As a pastor in the 20th century, a part of preparing sermons is coming up with the “phrase that pays.” Sometimes they stick, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I don’t even remember them. But, one of those that has stuck is this: “The church is a covenantal community to be committed to, not a commodity to be consumed.”
But, it’s one of those things…You know it’s true, as a pastor I’ve taught on this until I’m blue the face, and not much changes. We treat church as a commodity. The point of church is getting our needs met. We go to church to get fed and get the relational connection we feel we need. We go because we want our kids to get a good biblical foundation. We go because of what we get out of it.
Last week, I wrote at article about love. Love is the covenant on which Christianity is build. The “new covenant” Jesus instituted the night before his crucifixion was a covenant of love. “As I have loved you, so you also must love one another.”
But, our modern, individualistic approach to church has no basis in scripture. A short survey of some of Jesus’ teaching and New Testament passages paint a very different picture:
The son of man didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. (Matt 20:28)
The Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers were given to equip the saints for the work of ministry to attain unity of the faith. (Eph 4:11-13)
Go into all the world and make disciples… (Matt 28:18-20)
They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer. (Acts 2:42-47)
And the real kicker:
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?Luke 9:23-25
In fact, do a read through the New Testament. The only times you find individualism mentioned is in a negative way. When people would use grace as a license to sin they were reprimanded.
7 Things the Church ISN’T
1.) The church isn’t a service or a sermon. The church cannot be attended. Though we take attendance for different reasons, church isn’t something we attend. As you’ve heard a million times, we don’t go to church we are the church. But knowing something and practicing something are very different things. We may know church isn’t a service, but how many have left a church and chosen a new church because of the service alone?
Neither is the church the sermon. Biblical teaching is important. But attending and listening to a sermon isn’t the point. We’ve made it the point. We’ve made it the reason we “go to church”, but it’s not the reason.
2.) The church isn’t a building. Although, because of sloppy translation, technically the word “church” does mean building, the actual word used in the New Testament is Ekklesia which means: “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly”. The word church comes from the German word Kirche, which does mean a building used for assemblies. Because of it’s connection with Christians who were meeting in these buildings, it became slang for ekklesia. Ekklesia though, has nothing to do with a building. It’s the family of God.
3.) The Church isn’t an individual pursuit. When you’re baptized into Christ, your individual identity is buried with Him through baptism and as you emerge from the water you receive a new identity in the family of God. The very thing driving much of our approach to church today is the thing that was supposed to be put to death when we received our new life in Christ. The only real use of individualism in the New Testament is in reference to individual holiness, something most modern believers don’t want to talk about.
4.) The Church isn’t a show/performance. Unfortunately, much of our approach to church, much of our effort as church leaders has been about the “hour on Sunday”, As Nancy Beach put it. This has been a mistake in our thinking as church leaders that has produced the net result of millions of church goers being led to believe that hour is the primary point of emphasis. Is there anything wrong with a worship service? No. Is there anything wrong with doing it well? Not at all. Is there anything wrong with it being the primary focus? Yes. Prior to my 7.5 years as a Senior Pastor I was a worship pastor. I am as guilty as anyone of putting too much emphasis on that one hour. I have been wrong and have been actively working to change my approach for years.
5.) The Church isn’t volunteering at a non-profit. I love people who volunteer at non-profits. We have some amazing people who volunteer at our food pantry every week. But volunteering at a non-profit, even a Christian non-profit where you as a believer fellowship with other believers is not church. It’s good. No, It’s great! But it’s not church.
6.) The Church isn’t having coffee with other believers. Yes, technically “2 or 3” are gathered. But is it really in Jesus’ name? Sometimes, undoubtedly, yes it is. But let’s be real. How much of the time is about Jesus and how much of the time is about that person that did that thing that you can’t believe they did? It’s a great thing to fellowship in small groups. It’s a great thing to build intimacy with other believers. It’s a great thing to hold one another accountable. It’s a crucial part of what church should be, but it is only a small piece of the puzzle. And only when it’s done right.
7.) The Church isn’t watching sermons on YouTube. We live in a weird time where it would appear church has been reduced to watching a sermon on YouTube or Facebook. For the last 5-7 years, this has been greatly increasing prior to the pandemic. I get it, there are some great communicators out there. I like them too. There’s a reason they’re famous. But because
I taught on this through our whole series in Hebrews last fall at SixEight Church. Watching a sermon on Youtube is not a replacement for your own devotional life. Jesus’s death on the cross made it possible for us ALL to go into the Holy of holies. Too many Christians are experiencing vicariously what they were meant to experience personally.
What is the church?
When we come to Christ we put our identity as an individual to death and receive a new identity of family. Yes, there is still a me, but it’s definition changes. I go from being all about me to me being all about we.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.1 Cor 12:12-14 (NIV)
Yet, somehow we have managed to flip this upside down and make the body about us.
This, I believe, is the reason so many people are dissatisfied with their “church experience.” Their premise is wrong. Going to church to get your needs met is like going to the Disneyland because you like talking to people while waiting in line. That’s not why you go to Disneyland. You don’t even go to Disneyland to ride the rides, many do. But the true, Disneyphiles go to Disneyland because they’re a part of the Disney family, they’re a part of the Disney movement. They go to experience the magic and be around others who feel the same way they do.
Too many people are going to church to “ride the rides” instead of going because they’re a “part of the family.”
An overly simplified definition of church is this: Church is a covenantal community of believers led by qualified elders who share in communion, worship, teaching, prayer and edification and who maintain corporate holiness through biblical discipleship.
In a later post, we’ll dig in and deepen our understanding of what the church IS.
For now, what are some other things you see in the church today that the church isn’t? (Don’t be negative, be evaluative.)