What’s the objective of the church?
The church has been an integral part of our congregations for several centuries. You just have to look at the skyline of almost every city in America or a city in Europe to see the towering spirals of church spiers and towers, which indicate the presence of church buildings below.
But the landscape is changing. Churches now meet in former shopping centers and malls, in rented school buildings, houses or hotel meeting rooms. Some churches even gather in secret, sometimes practically underground, hidden from the oppressive view of the local authorities.
The creative architecture of church buildings is as diverse as the area in which the structure is located. The structure and programming of the individual churches is also broad, probably depending on the culture in which the church is located. The New Testament also reports a wide variety of local churches as God's missionary efforts to spread the gospel traveled from Jerusalem to Rome and beyond.
It is interesting and important to note that "cookie cutter" churches were never God's purpose. The early church in Jerusalem had characteristics and functions (Acts 2: 44-47) that were completely different from other New Testament churches. Even the second church, chronologically mentioned in Acts, the church in Antioch (Acts 11: 19-26) did things very differently than the first local church in Jerusalem. At the time of completing the New Testament (Revelation 2-3), it was evident that each local church had unique characteristics that were different from the others.
American and global churches are obviously very different today. From mega churches to house churches, God's people gather in different places and environments – and yet they gather for the same great purpose. The church is God's idea and plan (Matthew 16:18), and no matter what the building looks like or how the programs are organized, the church must feel absolutely committed to what God wants from his church.
Opposing views of the church
There are two common, but seemingly contradictory, views of the Church's purpose.
1. The local church exists for evangelism. Some support the idea that churches exist primarily to reach people for Christ. They identify passages such as Acts 1: 8 to conclude that the purpose of the church is evangelism. For example, this was the view expressed a few years ago by the "seeker-sensitive church" movement and the emphasis on the "soul-winning" few decades ago.
Achieving what is lost for Christ is the purpose that drives everything the Church does – from the design of the building, through the implementation of programming, to the structure of meetings and worship.
2. The local church exists for discipleship. The opposite perspective is that the Church exists primarily for young believers. They see Matthew 28: 19-20 as the mandate to “make disciples”. These churches promote the idea that the church should put all of its energy into developing and producing mature followers of Christ. The pastoral teaching services of well-known evangelical voices such as John MacArthur and John Piper fit this model of service. Building the body of Christ is the great mission that determines the function and structure of the Church.
A balanced view of the church
Perhaps there is a balanced view that offers a real combination of these two perspectives. There is a central text that provides answers to this question and can be found in Ephesians 4: 11-16. In this passage, church leaders such as "evangelists" and "pastor teachers" are commanded to equip or complete or instruct believers to serve the Lord, which in turn builds up the entire body of Christ – the Church.
This particular scripture is a true balance of the two seemingly contradictory points of view – and the balance must be a combination of both. An examination of this text of Scripture shows that both priorities are absolutely necessary for every local church. In other words, the Church exists to reach people for Christ and to bring them to maturity in Christ. Both evangelism and discipleship are vital and must be practiced in unison.
As you read this passage, the meaning of true spiritual growth is obviously in the foreground. Several key terms confirm the point that the apostle Paul wants to make to his readers in Ephesus.
5 Important Statements for the Church
In the New King James Version of Ephesians 4: 15-16, there are five key messages with five principles that will help clarify the balanced purpose for the Church. When these statements are developed in a church environment and then implemented together, they also help explain and demonstrate God's true purpose for his church.
1. Mental maturity
God designed his church as a catalyst for spiritual growth. The language here uses a familiar visual representation of a child growing up to maturity. This truth, of course, must include the idea that there was a “new birth experience” (John 3: 7), and therefore it is essential to reach people for Christ. Therefore, it is essential for the Church to do the job of seeing people come to Christ and to help them mature in Christ.
The concept of a community of believers is essential to God's plan for his church. The Bible uses the following words as appropriate descriptors for the Church: people, body, household, and family. Scripture shows that God wants His people to grow and mature in a community of unity and togetherness. It was never God's purpose for his followers to practice their faith in a vacuum outside of other believers. New converts need the fellowship and fellowship of a body of other believers to really become everything God has for them.
This passage also indicates that the Lord intends his people to make a specific commitment to the local church. He does not want only some of his followers to do their part, while the majority of the other churchgoers sit on the sidelines without being involved. The Church is best when every believer devotes himself to the mission of his Church.
Serving the Lord must be at the heart of every local church's programs and functions. This passage is clear that God wants every believer to serve him actively by serving others in and through their local church. Salvation is evident when a person puts their faith and trust in Christ when the process of service begins.
Scripture also introduces the idea that every believer is the recipient of God-given spiritual gifts that are God's ability to serve him effectively (1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12: 3-8). It was never God's intention that the church be a "spectator sport" where people show up on Sunday mornings to watch others perform. God expects every follower of Christ to use his natural abilities and spiritual gifts to serve him faithfully.
The end result of the local church working as Christ intended is that the church will grow – both spiritually and numerically. Growing churches do not depend on a man-made plan or program. The Bible is clear that God wants each of his people to intentionally, actively, and faithfully share their beliefs with others. However, evangelism is to take place through the church, where those who come to Christ can grow in him and also participate in the mission of the church.
What does that mean?
It is obvious that churches differ in size, shape, geography and function. Some churches emphasize one aspect of the church's purpose, others focus on the proverbial other side of the coin. But the Church exists to reach people for Christ and to bring them to maturity in Christ. Both priorities are absolutely necessary and should be practiced in harmony by every local church.
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Mel Walker is President of Vision For Youth, Inc., an international network of youth ministries, and youth pastor of Wyoming Valley Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Mel has been active in various aspects of youth service for over 40 years. He is also an author, speaker, and advisor to churches. For more information on his speaking and writing service, visit www.GoingOnForGod.com. Mel has written 12 books on various aspects of youth ministry and speaks to hundreds of teenagers and parents each year. Mel & Peggy Walker are parents of 3 adult children, all of whom are employed. You can follow him on Twitter: @vfyouth.