The radical relocation of God ...
The Church as a Force
Why does our culture have one opinion of Jesus and an altogether different opinion of the church?
What is the Church?
I've talked with pastors all over this nation who have absolutely no concept of what the church is. They've never thought about it. Oh, they studied the subject in a class in college or seminary. They hae a notebook someplace, and they accept the definition in the notebook, but they aren't quite sure what that is or what it implies.
Then they begin to walk into people's lives, handling crisis after crisis, hiring staff, forming organizations, building structures and accumulating money. And they still don't have the foggiest idea what the church is.
Christian people are generally as confused as their pastors. Many of them know only that the "churches" of their acquaintance are a far cry from what God intended. That's why literally millions of people who profess to be Christians are more or less alienated from the organized church. We live in a society that is coming to tremendously encouraging conclusions about God and Jesus Christ. However, the conclusions of that same society about the church are not encouraging.*
Why does our culture have one opinion of Jesus and an altogether different opinion of the church? The Bible teaches that the church is the Body of Christ (see Eph. 1:22-23) and that "in this world we are like him" (1 John 4:17). When people differentiate between the church and Christ, when they say, "We're going to write off the church, but we surely do love and believe in Jesus," something is seriously wrong.
I believe that we in the church need to face that situation and its implications. To the extent that we do so, the Holy Spirit can teach us how to restructure or conceive of the church so that there is no great gap between the way that we see the church in the world and the way we see Christ in the world. Toward this end, I want to put before you two models of the church.
The Church as a Field
Do you think of the church as an organized, corporate structure located in the community at a specific address? Something to which you can direct people? Something identified and visible? Maybe with a steeple and maybe not, but a definitely located entity? That's a partial description of the church as a field.
In the church-as-a-field concept, the organized church is where the people come to do the work of God. A farmer's field is where he plants his crops and does his work. Just so, the field, as it relates to the church, is the arena in which the church does its work. Whatever is to be done by the church is done there.
This concept - that the field is where the work is done - is crucial. You see, Jesus said, "The field is the world" (Matt. 13:38). From that, it follows that the work of the church is to be done in the world. When we think that the believer's meeting place is where the work is to be done, we have departed from the concept Jesus originally established. Instead of the world being the field, we have made the church the field.
When we see the church building as the place where the work of God is to be done, we develop the kinds of emphases that will get people into that building. We need a great deal of visibility. The church must be prominently located. Second, the happenings that take place inside this building must be of such a nature that people will be attracted to it. Program and promotion become very important.
The goals of the church as a field are defined in terms of numbers in attendance, budget and facility. The primary purpose of the church as a field is to grow. Obviously, it takes money to run a church, but when we operate the church in order to get money enough to operate the church, we shouldn't be too surprised that people write off the church as something that is unlike Christ.
An interesting point is that the church as a field does not have an adequate description of what its ministry is. Its ministry, so far, is to get people into the building, because that is where the work of God is done. Its primary ministry is to grow. Once the people are gathered, this work centers around a professional. If people are going to be prayed for, then the professional is going to be the person who does it because he has the professional hands. And when there are more heads than his hands can take care of, we add another professional. What we are doing is setting up a rather stringent kind of professional approach to ministry.
Ministry becomes a positional identity within the organization. That is, if people are going to minister, they must be director of something or minister of something or associate of something. They will have a title and a position within the organizational structure. As a result, individual members are easily misled about the meaning of Christian service and are often reduced to spectators. Once they're in the field, unless they win a position, they have little relevance except to help keep the machine going.
I was praying one day for the Lord to give me the community, and the Lord stopped me. "Never pray for that again," He said. I am not going to give a community to you. Instead, I want you to pray, 'Lord, give me to the community.' " This was how I finally awoke to the fact that God didn't want us to be a separate subculture, He wanted us to penetrate every segment of the society in which He had placed us.
Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth" (Matt. 5:13). Salt, to have any effect at all, must be mixed in with the substance that needs salt. Nobody but a collector sets up salt-shakers and admires them. A subcultured church is like a saltshaker on display.
The Church as a Force
The church is people, redeemed, filled with the Holy Spirit, equipped to serve, meeting needs everywhere in Jesus' name.
Do not underestimate the preceding statement. That concept of the church will affect everything: the way the pastor preaches, the way the church is organized and promoted, the way the program develops, and the way the building is designed. This concept of the church is so decisive that if you don't see it in the throughgoing context I have just suggested, you will not understand what I am saying.
Among other things, I'm saying that we need to direct the church away from professionalism and into the hands of people who do not know what they are doing. I can say from firsthand experience that this policy is both scary and at times utterly ridiculous, but always, in my mind, necessary.
In this concept of the church, the field is the world, as Jesus said. That is where the work is to be done. The emphases in the church-as-a-field model are visibility, organization, program and promotion. The church as a force emphases are worship, training and fellowship, because these are the things that produce Spirit-filled people who can meet others' needs in Jesus' name.
When our people gather on Sundays or at other times, they are not the church at work. To attend services is not to serve the Lord. The primary work of the church is not to meet, though we are told not to forsake doing so. The church meeting is not the church working; it is simply the church meeting. Services are for what we might call R and R, rest and restoration, and this includes worship and celebration. The church is rested and restored at meetings so that they can work in the world when they leave.
The church-as-a-field has goals expressed in numbers, budget and facility. The church as a force has goals that are personal and individual: we want each member to come to wholeness, be equipped and be released into the world to minister. Our basic assumption is that the Holy Spirit who fills the pastor can fill every believer to whom the pastor preaches. And each believer is potentially capable of ministering just as surely as the pastor is, though perhaps in a different way.
The role of a pastor is to help Christians start living in the light of the truth. Christians tend to have a lot of theology in their hearts and a good bit in their heads, but not much in their feet. Christianity that doesn't walk around in shoes isn't worth much. It has to walk, and the role of a pastor is to teach people how to get their Christianity to walk right. If we only teach people how to think Christianly and feel it but not how to walk it, then we are failing. It's not the job of the pastor to minister to every need in the church. The job of the pastor is to teach everybody in the church how to minister.
The Bible says that pastors are supposed to "prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Eph. 4:12). Take careful notice of this Scripture, for it is foundational to the concept of the church as a force. Preparing God's people — that's the pastors' job, and that's a whole different ball game from pastors doing the ministry themselves. The church needs to place its members in a healing environment of love, acceptance and forgiveness. It must bring people to wholeness in such an environment, equip them, and then release them.
"Don't bother doing well what you shouldn't be doing at all." - Jerry Cook