This is the first of five messages on the topic of the church.

A little over two years ago God began to take me on a fantastic journey. I had been working full-time with Camp Little Red for about four years when Heather & I began to feel led to resign from our position of follow-up supervisor. We didn’t really know why – we certainly enjoyed working at the camp, and we didn’t have any other job options at the time. But we felt increasingly led by God to leave the camp and begin a new chapter in life – whatever God would have us do. So in October of 2006 we resigned from the camp and I took on a job as a teacher’s aid at the small Christian school that I had attended as a kid.

Up until this time, camp was the over-riding theme & focus of my life. I had directed camps, developed new camping programs, and spent my energies thinking of new creative ways of doing camp. I loved planning camps and dreamed of one day starting my own camp. In fact, at one time I had proposed to the camp board that I start up a brand new camp here on Buffalo Lake. But about this time, God began to shift my focus.

I started to think about the church. The church that we were attending was going through some difficult times. Attendance had been continually dwindling. New Christians were few and far between. Church seemed lifeless and dull. And to be honest, most Sunday mornings I really didn’t want to go to church.

So I thought, is this really church as God intended it? Where was the “abundant life” that Jesus had promised His followers? The church that I read about in the Bible was alive and exciting! Had the church gone off track? Or maybe was me who’s got the problem? Were things messed up in my approach to church? Maybe my relationship with God isn’t what is should be? Whatever the issue is, how can I fix it? I began to have all these questions about church and my focus started shifting from wanting to build fantastic camps to wanting to build a fantastic church.

So to make a long (but exciting story) short, God has taken me on a fantastic journey over the past 2, 2½ years that has taught me all kinds of things about who God is, who God wants me to be, and what part He wants me to play in His church. I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I am very excited to share with you some of the things that I have been learning and to continue to learn with you.

I am completely confident that God has brought me & my family hereto this church for a reason. It’s already been a fantastic time of personal growth for me and I am excited for what God will do in and with all of us here in the days to come.

Now I’ve brought with me today a couple of items that I’d like to show you. I’d like ______ to come up and look at them and see if he can tell me what these items are, and what they are used for. (Invite an older person to the front.)

1. Fish hook – easy one.
2. Flash drive – not so easy.

When I first started asking questions about the church, I didn’t want to just figure out how to make an exciting morning service, or learn how to make Sunday School more effective. I wanted to get right to the root of the issue. I wanted to start with the most basic fundamental question. I determined that that question was “What is the purpose of the church?” So, one of the first books I read was entitled “The Purpose Driven Church” – Some of you may have read “The Purpose Driven Life” book by the same author. Both are good books, and I learned a lot from them, but I realized later that I had asked the wrong question.

“What is the purpose of the church?”
is the second most basic fundamental question.
“What is the church?” is the first.

You see, how can we know what the purpose of something is, if we don’t know what it is? How could we know this [fish hook] is for catching fish if we don’t know that it’s a fishing hook? If we think it’s some kids toy, we’re going to make some wrong conclusions about how to use it. Or this flash drive – if you don’t know what it is, you would have no idea what it was for.

So the very first question we have to ask is “What is the church?”

And before you answer that question, think about the ways we use the word ‘church’:
“I go to church on Sunday.”
“I am on the church board.”
“How many unchurched kids attend youth group?”
“Put on your church clothes.”

Judging by those four statements, the church is a location, an organization, a social status, and a style of clothing.

When Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hades will not overcome it”, was that what He was talking about?

Look at the language that the Bible uses to describe the church:

Acts 11:22 – “News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.”
Acts 12:5 – “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”
Acts 14:27 -”On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them”
Romans 16:5 – “Greet also the church that meets at their house.”

The church is people. God’s people. People who have been saved from their sin, and who have submitted under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. People who belong to the kingdom of God. We are the many parts which make up the body of which Christ is the head.

1 Corinthians 12:27-28 says “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:
first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.”

The church is not a building. It is not a social club. It is not a charitable organization. It’s not a program. And it’s certainly not a style of clothes! The church is just people.

You could tear down this building, fire the pastors, dissolve the church board, cancel all the programs, close out the bank account – and the church would still continue to exist.

Now I’m not suggesting that we should do all those things (especially the part about firing the pastors!), but those things aren’t what make us the church. We are the church simply because we belong to the kingdom of God.

So in answer to our most basic fundamental question – What is the church? – the answer is… we are. Every individual who loves God is a part of the body of Christ and together, we are the church.

Although this probably isn’t a new revelation for most of you, it’s a very crucial truth to understand, because knowing what the church is will determine the church’s purpose, which will in turn will determine what the church does. If our understand of what the church is is wrong, then our purpose and our actions will be wrong as well.

And by the way, I don’t want you to believe a single word I say. Not unless you check it out for yourself with the Bible. If the things I say don’t match up with what the Bible says, then don’t you believe it and don’t you let me get away with it. Study God’s Word for yourself and make sure I’m telling you the truth.

But assuming I’m not out to lunch on this one, we now know what the church is… People who love God. What then is the church’s purpose?

This is where it gets a little personal. You see, when the church was just a building, it’s purpose didn’t affect the way I live. When the church was just a social club, it’s purpose only affected me on Sundays and during Bible studies. But if I am the church, then suddenly, the church’s purpose becomes my purpose and it affects my entire life. The question “What is the church’s purpose” is the same question as “What is Dave’s purpose? What is Wayne’s purpose? What is Nancy’s purpose?”

Our purpose as a church is the exact same thing as our purpose as individuals. Do you know what your purpose is? Do you know why you exist?

Recently I wrote up short document outlining five main purposes of the church. I had read several books, I studied the early church in the book of Acts and the great commission, I made all kinds of notes, and I wrote out five main purposes of the church. They were: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, and Evangelism. So I wrote up this one page document that summarizing the five purposes of the church and handed out to the board for their comments and approval.

But after that I came to realize that I had missed the boat. Those five things are important things that should be happening in the church, but they in themselves were not the purpose of the church. It was like saying that a match’s purpose is to strike that rough stuff on the side of the match box. That’s not it’s purpose. A match’s purpose is to start a fire – striking the rough stuff is just part of how it starts the fire. Those five things are just part of how the church fulfills it’s purpose.

So what is our purpose? What is the purpose of the church?

Let me read you a few verses:

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Matthew 22:37-38 – “Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.”

Our purpose, yours and mine, is to love God and be loved by Him. That’s it. It’s really that simple. God created you and put you on this planet so that He could love you and you could love Him back.

God didn’t put you here to do your part in church, or provide for you family, or even win the town of Mirror for Christ (although He may ask you to do all those things). But your primary purpose is to love God and be loved by Him.

You could be a famous evangelist like Billy Graham and preach to millions of people and have thousands of people come to know Christ – but if you didn’t love God and accept His love for you, then you’ve failed. You’ve missed God’s purpose for your life.

So my challenge for you today is two-fold. First of all, if you’ve never accepted the gift of God’s love – would you consider doing that? God knows we’re a sinful people and that there is no way that we could ever earn His love. We try to live a good life, but the Bible says all our good deeds are like filthy rags. That’s why God sent his Son, Jesus, to live on the earth, and die on a cross. God placed our sin upon His Son Jesus, who died and rose to life again. All we must do is accept and return His love. If you’d like to do that, please talk to me or one of the many others here that would love to talk with you.

Secondly, if you’ve already accepted God’s love, can I just remind you today that God’s love is a free gift. I constantly catch myself trying to earn God’s love. Trying to prove my worth to Him. I think, “If I can read my Bible and pray for an hour each day, that would surely impress God.” Or “If I can preach a powerful sermon this Sunday, that would sure make God pleased with me.” No. That’s not how it works.

The Bible says that God is love. His character is love. Our actions do not determine who God is. He is going to love us no matter what we do or what we don’t do. There is no great thing we can do that will ever make God love us more – He already loves us at maximum capacity. And there is no terrible sin we can commit to make God love us less. He just loves us because of who He is. Romans 8:38-39 clearly states “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There’s nothing that can separate us from God’s love. So don’t try to earn it, and don’t worry about losing it. Just enjoy it – and then, (and only then) can we truly return it.