What is church supposed to look like?
I have to say that there is a theme among believers today that is very disturbing to me. And it is mostly with younger people. It ranges from not seeing a need for church all the way to great disdain for the church.
I confess that I do not understand it.
I got saved in college when I was 19. I was so enamored with Jesus that I couldn’t get enough of Him! I went to every bible study I could find (and in Boston in the mid-70’s there were tons of them at colleges all over the city). I went to church every chance I got. There was so much I didn’t understand in the preaching/teaching but that didn’t matter. I was so hungry, I was devouring the Word!
And worship… oh man! It blew my socks off.
I had some of the best discipleship around (and definitely more than anyone else I’ve ever met) and my senior year I lived in a discipleship house with 10 other women. Our motto was “Doing Our Dishes to the Glory of God.” The goal was for us to learn that every aspect of our lives, the mundane and the magnificent, were all a part of the Glory of the Lord, and we needed to learn to surrender everything to Him.
We learned servanthood and hospitality. We were taught to take responsibility for our lives and choices and how to receive reproof with gratitude and humility. Living in community was a wonderful experience, one of the best of my life. Playing with night owls, crying and praying over sorrows and hurts, cooking for crowds and always having guests, passing money around as any had need and not worrying about where our next meal was to come from. These were all some of the many joys of that year that altered my life forever.
In many ways, I think THAT was what church is supposed to look like. Living in close commitment and fellowship. Learning to get along when personalities clashed and finding kindred spirits. Spontaneous prayer and praise.
Even writing this stirs my spirit with the joys we had that year. And the growth that came to my life lit a fire in my faith that has not been quenched.
What is the purpose of church?
Well, the Westminster Catechism says the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. But I see 3 callings for the church in the scriptures:
- to reach the lost with the gospel
- to build itself up to maturity
- to worship God
And I strongly believe that these are to be corporate things, that the called out body of Christ is to do. Yes, we will be working as individual believers to reach out to others, to disciple and minister and to worship. But I don’t believe we are supposed to live the Lone Ranger Christian Life.
We are the body of Christ. Not me, not you – we. All of us together with our different gifts and our different effects and our different ministries. All of us together comprise the body of Christ. In other words, we need each other. I can’t reach everyone with the gospel (even assuming that I was physically able to do so). There are people who won’t hear me, the bent that I have in how I share the good news. There are people who will hear your voice, your message, your perspective.
Part of the purpose of the church is to be united.
Well, with the splintering of all the denominations, it seems like this part is really hard to do. But you know, over the years and through the different states and churches, there have been very few believers that I couldn’t unite with around Jesus. I may have doctrinal disagreements, but I can see Jesus in them and worship with them and share the gospel with them.
Longing for community, living in isolation.
One thing I’m seeing more and more in our culture is isolation. We don’t have extended families living with us to be a support and encouragement; to help us get through hard times and to rejoice in good times. We’ve lost the sense of family even in the church. We come in quietly, sit in the back, hope no one talks to us and leave before the last hymn is sung so we can avoid talking to people.
I’m not talking about the introvert who struggles with the crowds. I’m talking about those who feel that they don’t need others in the church. That their needs cannot (or will not) be met by the church and hold themselves aloof. I’m talking about those who seem to have an US vs THEM mentality where THEM is the church.
But everything in our lives is like this. Our friendships are all online, we are known by handles rather than who we really are. We are alone, and almost pride ourselves in it. And I wonder seriously if this isolation is taking its toll on our view of the church.
I’ve seen 2 things happening simultaneously.
- people are frustrated if those in the church want to be involved in their lives
- people are frustrated if those in the church are not helping when they hurt
Like the “Fat Broad” in the old B.C. comic, we want to be loved and left alone.
But this really isn’t how the church is supposed to work. And I grant that there are many many things we in the church are doing wrong. We struggle and try and fail and succeed. But my heart just breaks over the disdain I see coming toward the church from believers. I don’t know what can be done to fix this rift, but I do know the enemy is having a field day!
In all of this, everyone is deeply longing for the type of community I experienced as a young believer; for that deep connection with those of like faith. But for whatever reason, it is not being found. And I don’t see the way we are currently dealing with this loss as healthy.
I wish I had answers. I only have more questions. I do know that this is NOT what Jesus intended. Grace must be extended to those on both sides of this issue. Love must be the goal.
May God work in every one of our hearts to restore a heart for unity and community and a deep and abiding love for the entire body of Christ.
Lovely article : )
I think that for those of us who are active in our Church communities, simply walking up to that isolated person and asking them to sit with us during worship, and/or to sit at our table during coffee hour goes a long way. I suspect this isolationism is often the bitterness of past rejection, and even a tiny bit of love goes a long way to mend it : )
Thanks, Anna. I really think there are so many things involved in this, not a small part being the philosophy of the age. Actually I see bitterness of past rejection more a factor in older believers who isolate themselves from the church and not so much what is happening with the younger generation. Thanks so much for your thoughts. This is definitely an area where we as the whole church (all generations) should examine for wisdom on how to unite our hearts together.
Sadly, I think you are correct. I see it in an unwillingness to commit to relationships and accept correction. Also, very few are practicing hospitality and willing to invest their time, energy, and lives in others.
Hi Stephanie. I wonder if the younger generation of believers have just grown up developing relationships in different ways — through online mediums rather than in face-to-face interactions. Maybe this makes building relationships in the church more difficult? In our fast paced society, it sure is hard to get those times where we CAN practice hospitality – everyone is just too busy to make that time for fellowship and getting together. Definitely things to think and pray about. Thanks for sharing your thoughts — I really appreciate your input and insight! Hugs.