“I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:18)
“The whole church….now enjoyed a period of peace. It became established as it went forward in reverence for the Lord and in the strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit, continued to grow in numbers.” (Acts 9:31, JB Phillips)
Sheralee insisted, in our seminary course on the theology of doing church, that “church” meant universal and that the purposes I outlined for the local church were actually intended for the church at large. Each local congregation has it’s own calling, its own profile of responsibility. For example, her church did evangelism, not foreign missions. And that’s OK. “That’s our calling.” Just as no individual Christian, not even the pastor, has all the gifts- the Spirit distributes as he wills – so the local church has a particular calling or gifting, I couldn’t persuade her otherwise.
On the way home from the city where Sheralee and I discussed the issue, I formulated an answer. She had not been convinced by an exegetical answer, so I told a story. Here is part of what I wrote:
“If a local congregation has it’s own profile (like individual Christians) and is responsible for less than all the purposes, what if a person goes to a church and finds no singing, no worship, just offerings and prayers and preaching? “Oh, you want worship? Well, you’ll have to go down the street to New Life Charismatic Fellowship.” You go there and find great worship, but very little solid Bible teaching from the pulpit so you ask when they do that. They say, “Oh, if you want Bible content, you’ll have to go over to Calvary Bible Church.” So you head down there and like it for a while, but then discover a lot of hypocrisy, leaders living double lives. You ask why they don’t have any discipline and they say, “You want discipline, accountability? You’d better try First Fundamentalist Church over on Main Street.” So you go there and, wow, how you begin to long for some caring help, some sense of family belonging, but all you get is hard-edged discipline.
I’ve been to many churches that are great on evangelism and keep growing and growing but they don’t have two thoughts or care two dimes worth about the billions living in the unreached half of the world, outside of gospel light. And I’ve been to other churches that send lots of folks to the mission field and have big missions budgets but it’s the same crowd year after year. No evangelism at home, no growth. So what is the motive, I ask myself that drives them to all local evangelism and no missions or to all missions and little local evangelism?
Sharalee responded graciously: “That scenario helps me to sort this out much better in my brain. I think your example is an excellent one! I believe you have made me see clearer why every local congregation should be doing everything God has commanded us to do.” Sheralee experienced the same conversion I had experienced years before: the local congregation is God’s appointed means for achieving his redemptive purposes and he expects the full prosecution of all the purposes he has established.
If there is a weak or missing purpose in a congregation it must mean some activity of the Spirit in gifting members is being neglected. What are the five purposes of the Church? Fully developed churches balance these purposes; 1. Worship, 2. Make disciples, 3. Member Care, 4. Evangelize, 5. Ministry of Compassion.
So what gift do we seek for ourselves or for our congregation? Pause now and review the purposes of the church. What might be needed in your church to fulfill those purposes. How do you fit into these purposes to bring all God’s plan for the church into full effectiveness?