What is the church for?
Increasingly, this question is coming into focus as an essential question to ask – and answer – for congregations, their pastors, and their church boards. Most faith communities have long assumed they know what they exist for. Sadly, the year 2020 revealed that this is not the reality on the ground for so many. The pandemic – along with accelerating worries about finances, concerns about how to be present in the renewed work for racial justice and equity, and struggles with how and when to “re-open” – has shown those of us in faith communities to be largely unprepared for the fundamental question of our very existence and mission.
What is the church for?
This summer, Seth Godin addressed defense of the status quo in one of his posts.
When the world changes, it’s tempting to fight hard to maintain the status quo that feels safe.
And so, utility companies lobby to ease emission standards, when they would be just fine if the standards were tightened. And so tech companies fight against new formats and new forms of exchange instead of leading with them. And of course, powerful cultural forces fight to preserve their hierarchies instead of figuring out how to thrive with new ones.
What we want and how we believe we get it are often two different things.
Where is there energy and intensity in your congregation right now? What matters to your congregants? What is the church for?
The Bible has some ideas about what the church is for:
Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
1 Thessalonians 5:11: Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Ephesians 4:11-12: And God gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Ephesians 3:10: So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
1 Peter 2:4-5: As you come…a living stone rejected by humans but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Romans 12:2: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Matthew 11:29-30: Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Matthew 25:34-40: Then Christ will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? …
What is your church for?
What are the key words in each of these passages that best define their particular answer to the question, what is the church for?
If you as a church board were forced to choose, which of these passages would you select to answer the question of what the church is for, and why?
How is your chosen answer to the question, what is the church for? showing up in your life as a congregation in the year 2020?
How can you best imagine living into that answer in the year 2021?