"If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord" [Romans 14:8].
Most of us have experienced transformative encounters with God inside our Churches. We have found Him within the walls of our own congregations and have been challenged to become His disciples and to do His work. Our Churches are a special place, a sacred sanctuary that separates us from the secular world. The Church building maintains a familiar environment where we worship with the same people each week and become quite comfortable with the service specific to our Christian denomination. I enjoy the Lutheran service, the structure and the hymns, and look forward to receiving Communion on Sunday. However, the walls within our Church can become an end unto themselves.
We can easily forget that Church is not a structure, but a congregation who exist to do God’s work. Does our spiritual life only happen within a building? When we go to Church, a light inside us turns on, and then as soon as we leave it clicks off. Why go out into the world if Church only exists in the building where we worship?
The early Christians did not require large buildings or elaborate sanctuaries to have meaningful encounters with Christ. Due to the lack of resources, they met in one another’s homes or in outdoor areas, shared meals, prayed in small groups, studied, listened and worshipped God together. They did not have a large fellowship hall, nor did they run a capitol campaign or have a great professional staff. Instead they focused on feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, caring for the sick, and hurt, abused, molested and loving the unloved. They shared the good news of the gospel with all whom they engaged. Jesus said to them, "Follow Me and I will make you become fishers of men." [Mark 1:17] Their resources were not encumbered in maintaining a building and they could share freely with the community at large.
A great component of the Church is to devote time and resources to ministry and outreach. Without strong outreach we cannot discern God’s call as to how we might best share Jesus’ love within our community. Without strong outreach, how do we teach our children about sharing God’s faithfulness and love and show our youth that they are God’s children? We need to invest in our children by setting examples about how to network with other Churches, build partnerships in the neighborhood and share resources to address poverty, sickness and hopelessness.
Ministry is a great way to involve those who are new to the Church or those who may be intimidated by the Church’s unfamiliar environment. Getting folks involved on the streets or in the youth centers where they feel comfortable actively helping others is a powerful way to show them the results of God’s love.
Reading through Scripture, it is clear that Jesus consistently went to the Synagogue to teach. His ministry also went into the streets and fields, reaching out and teaching the people. “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” [Mark 2:17]. The purpose of the congregation is to invest our lives in others. Our focus should be on God and teaching others to know Him. Each Church should maintain resources to do the work of the ministry and to build trusting relationships in the community.
The congregation should expect and seek out spiritual multiplication. A healthy church will by its very nature, grow. Jesus said that it was His responsibility to build His church [Matthew 16:18]. The congregation is to invest our lives in others. “Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever” [Ephesians 3:20-21].
The congregation is like a river and we flow wherever God desires. “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” [1 Peter 2:5]. We glorify God in our bodies and in everything that we set forth to do. May God give us the faith and determination to live the dream that is His Kingdom.