This question means everything to our existence as Christ-followers. It’s clear that God’s design is for his followers to exist in community together – the church at it’s core is this. What makes the church “church” more than anything else is it’s collective nature – (we would never assume that one Christ-followers fulfills this “church” distinction. The church is very much is the gathering of Christ-followers. But the important question is this: What are they gathering for? In other words, attempting to look through the divine lenses of God’s vision, what was his vision for the church. What role was this gathering of Christ-followers meant to play that nothing else or no one else could play in the grand story of God?
I have been taught that the answer to this question is worship. God’s desire is that his creation worship him, thus the purpose of the church is to be the gathering of Christ-folloers for worship. It sounds good doesn’t it. After all, is there any grander purpose in the universe than the worship of God? Absolutely not! But does that mean that we can assume that worship is the reason God set-up His church in earth?
Here’s where I have struggled recently on this one: Wasn’t worship happening by the people of Israel in the pre-church era? Obviously it was. So if God had worshipers on earth before the church was initiated at Pentecost, if worship was indeed happening already, would he really create a different distinct organism with the purpose of worship? I don’t think so.
I want to suggest that quite possibly God’s design for the church was a different one – one of mission. In God’s epic story of providing for this world’s redemption, he had a vision the church being a vehicle – a vehicle of transmitting the good news of His kingdom. As Jesus came and went from this earth it’s seems to be clear that God’s intention was to redeem the world through the spilled blood of Jesus, but also that Jesus himself was not going to be the primary communicator of this redemption – Christ’s followers would be. God has left us in charge of the dissemination of His story – we are now stewards of the gospel like Paul says of himself in 1 Corinthians 4:1.
So here’s what this means:
1.) Evangelism isn’t one of many purposes of the church. It instead is the primary purpose and function of the church that all other purposes should be filtered through.
2.) Preaching, collective worship, service, and other functions of the church should be seen and thought about through this grander purpose of mission.
3.) Evangelism isn’t an activity of the church – it is an identity of the church. (We do evangelism vs. We are missional)
4.) The Church isn’t as much about worship services as it is the expression of Christ-followers joining together and joining God is his global and historical objective – the redemption of the world to His Genesis vision for it. This in turn leads to worship both as an expression of obedience through mission but also as the end result of that mission (people meeting God).
These are just some of my humble thoughts/observations and I could be way off base, althought my intuition says otherwise. What do you think the purpose of the church is?