Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Church Identity

I have some more church thoughts tonight...

In the last post I said that often our churches don't grow because we have a misunderstanding of what church really is. And I would love to spend time... and I certainly will as time goes on... talking about what the church is really supposed to be in God's eyes. But tonight I want to talk a little bit about the importance of knowing what the church is really supposed to be.

I don't think it is important.

What!!! That can't be! Well, let me explain...

I do think that it is important to dismantle misunderstandings about the church in order for us to get out of the ruts and get moving in the right direction. And, with correcting misunderstandings you will probably be using correct understandings to do so. That is fine. But...

I think when the Bible uses the word church it is a descriptive term and not a proscriptive one. The Bible describes the church, and refers to the church, but I don't think it ever says... This is what the church should be.... Now, it does say how people should be in the church, but never gets down to defining what the church should be at each location around the world. (Please correct me if I'm wrong and I'm missing something.)

Church is what happens when people come together as they seek, serve, follow and praise Jesus in their lives. Church is the people of God who are called by Christ's name. Church is those people who are a part of God's family. Church is everyone who has pledged their allegiance to Christ. And if we talk about a local church, that is just the same thing as above for those who live close enough to share that faith, fellowship and service on a regular basis.

But do you see where the focus is? It is on Christ. Do you see where their identity lies? In Christ. Do you see where their commitment is placed? On Christ. Their identity is defined by being in Christ. Nothing else defines them further other than location.

In our day and age we might have a hundred "churches" in a given city. Usually we can see the definitions between churches by looking at their buildings. Others we can see the definitions by seeing who is in attendance on Sunday morning. If we looked deeper, we might see the lines of definition in the membership registries. We can certainly see the definitions between various denominations. We have made all kinds of sub-divided categories in which we "identify" ourselves as being this church and not that church. But what possible identity could/should we have as a church that is different from what God wants for all churches?

So, even if we are trying to do a new work and remove many of the misunderstandings about church I don't think it is important to somehow define our new group as "the church that doesn't have misunderstandings about church." I don't think we need to find a niche or a special identity, "Our church is...." Sure, we will have an identity. Sure, our group will have a definite flavor, style and emphasis. Sure, we may be more on target than other groups of Christians that meet together regularly. But it just doesn't have to be consciously defined.

The only thing that has to be consciously defined is Christ. We find our identity in him. We should gather because we're excited about him not because we're excited about ourselves gathered together. We must take our focus off of "our church" and put it on Christ.

So I don't think it is so important for us to consciously know what the church is really supposed to be because if we are consciously seeking Christ and are really following his will then we are already what the church is supposed to be.


  1. All I can say is, Amen to that, bro.

    Without fail, EVERY SINGLE TIME I run into someone in leadership from our old church, the first thing they say after "Hi, how are you?", is "How many are you running on Sunday?" If our focus is supposed to be on Christ, why does it always come down to a numbers game? IT DRIVES ME NUTS! We are growing in attendance, but that kind of growth is a by-product, not the goal.

  2. Yeah, I agree that we often lay our church numbers out on the table to see whose is the longest. Sorry if that is too graphic, but I think you can see how "ego" gets wrapped up into it. At the same time, I don't think we should try to completely ignore the sizes of our churches and never refer to it. The Bible doesn't seem to mind telling us in Acts how many believed in one day, nor how many Jesus fed at one meal. Those were miraculous events, though, too.