With the sermon series we have been doing at church recently I have been thinking a lot about the church. The series is called the Quest for the Authentic Church, and it has been thought provoking. We have talked about evangelism, fellowship (community), worship, discipleship,and service. All of which I agree are very important to the life of the church and to life as a follower of Christ.
Tonight as the pastor was finishing up his last message in the series, the one on service, he was talking about how you need all five of these things - evangelism, fellowship, worship, discipleship, and service - to have a healthy, functioning church. And then he went on to make a comment about some people pulling back from the the church, as an institution, and saying they didn't need that since the church is the people of God, not the buildings and the institution. The pastor didn't deny that the church is the people of God, but he also asked the question of whether those who have pulled away from the church have all of these five things in their lives.
It made me think about something I have heard from a number of young adults in the past few years - that they don't come to church because they're disillusioned with the institution of the church, and that they don't need to come to church because they have community on their own with their friends. But, the words of the pastor tonight made me think a little more deeply about that.
You know, honestly, there have been times when I have felt the same way; yet, for some unknown reason I've never been able to walk away from the church. Tonight it clicked for me why I have never been able to walk away from the church, and it's because I know that without these things (the five listed above) there is something missing in my life. Yes, the church is the people of God whether we are gathered in a building or scattered in the rest of our lives, but there is an importance to both (and this sermon series talked about both).
I have also thought about the descriptions of the early church found in Acts. Even in the early church, there was some sort of structure and organization. The church, as an institution, has existed as long as the church as the people as God has existed. There is no way that a group of people on the fringes of society in those early days could have done what they did without some sort of structure and organization to guide the work. Just as there is no way that it can happen without it today. I'm not trying to discount the work of the Holy Spirit and the things that do happen outside of the church. But, I think we sometimes forget about the need for a structure and organization so we can better complete the work we have been called to do.
Does the institution of the church have its problems? Yes! I would be lying to myself if I said no. But I don't think walking away from it is the answer.
There's a quote that my pastor has repeated many times in the course of this sermon series that has really stuck with me. It's from Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. It talks about how we often criticize the church that exists, rather than becoming the church we dream of. I think that idea hits the nail on the head. If we're disillusioned with the church, or maybe we've been hurt by it and walked away before, maybe we need to set ourselves to becoming the church we've always dreamed of rather than walking away from the church.
Think about it for a while. What would happen if we decided to become the church we dreamed of and set ourselves to doing that, rather than deciding we don't need the church and walking away from it? I think it would have a bigger impact and be the better answer.