What are churches for, anyway?

Posted: November 1, 2012 in Uncategorized
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There are a couple of guys I met through the prison ministry I serve with; they have become very good friends and Christian brothers (my wife jokes and calls them ” Bert and Ernie” ) We try to meet up once a week for a couple of hours, to share advice, prayers, and accountability, and generally just to discuss how God is working on us. So we met up tonight, and we got to talking about different purposes that “church” is supposed to serve. Bert has recently left the Methodist mega-church he attended for several years, looking for something more “authentic”. (Ernie is still a member at that church, and he feels fulfilled there; and my readers know about the little Southern Baptist church I belong to.) Bert now attends a non-denominational, “coffee-shop” church, which he likes, but he is missing the structural stuff that large bodies tend to do well, you know: small groups, bible studies, discipleship…it’s there, he feels, he just hasn’t connected to it yet. Ernie commented that the mega-Methodists have those programs down to a science; everywhere you go, there is something to get involved in, and most of it is “plug-and-play” as he put it. Meanwhile, my fellowship is in limbo – we need to start almost literally from nothing; we have two elders; one deacon (me); three teachers (I’m one of them); one “pulpit filler” (me again); two people who can run the lights and sound (me and one other) and no permanent pastor to help guide the re-building as of yet (probably not me, but who knows?)

All this talk of activities and programs and “doing” has me thinking again about the purposes of church. The bible speaks much in the book of Acts about what the first-century church was doing; Paul teaches at length regarding attitudes and practices within the body of believers, but I still have questions for those who sit beside me or in front of me every Sunday: What are we gathering together for? I get different answers – we gather to exhort and encourage each other; or we gather to receive instruction and training for our work for the Kingdom; or we meet to hear the Word of God proclaimed; or we meet to see to it that the needs of the body are being met; or we meet for corporate praise and worship. The more honest ones will say it’s all about us – “celebrating life together in oneness in Him”; the more contrite ones will say that we meet only to be empowered to go out – that we are to be looking outward, not inward. Problem is, I think they are all right; or they are all wrong; or I don’t know what I think, is the best answer I have right now. That’s OK, because, to paraphrase a character in a Heinlein sci-fi novel, true knowledge only begins when we can honestly say, “I don’t know.” (Why, I may be on the brink of genius!)

I’ve read the proverbial s**tload o’ books, and I follow a lot of bloggers who have opted out of “traditional churches”, and they seem fulfilled and connected to what God has for them where they are…but I’m not feeling a pull to leave this place…I’m feeling the call to help it realize it’s full potential. With all the changes we have going on, everything is on the table; I may never see an opportunity like this again –  to plant an idea that could have an impact that extends beyond my own personal reach…and I don’t want to waste it. So I’m gonna go bold, and go public, and ask YOU, Dear Readers, for some input.

If you could re-build a church, what would you HAVE to have, and what would you HAVE to keep out? I am only one voice in this conversation, but I will have my turn to speak…what should I say? Let me hear from you in the comments, I will leave this one open for dialogue if it gets lively.

Following hard after Him,


  1. My brother,

    If I may speak openly, you have one fatal flaw in your query here. You ask how, if at all, we can “re-build a church”. Stop right there. It is not your church, nor mine. It belongs to Jesus. Period.

    Instead of seeking to create an atmosphere where He will be glorified (through programs and the like), why not simply bow to His Lordship, His Kingship, His Ownership of The Church, and plug into what He is already doing? I guarantee you, my friend, He is well into doing that which only He can do, and it falls on us through wisdom and discernment and submission to find it and align ourselves with it. No need to “create a church”, for it is not ours to create. It is His. Always has been.

    True, this flies in the face of conventional and institutional Christian rituals and religious expectations, but…it is very doable, believe me. He is our Shepherd. This is His Church. He has given us His Spirit. His Word is in our hearts. It’s time to toss aside the old and familiar things that we have lied to ourselves and said that they matter, and pursue a return to The Book of Acts. It is there we can easily see what His Church really looked like and acted like. Everything else is merely man’s commentary and speculation. And you and I can agree that we have had such failing ideals for way too many years.

    Praying for His wisdom to take you ransom, brother. It will be painful, true. It will be scary and unknown to you. It will be overwhelming, true. But He is with you. You can do this because He can help you to do it.

    • nicky301 says:

      My brother,

      Your words are rich in wisdom and humility, and I thank you for them. Your counsel is echoed by that of our friends at the Union Baptist Assn., who have offered to come along side us, and spend the next six weeks in a time of intensive search…not for God’s hands, to empower our vision, but for His face, that we may discern His will for this body of believers. It will be painful, as we must face and discard our preconceptions; and it will be humbling, as we must acknowledge and repent from the hardness of our hearts; but it is necessary and beneficial, both for ourselves and for the work of the Kingdom. We are headed for a country we have not seen, but He is faithful, and will guide us where He wills.

      • Nicky,

        Your response was spot-on and exactly what our Father would have you say! Humility, hardness of heart, preconceptions…all of it was not revealed to you by man’s words, but by His Spirit.

        You said: “…not for God’s hands, to empower our vision, but for His face, that we may discern His will for this body of believers.” THAT was so wise and humble! You are really getting it, Nicky. For what it is worth, my spirit will lift you up for our Father’s strength and guidance in this next phase of your relationship with Him.

        He is looking forward to revealing more and more of Who He is to you and yours, Nicky. He really is.

  2. Clay says:

    Your comments are interesting. I’m sure I know Bert and Ernie. Just not sure who they are. (wink) All of what your various friends say it true. That is all what the church is for. It has little to do with size and more to do with transformation. I’m not sure that we can mass produce discipleship, but that does not mean we have to be small in order to do discipleship. Church, simply is to be salt and light. To bring light into the darkness. In order to do that, it must proclaim, equip, empower, send out, encourage and a host of other thigns. Programs are good if they meet a need. If they meet no need, they need to be rethought or replaced.

    Good writing Nick. I’m pleased, impressed and of course, very proud.

  3. chicagoja says:

    I’d have to have the truth. I like Paul’s writings, but in my opinion they are only superficially true. There is a deeper esoteric wisdom that the great philosophers and mystics shared, a wisdom that is sadly lacking in today’s churches.

    • nicky301 says:

      Which philosophers had access to deeper wisdom than what Paul writes? And what is “esoteric wisdom”? I am curious…don’t think I’ve ever heard his writings called “superficial”…

      • chicagoja says:

        Plato, Socrates, Aristotle etal. I’m referring to the Mysteries of which I believe Paul was a student of. Likewise, Jesus taught in the rabbinic teaching method that was used in biblical times. By that of course I mean the use of parables whereby there was a surface story with a deeper, more enlightened meaning. The disciples even admitted that they themselves could not understand the true teachings of Jesus.