Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Principles for Progress in the Church, Part 1: Purpose

I like to talk about progress. This blog is named for our forward walk with Jesus. But when it comes to the church, too often we think we can float along, without any real direction or effort. We like to drift. The problem is that when we drift, we automatically go backwards. The sobering truth is, if you're not progressing, you're automatically regressing. So my desire for my church is to be intentional about being healthy and growing the way God intends.

Progress in the Local Church

Over the years, I have been fascinated with how many models and approaches there are to being and doing church. I love being a student of the Bible regarding the church, and I can’t help but watch as church models come and go, even within my lifetime.

More interesting is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m thankful for the idea that our methods must change while our message must not. We are here to uphold the gospel. So when it comes to being the church, it matters not only what we do, but how we do it.

There are all kinds of advice out there telling us to how be relevant and stay relevant as culture shifts. There are also plenty of advocates to teach us how to lead and maintain a healthy, growing church in the midst of changing times. Ultimately what matters are the principles that God has clearly outlined in His Word. If we desire to be His church, which He even calls His bride, our local churches’ existence will be based on His principles and driven by His purposes.

The Bible teaches basic principles regarding how to be intentional and strategic in making progress as a healthy church. In fact, plenty of church leaders use these ideas to equip their congregations, although the wording and order may vary. Today we will look at the primary consideration: our purpose in being the church.


God’s Word has much to say about the purpose of the church. The New Testament is rich in these concepts. And the bottom line is that if we don’t understand what we are to do, and the reason why we’re doing what we do, then nothing else matters. Our churches have to be driven by what Jesus has said are His purposes for His church, or we’re not Christian communities.

Many have described these purposes or functions of the church. Some have a list of seven items, others have three, but there is general agreement on the basic functions of what the church is supposed to be about. They include evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, service, and worship. Some list prayer separately; I would maintain that prayer supports each of these purposes.

These functions of the local church are taught in the Bible, and specifically, we see them in the Great Commission, and what Jesus Himself called the Great Commandments.

Here’s the Great Commission:

The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. (17) When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted. (18) Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (19) Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations [Evangelism/Missions], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [Fellowship/Community], (20) teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you [Discipleship/Teaching]. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.16-20, HCSB, notes added)

And the Great Commandments:

And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: (36) “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”
     (37) He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind [Worship/Exaltation]. (38) This is the greatest and most important command. (39) The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself [Service/Care]. (40) All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
(Matthew 22.35-40, HCSB, notes added)

Again, these five basic ideas are all over the New Testament. But to miss any of them makes us an imbalanced, unhealthy church.

These functions of the church are our purpose. It’s why we are the church. Next time we’ll move forward to consider our set of values.

[This is part 1 of 5 in a series titled, Principles for Progress in the Church.]