The purpose of the church cannot be to survive or even to thrive but to serve.
When a church begins to think its sole purpose is to survive, it naturally turns inward. It goes into self-preservation mode, which does no one any good. If survival is priority #1 a church acts and operates like an institution or a company. Jesus, who came to bring more than what can be mentioned in this post, never planned on establishing a business. Businesses operate with a bottom line and CEOs manage with a “survive at all costs” mentality. If businesses operated solely on the teachings of Jesus they wouldn’t be in business very long. Death is never part of anyone’s business model, and rightfully so.
Yet, why do churches insist on operating like businesses? Why do they continue to think and act like secular institutions. Truth is, a secularized society wants nothing to do with a secular church practicing secular theology and filled with secularized Christians.
Jesus is building something far more compelling than a business. If your past experience with church left you jaded, confused, or damaged perhaps you encountered a poor man-made expression of a secular church. Unfortunately, we can’t judge Jesus primarily from his followers (or his enemies), you have to take him home for yourself and see what he has to say.
There are several analogies used in scripture for the church, and one is that the church was designed to act and behave as a living organism—a body. If we accept the premise that the church is an organism, then we need to accept the natural progressions of life. There are distinct characteristics that nearly all living organisms experience: birth, growth or maturity, reproduction, and finally, death.
The funny thing about the last one, death, is that most living organisms try to avoid that at all costs. But Christ said that death was something we must be willing to experience before we can actually live:
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24 NIV)
This thinking is thickly counter-intuitive to everything we know and believe. What about living, what about self-preservation and survival? How can dying be the first step? Perhaps the church growth strategy we should adopt goes something like, “Come and die.” This type of strategy matches exactly with what Jesus says must do to follow him. While the world says, “preserve and protect yourself,” Jesus teaches, “deny and lose yourself.”
Church growth and Christian maturity is all about decreasing, losing yourself, denying yourself, serving, and surrendering—it’s about dying. When serving becomes the essence of the church, rather than surviving and thriving, this is when the world is compelled. It certainly isn’t easy and if you want to be a servant you’d better be prepared to be treated like one, but it’s not about you anyway, it’s about Jesus.
The future of the church isn’t going to be found in its preservation but in its denying of itself and investment in the world. The church doesn’t exist for the benefit of its members, it exists for the benefits of its non -members. Remember that the next time you plan an event, or a worship service, or a missions trip, or discipleship class, or anything worth doing.
Before we can begin to live as the church, we must be willing to die and deny ourselves. We must die to our conveniences, our comforts, our traditions, and our desires. Only then will we truly live and function as the hands and feet of Christ.
FUEL FOR THOUGHT…
Are you more prone toward servanthood or survival?
What servant-like characteristics do you crave to see functioning in churches?
photo credit: Brendan Sceroler