you to influence these kids for the better, because they’re our world both now and in the future.

5 Leadership Axioms That Will Make You Better

It’s no secret that I’ve slacked on the whole “blogging” thing. Whoops.

Looking over last year, I’m fairly certain I only wrote 7 or 8 blogs. Whoops.

Sometimes, in times where words just aren’t coming, it’s best to take a break. It’s wise to listen instead of trying to speak words that just aren’t there. And that’s honestly how I would describe 2016 for me.

But, today, I’ll be breaking the silence and writing on something that I’ve always loved reading about, but never enjoyed writing about. Something that I’ve lived and learned and applied, but never taught. If the stat, “You remember 90% of what you teach to others,” is true, then it would make sense that we should be eager to remember the things that we hold dear to our hearts, right? I spend so much time reading about and studying this idea, learning philosophies, and trying to do what I’ve learned, yet never shared with anyone what I’ve learned.

The idea is leadership. The simple truth that someone can step up and take ownership, and change the game for an organization. Leadership is something to which I’ve been called and something about which I’ve read and learned for the past at least 10 years. It’s vital to the way a group of people move forward, whether in a religious organization, business venture, or even just a small group.

I’m no John Maxwell, Dan Reiland, or anywhere close to an expert by any measure, but I’ve learned and implemented these ideas, and sometimes failed while trying them. Here are my top 5 leadership lessons that I would love to pass on to you. I’ll be explaining these in the context of the church world, simply because that’s where I learned them and learned how to implement them. They work in any setting, and can take you to the next step in your journey as a person, organization, or business.

1. Do, then Delegate, then Develop.

We all want to get the job done, don’t we? Part of putting on a weekly gathering involves a great amount of putting your nose to the grindstone and cranking out tasks that make each week possible. But, as your gathering grows and expands, welcoming more people into your midst and helping them get to the next step, there will inevitably be challenges and hurdles as you accommodate these new guests.

We understand organically that if we want something done, we sometimes just have to do it ourselves. We have to bypass, at times, involving other people to get certain tasks done; these can be things that only we can do, like preparing the weekly message or designing your programming schedule, or things that we’re available to do at any given time, like setting up chairs, running audio cables, or making the coffee for volunteers. That makes us, in that moment, doers. We operate on the ground level of leadership, trust, and planning, maybe not necessarily knowing any other way to get it done, who we can task with this undertaking, or how to plan differently. There’s nothing wrong with being a doer, but it isn’t the end of the process; it’s just the beginning.

Growing in leadership means getting people to follow you, and by empowering others to do tasks that can free you up to step up your game in other areas, you take the next step in the process: delegating. Delegators walk a very fine line between being lazy and not wanting to do something, and wanting to see others grow. As a delegator, you have a unique opportunity and deep responsibility to show people not only what to do and how to do it, but why it’s important that it gets done and how it can help others. Let them watch you do it first, then walk them through what you did. Next, let them do it while you watch. Then, finally let them do it on their own with no supervision.

At this point, you have a choice to make: you as a delegator can either let the person you’ve taught how to do the job just stop at being a doer, or you can become a developer and grow them into a better leader. A developer always looks at the people they’re mentoring in any capacity and chooses to look beyond the surface. They look into the heart and try to develop people into better leaders, and ultimately better people as a whole. They’re disciplers with a leadership focus. They walk the faith journey with people further than any other leader would dare to do. Being a developer means seeing the best in people, and wanting to bring it out, all while teaching them to do for other people what you’ve done for them.

2. Attitude affects everything.

How you think ultimately determines how you act. We tell our team members, our volunteers, and those under us constantly that our attitudes matter. We engrain into the DNA of our trainings that how we perceive affects how we carry out our tasks. And by all means, we’re completely right in doing so. If we go into an event, a meeting, or a training with a sour attitude, then we set the tone of how our presentation goes. We determine what our leaders think about what we’re doing. We show them before anything ever starts how the situation will go. And if our leaders, who are our extensions and the main connection between us and the people in our churches, have sour attitudes, it’s almost a guarantee that everyone in attendance will have terrible attitudes, and therefore I would go as far as to say that we’ve failed as leaders and that that event is a failure.

But, if we go into a situation with a positive attitude, then we set the tone of how our presentation goes in a different way. Our leaders will see that positive attitudes, and they’ll share the excitement we have. They’ll go into the event where our people see their smiling faces, enthusiasm, and charisma, and our people will be excited about what’s to come. They make our job easy of leading the event, and they’ll carry the vision we cast and the charge we give with joy and responsibility.

You see the difference between the two scenarios? It’s drastic. It’s the difference between success and failure, all because of your attitude.

Start each event, meeting, or training you hold by choosing to have a positive attitude, and you’ll see a change in the way your people will lead others.

3. True leadership begins with service.

Brent Crowe, VP of Student Leadership University, begins every conference the organization holds with this statement: “Leadership begins at the feet of Jesus.” As the organization seeks to train high schoolers how to be leaders as they grow, the one thing they ultimately focus on is not standing out in front, but meeting the needs of those in their care.

Leadership looks like a blast from the outside; you get to do the speaking, the vision casting, the planning, etc., and you ultimately determine what happens at the church/in your ministry. But, when you break down the ins and outs of leadership, getting into the details and peeking behind the curtain, that’s barely even 25% of the job. The real work, the real action, the real day-to-day is actually serving people. It’s a lot of one-on-one conversations about the mess going on, and a lot of emptying yourself to help people. It’s messy. It hurts. It’s unrelenting. And it’s extremely satisfying.

It’s exactly how Jesus modeled for us: He washed His disciples’ feet. He fed them. He took care of them in the tough times. He served His people. And that’s what a call to leadership is: a call to serve. If we aren’t willing to serve, then we ultimately aren’t willing to lead.

In this model, I’ve learned that serving your people always looks different for each person you’re leading. Serving one person may look like giving them opportunity to step up and fill a role, such as announcements or introducing the event as it kicks off, and serving another person may look like asking them to step down from a role that’s distracting them from their relationship with Jesus. No matter what it is, at the end of the day, serving your people always looks like empowering to do what they’ve been called to do and letting them do it. If you aren’t doing that, then you’re not leading. If you’re placing someone in an area where he or she isn’t gifted or called, you’re walking a path that will lead to his or her burn out.

Serve your people. Take care of them. Love them. Pray for them. Call them to better things than they could ever imagine for themselves. Empower them.

4. Own it.

As a leader, responsibility is the factor that determines how high or low you go in elevation. The more responsibility you can handle, the further you advance your leadership. As a result, if you can’t take responsibility for both the good and the bad things that happen under your watch, you can’t lead well. Whether we like it or not, the way a task, event, or other circumstance that we commission to take place goes ultimately falls back on us. It doesn’t matter if we’re the ones who are working directly with it or so distantly connected to it that it only is happening under the umbrella of the church, ministry, or organization that we lead; if our name is attached to it as the one in charge, then it falls back on us for how it goes.

It’s really easy to own up to something that goes well. It’s easy to take credit for the things that are a success and garner the praise of those involved or observing. We can practically do that in our sleep. We want to be associated with things that win. But what do you do when something you’ve commissioned fails? Maybe even fails miserably and makes negative progress for what you’re trying to do? Do you step up to the plate and own up to the failure, or pass the blame to someone else? Do you walk into the meeting that your pastor, president, or executive has called to discuss the outcome of what you’ve planned and shoulder the weight of the failure, or try and explain why your assistant, associate, or intern messed everything up?

I’ve seen time and again how leaders, who have so much potential and so much clout behind their names, would rather keep their records clean and undefeated by throwing a loss on someone else instead of learning from failures and trying again, protecting their people from the pain and shame of being wrongly accused and hurt by the weight of failure (which was never their burden to bear).

You can spin failure all sorts of ways. This person didn’t do this task the right way. That person didn’t call to reserve the event space in time. This group didn’t come through with their commitment to set up. And it might be true that all those people did these things, but the harsh reality is that it ultimately falls back on you. The person didn’t do his task the right way because you didn’t tell him how to do it the right way. The person didn’t reserve the event space in time because you didn’t tell her how long you needed it on the day you wanted it, so she couldn’t book the space. The group didn’t set up because you didn’t give them all the information they needed to to get in the building and set up the way you wanted them to.

Own what you commission. Don’t pass the buck.

5. Fail.

This one is scary. I kind of touched on it in #4, but it’s so important in my leadership development that I want to give special attention to it. Failure is necessary to growing as a leader.

That seems contradictory. How can you move forward in your growth when, traditionally, failure is synonymous with moving backward or not moving at all?

I would argue that it’s the only way to move forward, and the only way to grow as a leader.

Failure is the best leadership teacher. It gives you something to look back on as you take the next steps in commissioning the next task, showing you what you should do now that you didn’t do last time, or what you shouldn’t do that you did. It gives you a plumb line to create a checklist for everything else that you do moving forward. It gives you credibility when telling other leaders why they shouldn’t do certain things when planning big events, or why they should always do certain things in the planning process.

Failure is a lens into our own souls at times. When we fail, we not only see the things that went wrong with the event; we see into the reasons why it failed, and more times than not it ends up being a pride issue. We were too proud to ask for help. We were too proud to give anyone else a piece of ownership in the event. We were too proud to let other people share in the win.

Failure isn’t fun, but failure is necessary to move forward. Don’t be afraid of failure; embrace failure with fervency. Welcome it, but don’t let it be more than a momentary guest. Don’t aim to fail, but don’t fail to aim for the best.

Be a leader that above all else is marked by a willingness to grow and learn. I would love to help you grow in your leadership, whether by conversations, having you spend time with me here in Nashville, recommending resources, or being a sounding-board for your ideas. Drop me a line, and let’s grow together.

Does This Sound Like Your Church?

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.