Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What is the Perfect Church

To continue my rants and raves from last week on the big-c Church, I want to follow up on Friday's post asking us to identify our strengths and weaknesses. What makes a perfect church? Do we need every attribute Ed Setzer describes in the Transformational Church? How about every characteristic in Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church? What if we modeled every feature in every book on how to do-it-yourself, fix-er-up church? It would be overwhelming. In fact, I bet if you went into your local Christian bookstore, or even to the faith & spirituality section of Barnes & Noble, you could close your eyes, throw a dart at the books, and likely hit a book either complaining about the state of the church or offering ways to make it better, bigger, more seeker-friendly, more missional, more somethingorother...

No, let's simplify. What does every church need? This is off the top of my head and isn't all-inclusive, but I think it's a good starting point for discussion:
  • Reverence of God the Father
  • Reliance on the Holy Spirit
  • Discipleship of Jesus the Son (sorry, I tried really hard to find another "R" but the only synonym I could find was "rooter" but I didn't like the ring of that)
That looks obvious, so let's get more specific:
  • Takes sin seriously (really, I'm serious)
  • Holy, set apart from the world (not the same as removing ourselves from the world in something like a commune, but separate from the world's values)
  • Evangelistic
  • Serving, both inside the church and out
  • So Missional and Benevolent
  • Worshipful (This could mean a lot of things to a lot of people, so I'll leave this open-ended)
  • Teaches ("For the Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" Paraphrasing 1 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • Relational (your relationships in your church fellowship actually mean something)
  • Prayerful (any prayer warriors in your fellowship?)
  • Faithful (no duh, but how many of us actually are?)
  • Loving
  • United
  • Global (not just world missions, but with the attitude in your heart that we are to go make disciples of "all nations")
Again, this may be simplistic. But what I've found is that churches that excel in one or two of these neglect the others. There is an ongoing debate right now amongst missional churches remaining Christ-centered and not just "doing mission" because that's the latest fad. Churches that are strong in fellowship may be weak in calling one another to account for sin. I've seen churches that emphasize evangelism on the standard of the Great Commission, but neglect the rest of the command to "teach them to obey everything I [Jesus] have commanded you". I've seen churches emphasize one another accountability, but lack love. I guess the bottom line is that I have yet to see a single church excell in every one of these.

Maybe it's not realistic to expect. We are all sinners saved by grace after all. And churches are man-made institutions that will always be imperfect by their very nature. Then again, isn't the Church Christ's bride? And doesn't Paul instruct husbands to imitate Christ "to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her [the Church] to himself [Christ] as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless"? (Ephesians 5:26-27) Aren't we to present Christ's bride perfect?

So we fall short. We identify a weakness and have a "campaign" to correct it, meanwhile neglecting what made our church strong to begin with. No one single church program can cover all of these bases. But only a church culture, where "every part does its work" (Ephesians 4:16) and every person strives to be Christlike in every area of their lives (prayer, worship, service...) can truly capture the fullness of Christ. Christ's bride is not a church defined by walls, staff, or programs. But rather by people, each striving to apply their unique spiritual gifts passionately for the Glory of God in the Name of Jesus. Then, when they come together in unity, can we finally see a "church" as described above.

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