Over the past several months, COVID-19 has radically changed our familiar ‘church’ experience.
The Sunday mornings we knew a year ago were very different from the online Sunday mornings we knew for the last three months – and they are very different from what we’re experiencing today!
Over these last months we’ve changed how we gather. We’ve changed how we worship. We’ve changed how we do preaching and teaching. We’ve changed how we do kids programming. We’ve changed how we fellowship. We’ve changed how we do Bible studies. We’ve changed how we connect with each other and with the community.
So many of our familiar church experiences have changed.
And so this whole process of changing how we do church has really led me to reevaluate what we do and why we do it!
- Just because we’ve always had a snacktime in the middle of our service doesn’t mean we have to… It doesn’t even mean we should!
- Just because we enjoy having some talented musicians lead our worship with piano, guitars, and drums – it doesn’t mean we have to… it doesn’t mean we should!
- Just because we’ve had great success in running our summer kids club or other kids programming – doesn’t mean we have to…. doesn’t mean we should!
It’s easy to get into the habit of just doing things because that’s what we’ve always done before. But it’s important to evaluate every once in a while to see if what we’re doing is still useful and effective and important.
It’s like the story of young lady who was newly married and she decided to bake a ham for their first Easter dinner. So she took the ham, sliced off both ends and placed it in the roasting pan. Her husband was watching all this and asked, “Honey, why did you slice off the ends of that ham? It’s all good ham – why not just bake the whole thing?”
The young wife thought about this and said “I’m not sure – that’s what mom always did when she baked a ham. I’ll ask her.”
So the young lady called up her mom and asked “Mom, when you’re roasting a ham, why do you always cut off the ends?” The Mom thought for a moment and said, “Well, that what your grandmother always did. Grandma’s ham was always delicious, and so I’ve always just done what she did.”
So the young lady then called up Grandma and asked, “Grandma, when you cook a ham, why do you always cut off the ends?” To this the Grandma replied, “I always cut off the ends because I didn’t have a roasting pan big enough to fit the whole ham.”
And I think this story illustrates what often happens in church. We just do things a certain way simply because that’s what we’ve always done – without considering if what we’re doing is still useful, effective, and important.
And so with all the changes that we’ve been forced to make because of COVID-19, I think now is a perfect opportunity for us to all reevaluate how we do church.
Why do we do the things that we do? What are some things that we should change? What are some things that we should never change?
But I guess, to answer those questions, we really need to take a look at the bigger picture. What exactly are we trying to accomplish as a church anyway? What’s the purpose of the church?
If we don’t have a clear picture of why we exist and what God wants us to accomplish – I think we’ll have a really hard time measuring the effectiveness of what we do.
Remember, God is the founder and designer of the church. It exists for his His purposes and His glory. We can’t just decide the purpose of the church as we see fit, but our responsibility is to understand how God has designed the church and then to carry out His purposes in obedience to Him.
And so for the next few weeks, I want to spend some time looking at the purpose of the church – as defined by God’s Word.
Why does the church exist? What is the role of the church in the world today? And more specifically, what is the role of our church in this community? What is the role of our church in our own lives?
These are the kinds of questions that we need to answer as we are pushed to adapt our methods for how we do church in a rapidly changing world. Our methods may need to change – but our purpose needs to remain anchored the truth of God’s Word.
We need to make sure that we have a clear understanding of what we’re called to do – because only then can we determine the best way to carry that out.
But before we get into understanding the purpose of the church, we really need to back up just a little bit and clarify first of all, what is the church?
And we’ve talked about this before. The church is not just a building. It’s not just a charitable organization. Church is not just an event that we attend every Sunday morning. The church is something much more.
As you read through the New Testament, the church is described in a several different ways and so I just want to touch on a few of those this morning.
One of my favourite descriptions of the church is that of a family. In fact, nearly five years ago when we first began meeting as the Penhold Church of Hope – our very first message was all about how the church is a family – it’s the family of God.
When you put your faith in Jesus – trusting Him for the forgiveness of your sin and the promise of eternal life – at that moment, God adopts you into His family. In fact, God in his sovereignty and his omniscience, decided in advance to adopt you into his family from before time began. Ephesians 1:3 says…
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:3-5
I just love the fact that it gave God great pleasure to adopt us (to adopt me) into his family. If you’re ever feeling down on yourself for whatever reason, remember this: God knew everything about you and everything you would ever do – and it gave him great pleasure to adopt you into his family! That’s pretty awesome!
As the old song goes “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.” It really is a great privilege to be a child of God and to have all these brothers and sisters in Christ.
So that’s one way that the Bible describes the church – as a family, as God’s family.
But the Bible also describes the church in some other ways as well. Another common description of the church is as the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 says…
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. 14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it….
27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.
1 Corinthians 12:12-18, 27
I think this image of the church being a body really helps us see the responsibilities we have to one another. Just like the image of a family shows that we are one relationally – the image of a body shows that we are one functionally. We are all very different, but we need each other to function together as one body – as one church. Romans 12 uses this same language…
4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
The idea here is that the church is made up of all kinds of totally different people – with totally different personalities and totally different skills and abilities – but everybody brings something good – something different – to the table. And to function effectively as one body, everyone needs to be involved in the work of the church – doing things that God has created and gifted them to do.
Just like a body needs all those different parts to be healthy and functioning properly – in the same way, the body of Christ needs all of it’s different parts – it’s different people – to be healthy and functioning properly! Otherwise, the whole body suffers!
Being part of the church means being part of a team. It means discovering the abilities God has given you and then using those abilities to help the team! Everyone has something wonderful to contribute to the work of the Lord!
So that’s a second way that the Bible describes the church. The church is a family. The church is a body.
But there is one more way the Bible describes the church (well, there are still several different ways, actually, but I’ll just point out one more.) And this isn’t found as a metaphor like what we’ve looked at so far, but this one is found right in the word ‘church’.
Anytime you find the word ‘church’ in your Bible, it’s been translated from the greek word “Ekklesia”.
So for example, when Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:2… He writes:
2 I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. 1 Corinthians 1:2
The word for church that Paul originally wrote in greek was “Ekklesia” – “I am writing to God’s ekklesia in Corinth.”
Actually the first time we hear the word ‘church’ in the New Testament is from the lips of Jesus when he is talking to Peter in Matthew 16. The conversation goes like this.
15 “But what about you?” He [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Matthew 16:15-18 NIV
Again, the word that Jesus uses when he says he will build his church is “ekklesia” – Christ will build his ekklesia.
So what does ekklesia actually mean? Well, it might surprise you that it’s not really a religious word at all. It wasn’t a new word that Jesus just invented at that time. It was actually a very common word that the Greeks used in different situations to describe a gathering of people.
For example, in Acts chapter 19, Paul had been preaching in the city of Ephesus and like many of the cities where Paul brought the Gospel, there were people who didn’t like what Paul had to say. Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths were such people and they stirred up the whole city against Paul and soon a great crowd had gathered into their amphitheatre in a riot. And this is where we see the word ekklesia. It says in verse 32…
32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.
It sounds like some of the protests and riots we hear about these days. But where we read “The assembly was in confusion” – in greek “The ekklesia was in confusion”. We’re not talking about a church worship service here – this is just a group of angry, confused people.
So ekklesia simply means a group of people, an assembly, a gathering together for some particular reason.
Therefore, whenever we read in the Bible about the church – we should understand the church to be a gathering or an assembly of people – specifically God’s people – God’s family.
To go back to our verse in Matthew 16, Jesus said,
“On this rock I will build my church [ekklesia].”
I will build my assembly of people!
And maybe I’ve been watching too many Marvel movies recently, but it kinda reminds me of the Avengers.
I don’t know if this is the best illustration, but this verse almost strikes me like Nick Fury and how he assembles his team of avengers to save the world! He brings in Ironman and the Hulk – Captain America and all those other guys. And together, they become the Avengers. As completely different as they all are, they unite against the bad guys – complimenting each other’s strengths – and eventually win the day.
Kinda in a similar way, God is assembling his team of Avengers… He’s putting together a group of people – people who are totally different from one another – they have different skills, different backgrounds, different ways of seeing the world – but they are united together like a family because of Jesus Christ to accomplish the great work that God has set before his church.
And over the next several weeks, we’re going to look more in depth at what that great work is – we’re going to see what the purpose of this team is and how each of us can contribute to its success.
But for today, I just want to remind you that you are like an Avenger! (And again, I don’t know if that’s a totally Scriptural way to put it, but I hope you get the point.) God is assembling his Church – He is gathering His family – putting us together as unified body – so that we can accomplish far more together than we ever could on our own.
Each one of us is an important and necessary part of that team – you are a critical part in the body of Christ. God has chosen you for a reason! I would encourage you to do your best to discover what that reason is. We’ll talk a more about that in the weeks ahead too – what part has God design you to play in his church?
But let me close with this: God is building his church. He is assembling the people that He calls His own. He’s putting together a body of believers to carry out his mission in the world.
And let me clarify that God isn’t gathering us simply because He has a job for us to do. If he was just looking for workers, he could get angels to do that for Him. But rather, God has chosen us to give us life and joy – to give us freedom and forgiveness – to give us hope and purpose! He’s adopted us into His family because He loves us!
We read from Ephesians 1 earlier:
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
God has adopted us into His family because He loves us. He wants to shower us with His kindness and grace – He wants to forgive our sin. He wants to give us purpose and hope!
And so I would encourage you first of all, if you’ve never said “Yes” to God’s invitation to be part of his family – if you’ve never accepted his forgiveness and His promise of eternal life – I’d encourage you to do that today! God’s assembling His church right now – but the offer will not be open forever. There will be a day when it’s too late, so I’d encourage you not to delay.
And for those of us who have already accepted that invitation – I’d encourage you to work at discovering your role in this family. Maybe that should be your homework for this week: What part of the body are you? How can you use your skills and talents and abilities to help the team carry out the great work of the church?
And like I said, we’ll talk more about that in the weeks to come, so make sure you join us again next week as we discover more about this ekklesia that God is assembling.