The Christian church has been accused for the past several decades of being an organization that is stuck in methodologies and beliefs that are no longer relevant to the everyday lives of people. From the evangelical movement of the 1700s all the way to the 1950s, there was not a great deal of change in the methodology of the church. It was then that people like Billy Graham were hosting revivals and trying to take the Gospel of Christ to those who did not know it, but the musical styles, organizational structures and the method of education, for the large majority, remained unchanged. In the 1970s a group of people started something referred to as “The Jesus Movement”. This group of people sought to explore the church (and Jesus) as something to engage in more than just one day a week. They viewed it as something that was a part of their everyday lives. They left behind the pipe organs and picked up acoustic guitars. They wore blue jeans and had church in houses. The church planting movement followed in the 1980s and 1990s, and groups like The Vineyard Church began to rethink how to “do” church in every conceivable way. These decades gave birth to what some regard as the most innovative churches in history. Churches like Saddleback Church, Willow Creek Community Church, and Northpoint Community Church sprung up in different corners of the United States and begin to give people permission to rethink what church really was and what it could be. Though their theology and foundational beliefs were firm, it seemed that every methodology was to be questioned and constantly in evolution. Though many would give these mega churches the credit for opening the doors to rethinking “church”, they weren’t the only ones to realize we had a problem, nor were they the only ones who began to do something about it.
These churches began to really look at the foundation of why the church exists and how easily it had gotten away from the 2 core statements of Jesus; The Great Commandment and The Great Commission. The Great Commandment, Mark 12:30-31, says this, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (ESV). In Matthew 28:19-20, The Great Commission, Jesus spoke these words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (ESV). It was from these two statements, along with Acts 2:42-46, that Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Church, drew the five purposes of the church. These purposes; worship, service, outreach, community, and growth, have been referred to in various vernacular, but they all speak to the same core values. They have served this era of the church well in helping to simplify our purpose, and therefore make it easier for us to remember what the church is, revisit why we do church and rethink how we do church.
The word “rethink” scares many church people for several reasons. Some think that we are doing just fine and don’t need to change anything. Others believe it means we need to rethink our foundational doctrine. These individuals fear what could happen. Some even fear it means to rethink the concept of church as a whole; however, rethinking the church simply means that we should constantly be critiquing our methods in the context of the current culture that we are trying to reach and minister to.
The rethinking process starts with remembering what the church really is. It is not a country club, a fraternity or a secret society. The church is the earthly representation of Christ. We are here to be his hands and feet and fulfill the two statements referred to earlier; The Great Commandment and The Great Commission. It’s very easy for the church to get away from the core of what Jesus intended for it to be. For many, it becomes about them. We hear this as people vie for their personal preferences regarding everything from the style of worship music to service times. When we believe the church is about us we begin to care about things that have nothing to do with loving God or loving people. We become blinded by our own desire for the church to exist for those who already believe. Jesus, however, said in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (ESV). Jesus’ purpose on this earth was to seek and save those who do not yet know of his saving grace. In order to “make disciples” we must start with salvation, and that must be the core desire of the church; to help people find and follow Christ.
We must also revisit why we do church. Why do we meet? Do we meet for ourselves, those who already know? Or should our meetings be tailored to reach those who are yet to believe in Jesus? Paul taught us in Romans 12:1 that our whole lives–not just our meetings–are to be an act of worship toward God when he said, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life– your sleeping, eating, going- to- work, and walking- around life– and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him” (MSG). It’s understood that everything we do as a church should glorify him, as well. So what’s the purpose of the gathering of the church?
Thankfully, Paul also gave us this clear command in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (ESV). Paul was speaking to the church, saying that when you ?gather you are to teach, admonish and encourage one another. In one word– to edify each other. This may lead us to believe that the sole purpose of the church meeting is for those who believe in Jesus to encourage one another, but consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:16-17, “Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified” (ESV). Paul was telling the church at Corinth that they didn’t just exist for those who believe, but also that their worship should be comprehendible for those who don’t yet believe. Our worship, when comprehendible, has the power to draw people to Christ in salvation. Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord” (ESV). David was saying that as we sing new songs, people see our worship. They have a reverent fear of God and put their trust in the Lord Jesus. We worship because we are saved and so that others may be saved. Worship is not an either/or proposition; instead, it is a both/and paradox. Our lives, our churches and our services are always about God, and he wants us to encourage one another as fellow believers in a way that people are able to see our genuine love for him, in turn putting their trust in him.
It’s when we remember what the church really is and revisit why we do church that we can stand firm on the theological and doctrinal foundations of his holy Word and then rethink our methodologies with a pure heart. I, for one, am thankful that there are so many churches trying so many methods throughout the world right now. While there is a right identity for the church and a right reason to do church, there are many different ways to approach it, and I hope that churches throughout the world are trying them all. There are so many cultures of believers that encourage each other in different ways, and there are so many cultures that are filled with people who are yet to surrender their lives to the Savior. We need everyone we can trying every way possible to reach them.
We recently went through a season at my church, Northstar, of rethinking everything we were doing. Our identity and our purpose stayed the same, but so many of our methods over the last 2 years have changed immensely. Everything from our student ministry structures, our small group system, our staffing, our membership class, our discipleship process and so much more, have been put on the chopping block, prayed over, discussed and rethought into new and improved ways of accomplishing their specific purposes. We looked at the values of worship, service, growth, outreach and community within our church and found a lot of imbalance, which is something we are striving to rectify. We are constantly casting vision, honestly evaluating and constantly implementing change for the better of the church so that we may be enabled to worship God more deeply, encourage one another more richly and reach out more extravagantly to those who don’t yet believe in Jesus. I hope that every Christian church throughout this world never stops remembering who we are as the church, revisiting why we do church and rethinking how we may do it better.