I'm trying to write a sermon for Easter, but I can't start since I can't get a certain question out of mind. I can't concentrate on Sunday's sermon because I keep asking myself, why do Churches even exist? All week during the day, as I fall asleep at night, and driving to work every morning lately I've been wondering: IS there a good reason to be, or to assemble as a church?
I know this sounds like a weird question to ruminate over, especially from someone who preaches. I guess I'm wondering why do we exist/what's our real purpose because, I'm trying to work out in my own mind what it is I'm inviting people to participate in when I try to share what we are all about at New Song.
I know some people think of church in terms of contributions/budgets and membership/attendance or buildings & programs. IS that really "it" to congregational life? I don't think so.
Maybe it's about worship & Bible study? Maybe the church gathers simply to sing, pray, and share their faith? No, again, alone that's insufficient too.
In a couple of paragraphs I can't be naive enough to think I could explain every detail about what church is or isn't, but, I am confident in one or two sentences I can provide a cause or essential reason for the existence of the Church universal.
Jesus clearly is interested in how we view & treat others, i.e., Matt 25:31-46. Jesus also wants us to love each other, for example see Jn 13:34-35. And, Jesus wants us to submit to His authority and simultaneously invite others into that same relationship too, as in Matt 28:18-20. In all of this, Jesus never says anything about church as we typically think of it in North America. He never mentions buildings, programs, staffing, nor does He even place an emphasis on our assemblies.
To boil "church" all down to a simple reason: Churches exist to develop disciples.
Jesus had one sermon, He shaped it to fit His audiences, but really it was one message: Repent the Kingdom of God is here in your midst. Jesus' main concern was for His followers to live under the sway of God's kingdom-presence. How did He expect that to be accomplished? Through replication; not imitation alone, but replication. What was He trying to get His followers to replicate? Him. That's called discipleship.
But what about "converting people"? Jesus never once, not one single time said "Go and make converts." He never commanded His church to make "converts" or "Christians." He wanted disciples, ones that would become like Him. "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40 ESV) So whatever we are involved in as churches, it needs to be based in training people on how to be like Jesus, not like us... with our likes or preferences or culture, but all of us becoming like Christ.
So, if we want to honor Jesus' wishes as churches, at the end of the day our time & energy needs to be channeled, harnessed and focused on what was most important to Jesus. Our main purpose and goal then is Discipleship. If we get that right, everything else will fall into place. If we don't get that part right, everything else will fall apart.
Whew, now maybe I can get started on an Easter sermon....