The Church (Part 3): The Local Church

This is Part 7 of a nine part series entitled, “Fundamentals”. You may read the other parts here .

Last month we examined the fact that those who are born again are made into a body of believers called the Church. The Church (noun) is the Lord’s work and we, as His workmanship, are called to be vital and active in the world today. We are one body, designed to serve one another and cooperate for the overall health of the same. When we are healthy, we are equipped to serve others in the community and around the world. As we serve, we provide the hope of the Gospel and ministry benefiting all. As a body of believers we have form and function. This form and function is both local and global. Each local church is a part of the global church and is therefore called to work with other churches in the community and around the world. Ministry and service are what I refer to as “churching” (verb).

The Local Church

A recent philosophy of ministry and sociological fashion pattern has developed an environment where attending a local church is like going to a restaurant or club. It seems the consumer driven mentality has taken hold in the “church.” Many church members have directly or inadvertently been taught to “come in” for the “show” and “receive” the “meal.” This tragic mindset seems to focus on entertainment and personality – music, drama, events and a sermon. There is little interaction between members, lack of commitment to the church and it’s ministries, and sadly, a come and go attitude that leaves the leadership team – and other members – wondering who really belongs and who is just visiting. Some come and go as if trying out a new diet. When something new comes along they feel the need to go check out the menu. Flavors, fragrances, sound, lights, aesthetics, location and comfort seem to be the ticket of the day. This is not the New Testament model.

As a church, we are called together (to gather) by the Lord. We are instructed to pray together, share with one another, work together, and serve for the benefit of the body and community. As Christians we believe in the message of the Gospel and are therefore committed to serving, sharing, and financing the ministry. We believe the Gospel provides hope to a dying world and are therefore committed to teach, preach, and share the good news. We are called to go, send, and support ministry with an allegiance saints in the past were willing to die for. We are called to be a missionary force. However, today’s “church” seems more like a mission field.

The average churchgoer shows up on Sunday morning just before the “service” like going to a movie. They sing a song or two, (if they sing at all) sit down, are spoon fed a predigested sermonette, and afterward leave promptly. (Barring any inconvenience in the parking lot.) Only 20% percent of today’s “church members” financially support the church and only a few more serve in some light capacity. This is not the Biblical model.

As best I can develop, church in the Biblical sense has four basic elements: 1) Worship, 2) Instruction, 3) Fellowship, and 4) Evangelism. When a person comes to know the Lord the first response is worship: the surrender of our lives to the Lord. Then, those “in the Church” are given instruction by the Word of God. (In the early Church this was done in the form of letters – circulated among the assemblies and read aloud to the members.) Thirdly, fellowship with the Lord and those of like mind and faith. Fellowship follows naturally for those in Christ and serves as a form of communication, encouragement and development. (Fellowship also involved breaking bread together. This fellowship occurred in the form of a meal celebrated as a “love feast” or as “communion,” remembering the Lord’s death until he returns.) Finally, evangelism. Outflow is the naturally resulting lifestyle providing hope to a world in desperate need of the Truth. (Note the natural order 1,2,3,4)

As one matures and is poured out; trials, persecution and rejection demand a return to the gathering for fellowship and instruction – resulting in continued worship. (Note the reverse of order from the above list. 4,3,2,1) The believer then leaves the gathering feeling supported by the Lord, by other believers who are enduring the same trials, and having received encouragement from the teaching of Scripture. The natural outflow is expressed in worship and joy – often expressed in the form of thanksgiving, prayers, music and singing. Teaching was not the primary focus and end in itself. The gathering together with others for encouragement was! Somewhere we have fallen off the pattern and need to make a return. Academics have overtaken the Biblical order. (1,2,3,4,3,2,1)

According to a recent Barna study, “only 33% of evangelical church ‘members’ in the U.S. believe the church plays an important role in their spiritual development.” Interestingly this statistic is among church “members.” What do we say of the other 67% who just attend church? Barna continues, “It is obvious when reading through the New Testament that God supports and works through the local church.” We are living in the Church Age. It is in, and through, the Church, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, God is working in the world today. Yet, as Barna adds “…only 18% of U.S. Christians embrace the centrality of a local church in a person’s spiritual growth and believe spiritual maturity requires involvement in a church.” “When it comes time (for Christians) to establish their priorities and make a tangible commitment to knowing and loving God, and to allowing Him to change their character and lifestyle, most people stop short.” “It is obvious that most Christians in the U.S. do not see much value in a communal faith experience. Even though the Bible is unambiguous about the importance of experiencing God through a shared faith journey, and Jesus’ example leaves no room for doubt about the significance of involvement in a faith community. Americans remain unconvinced of the necessity of the collective faith experience. This is partially because the typical church model esteems attendance rather than interaction and immersion.”

What You Should Do About It

Here are a few random/practical things you should know about going to church (verb).

Get invested. Commit to a local church and build relationships with those with whom you worship. Be accountable. If you attend a large church (The average church in America is ninety people.) get into a small group, home Bible study, prayer meeting, Sunday School class, etc. It is in these small group settings you will build relationships and find accountability. (Remember, you are not there for your needs alone…but for others; they need accountability and friendships too!)

Be involved in some form of ministry. There are ministry opportunities abounding. They range from simple tasks to awesome responsibilities. There is something for everyone. Go on a mission trip or sponsor a child, family, or missionary in some part of the world. Learn how to comfortably and naturally share your faith; then share – naturally. (One plants, another waters…God gives the increase.)

Financially support the work of the ministry. A good church does it’s best to provide a safe and comfortable place to meet, items needed for the domestic care of the body, teaching materials, financial assistance to the needy, local and global missions work, local outreach, and church staff (pastoral and supportive.) God supernaturally supports the church through you. Every Christian should be financially supportive to the ministry. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Pray for your pastor, church staff, leaders and other church members. Every Christian is called to be a man or woman of prayer. This is non-optional.

All we are and all we do is the business of the Holy Spirit – working in us. Surrender to Him completely and allow Him to accomplish all He desires.

The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are called together as one body to a marriage with Christ. The Church is the Family of God. We are called together to build up and benefit His family. Go to church (verb) and be the healthy member of the Church (noun) God is building, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessings to you all,

Pastor Paul