A sprawling campus is being developed on a hundred acres at the edge of a large suburban area, near the front entrance of a popular housing development with prices “starting in the low $300,000″ bracket according to a sign erected by the property development company. Everyone’s wondering about this beautifully landscaped campus with its winding driveway, small lake, and ultra-modern structure of concrete and glass toward the rear of the property: is it a medical clinic? a health club? an exclusive restaurant? an advertising agency? an animal hospital? a bank? Whoever it was, they obviously had deep pockets and seemed to be sparing no expense to impress their upscale neighbors next door.
Finally, a sign appeared that read, “Coming Soon! Mountain View Church. Offering fresh perspectives on the timeless principles of Jesus Christ!” A church? They must have spent a small fortune on their logo-really cool-portraying mountains, a rushing mountain stream, and a cross. In small print at the bottom, it gave a little more information: “Mountain View Church, Inc. is a 501(c)3 corporation and a member of the Green Valley Baptist Association and the Southern Baptist Convention.” Looking up their founding documents online (through the state department’s searchable database), one will discover, sure enough, they are a bona fide company with officers, trustees, and articles of incorporation.
So is this really a “church” or just another corporation with a cool logo and trendy name? How are we supposed to know the difference? Are we trying to cross-pollinate a living organism with an organizational chart and marketing plan? Is that even desirable? When Jesus declared, “I will build My church,” is this what He had in mind? Or did we misinterpret the statement as “We will build His 501(c)3 ministry organization?”
Bill brings out some good points, but I’d like to use his post to ask a few other questions.
When we decided that we would have multiple elders (pastors) and that we would not choose one of those to be a “senior pastor” or “head elder”, several people asked, “So, who will I say is my pastor?”
When we decided to meet in a rented space on Sunday and in homes during the week, some people asked, “So, where will I say my church is?”
When we decided that we would not focus on programs but on relationships, some people asked, “But how will I serve or how will I be discipled?”
When we decided that individuals will be responsible for giving to those in need instead of giving to the church so that the church could do everything, some people asked, “So, will we still get a tax deduction?”
These are all very important questions, and I’m not trying to belittle anyone who has asked those questions. However, I would like to suggest that the questions indicate that we’re not thinking biblically about the church. Instead, we’re thinking organizationally and programmatically about the church.
Jesus is building his church – which is, his assembly of people – a group of people. When we begin to think of the church as more than or different than a group of Jesus followers, then we are thinking less and less about the church as described by Scripture.
It may be pragmatic and efficient and logical to have a human leader, and a set of programs, and a specific meeting place, and tax-deductible status. But, these things do not define the church. We could argue the benefits or the detriments of having these things, but they would be outside the scope of defining what (or WHO) the church is.
Jesus said that he wold build his church… not his charitable organization. We would do well to remember that Jesus cares about his church, not our organizations and programs.