Series Theme: Looking for a Better Church: A Church Check
Title: 1. Purpose & Direction
1.1 Church Cultures that Develop
In the main introduction I suggested three different ‘cultures' that you find in churches, and we need to think this through a little more. By culture, here I mean the habits and practices, beliefs, attitudes and expectations, that you find among a particular group of people, the local church. Within ‘church' we often find tags put on some of these ‘cultures', for instance, traditional, evangelical, charismatic, kingdom-based.
Each one has a different emphasis.
‘Traditional' suggest “We do church as it's always been done. We have rites and rituals and liturgy to guide us.”
‘Evangelical' puts the emphasis on the saving work of Jesus Christ and living according to the inspired word of God, the Bible.
‘Charismatic' usually has that but adds the emphasis of the work of the Holy Spirit today.
‘Kingdom-based' has that but puts even greater emphasis on the work of God through His church bringing His kingdom or rule through our obedient activities.
Each one of these is, if you like, a development of the previous one.
Each one of those brings with it different expectations of life within the church. I approach these considerations as one who puts the emphasis on the saving work of Jesus Christ and living according to the inspired word of God, the Bible, emphasising the work of the Holy Spirit today, with an even greater emphasis on the work of God through us, His church, bringing His kingdom or rule through our obedient activities . I believe nothing less than this expresses God's heart as revealed in the New Testament, so that is our starting point; that's where we are coming from.
Elsewhere (and in the main Introduction) I have written that I believe we are to become an expression of Jesus Christ to the surrounding world, expressing his love and goodness and his revelation and power.
The first two are primary characteristics of the person of Jesus and the second two are primary forms of expression of his work.
Now so far, you may have read these last two paragraphs and thought, yes, I can go along with that, that sounds reasonable, that sounds biblical, but the question has to arise, what effect should these two paragraphs have on the way we do church and, even more, how do we understand and express them as goals for our church, because make no mistake, they do not come about by accident; we need to consciously work in harmony with God to being about, do or be these things.
There may be those who might say, “Well surely, if we are being led by the Spirit we will all flow in harmony as He leads and we don't need to lay down any guidelines.” If only it were so, but the truth is that we aren't all being led by the Spirit all the time, and in the same way we need the guide-rules of the New Testament to pull us back on track when we inadvertently digress, so a set of goals or ‘mission statement' can act to focus us and let everyone in the local church know the things we believe God has said to emphasise and work upon.
1.2 Goal Setting
Having observed a number of times the process of setting goals for a church, I conclude that there are two main reasons for doing this:
To make, as a mission statement, an over-simple declaration means that a number of pertinent issues in respect of the life of the church will be missed. So the statements, “To bring people to Christ” or “To be a witness in the community” fail to bring out in the open some of the issues that need to be thought about.
Any mission statements based on the teaching of the New Testament are likely to have various commonalities and perhaps sometimes the differences come from the awareness of God's unique calling to this unique group of people in this unique location. The most important question that arises must be, Lord, what do you want us to be, what particular things do you want us to focus upon?
One mission statement that I have been involved with in the past was “To create a growing community of God's people / that is loving, accepting and caring,/ and which is able to minister / God's love, reconciliation and healing / with a servant heart,/ in faith,/ both within it /and to the world outside”
The dividers show the specific issues to be addressed. Having created the statement, for it to be meaningful and for it to present specific targets for the church, we then need to ask (and I use one example from the above statement):
You can vary the questions but they need to be things that challenge understanding and give a vision of a possibility and means of reaching it.
Here's another statement that perhaps fills out the particular culture expectation that I spoke of earlier, combined with the one above. I present it as three statements so as to be able to more clearly see different parts of it:
To create a growing community of God's people, brought about by the saving work of Jesus Christ, expressing Jesus Christ character and service through the power of his transforming Holy Spirit.
Specifically we will become a people that is loving, accepting and caring, expressing Jesus' love and goodness, and will work to have a servant, obedient heart of faith that brings Jesus' revelation and power both to one another within it and to all outside, as God gives us the opportunity.
In particular, as part of this, we will seek to serve and work with the local X Primary School, and Y Sheltered Home for the Elderly and work into Z estate on the east side.”
This particular example-statement first of all lays down the basis of existence for this church. It then declares the intended character of this church and its basis for service. Finally it highlights three local community areas to which the Lord directs their activities. Just an example, but whatever vision we settle for, we need to state it again and again until our church understands that this is important and this is what we are specifically aiming for, with God's help and direction.
1.3 Fixed or Flexible
How do we view such a statement? Well the first two parts of it are, I would suggest, fixed, all New Testament norms. They are who we are, what we are, and how we go about serving God. When it comes to the third part of this particular example-statement, for this to be adopted we must assume that the leaders and the members together have prayed and reached the conclusion that those three areas are where the Lord wants them to make their main focus, i.e. where we would expect the majority of the outreach effort, time and money of the church would go.
However, although this is where the main thrust of this local church will go, that is not to thwart or hinder the gifting of other individuals within the church who clearly put most of their life-emphasis elsewhere. Thus, for example, a couple move into the area close to the church and decide here is their home. As well as their jobs, he has a long established ministry into a prison some ten miles away and she clearly has a burden to pray for Christians in Burma (say).
Wisdom is needed to a) allow them to continue and be encouraged in those things on their hearts while b) not detracting from the main thrusts of this local church's ministry. It may be that they will be a means of enlarging this church's ministry.
A lot of words. Put them all aside if you like but don't avoid the main issue: is our local church going somewhere at God's direction, and are we aware of where we are going together?
1.4 A Vision of the Body of Christ
Proverbs 29:18 comes in a number of versions:
“ Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” (NIV)
“ Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (AV)
“ If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves. ” (Message)
“ Where there is no prophecy the people cast off restraint.” (RSV)
“Where there is no vision from God, the people run wild.” (Voice)
Revelation – vision – prophecy – all speak about something from God. In the absence of that ‘something' things go wrong.
In the New Testament we find, “we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) The implication is that God knows us as individuals and knows us a groups (the local church) and knows what He can do in and through us, and so when we wait on Him He will convey to us His purposes for us as a unique local group of His people.
But this is where words like “together” that ended the previous paragraph, and now “His people” lead us to think about the church as “the body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:12,27, Eph 4:12, 5:23,30, Col 1:18), where Christs expresses himself today in character and service.
This is what we are, a body of people who have been gifted with abilities, all different but harmonizing together: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:11-13) This is His ultimate goal and it should therefore also be our goal – a body built up by gifts of ministries to serve and to be unified, more and more expressing Christ in His world.
Is that what we are working towards in the local church? If not, we are falling short of His goals for us. That is the aim behind this part, to focus on being aware of our purpose and the direction in which the Lord is seeking to take us.