Just What Is a Church Anyway?

Recently I overheard a conversation between two Christians about their church involvement since COVID. One mentioned how they hadn’t physically been to a church building since COVID but had been watching online. Another was talking about how they had changed churches. Evidently, at one time they really enjoyed being in the services of their previous church, but recently they didn’t like it as much.

I feel like I’m trying to swim against the current in my ministry because of mindsets like these. Lately, my heart has been to try to convince you, church family, that a local church is supposed to be much more like a family that has frequent gatherings than it is a business that provides spiritual services. Perhaps my heart is more responding to some Christians I’ve seen outside of our church, or to Christians in America, or to the way some churches in our area “do church” (which, what even does that mean, biblically?).

It’s frustrating, really. Because it feels like if I don’t try to “compete” for the “market” of the people who identify as a Christian looking for a “church,” then ours won’t last. There’s pressure to put on good, quality events for everyone. I’d better come up with more jokes in my sermons, or make sure everyone that’s on stage is attractive or has a voice that could be on a popular NPR podcast or the radio.

This kind of private, consumeristic, individualized, marketed “church” is foreign to the New Testament.

Part of the Why

Often this kind of “church” is done in the name of “reaching people.” Leaders convince congregations to take down all unnecessary barriers that might prevent someone from attending a gathering at the church’s building. So they make sure to have good coffee, popular sounding music, preaching that’s not too long and super “relevant.” Oh, the stage had better look “cool.” Membership is optional, giving is apologized for, and one of the worst things that could possibly happen is if the temperature in the room is 5 degrees off or someone plays a wrong note in the band.

Church family (and others reading), I’m afraid Christians in America don’t even know what a church is supposed to be, and I’m worried some of you don’t either.

Part of me wants to say that these consumeristic “Christians” just aren’t Christians at all. But man, I hear folks talk about the Lord, about prayer, about being in God’s Word—all wonderful things that sure sound like marks of a Christian to me. But when it comes to being part of a local church and what that looks like practically, there’s a disconnect. So, while there are some self-professing Christians who aren’t born again (and aren’t real Christians), even among what appear to be real Christians, this mentality exists.


The Definition of Church

Part of it is definitional and has (perhaps, in part) occurred due to churches owning property and buildings. A “church” has now become primarily an organization that provides a service or “product.” But did you know that of the 114 times the word “church” is used in the Bible, not one time does it mean a building? It’s most basic definition is assembly. Many, if not most of the times the Greek word translated as “church” is used, it could be translated just as faithfully as “Christian assembly” instead of church.

There are all kinds of implications for this, but for my purposes right now, the most obvious is that a church is not a business. A local church is a gathering of Christians. Perhaps I’ll write more about that later, but for the rest of this blog, when I use the word “church,” I mean “gathering of Christians.”

What I See

In God’s Word, I see churches that know each other’s names (Romans 16:3-16), spend time in each other’s homes (Romans 4:19; 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 Peter 4:9), gather together regularly (Hebrews 10:25), have pastors (elders) who they know well enough to imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7) and who they obey and submit to (Hebrews 13:17). I see churches that help one another with daily needs (Romans 12:13). I see churches that discipline individual members of their congregations (1 Corinthians 5; Matthew 18:15-20). I see churches who all have gifts to contribute to one another (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12) and consider the needs of others in the church more important than their own (Philippians 2:3-4).

I am not a perfect pastor. I never will be and I will (hopefully) never pretend to be. Central Oaks, you will never be perfect either before the appearing of Jesus. But we are called to strive to be a church God calls us to be in His Word.

Get This

I’m not sure I’m done wrestling with this in my heart and mind. And I’m not sure I have a specific “therefore” yet. Perhaps the purpose of today’s post is simply to say this: don’t be a consumer Christian. If you’re going to be part of Central Oaks, be all in. Gather as much as you possibly can with the whole church—every Sunday, every Wednesday. Do whatever you can to get to know people in your home, out and about, or in their homes. Look for needs and meet them. And pray for each other diligently.

Remember, church family. Central Oaks is not supposed to be a religious organization you pay me to run. You are Central Oaks.