Rather than being locked into such pragmatic concerns, a classic definition of the church that has existed for most of its history is that the church is the continuing presence of Jesus in the world, called and blessed by God to be a blessing to one another and to the world. The church is not a voluntary society of like-minded individuals that have come together for their own interests and happiness. Instead, the church is a group of people who have been called by God and joined to Christ with the Spirit’s direction and enabling.
Here are some important implications of this definition –
1. It is God who makes a person a member of the church, and not my individual choice.
2. People often leave a particular church because they see it as a voluntary society which is not meeting their interests and making them happy.
3. The church exists to further God’s glory and interests, not mine.
4. Jesus wants his church to continue his ministry and presence outside the church walls and programs.
5. The gospel is the good news of God’s hospitality (literally “love of strangers”) toward us.
6. The church is made up of called and redeemed people who are to be a community of hospitality, extending grace because we have first received it from Jesus.
The list could go on, but the point is that the church exists not for me, nor to promote itself. The church is to have an outward focus of extending forgiveness and reconciliation in the world. The questions to ask, then, are “how can we be a blessing to others?” and, “what does it mean to be the presence of Jesus?” Not, “what’s in it for me?” or “how can we get more people to give more money?” as if church were some sort of Scrabble game of personal point grabbing and no holds bar winning.
No, I’m not some crotchety spiritual curmudgeon who bemoans the lack of genuine involvement in church while totally oblivious to the needs of church members around me. It’s just that the whole focus of church is not that I or any individual joins a church; rather, God joins me to his church. The action is God’s. And because it is all about God, it ceases to be about us. When it is about Jesus, then the amazing grace of God surprisingly forgives and meets the deepest needs of our lives. Church then becomes a place of incredible blessing as God himself shows up to offer authentic unity, real reconciliation, and spiritual cleansing. And those are things that transcend time and immediate needs for entertainment. Thanks be to God for his indescribable work!