There is a conversation that many of us have about the mission of the church. Two questions usually arise out of this discussion: what is the church's purpose in the world? And what is my role in that purpose? I want to address this topic through this article and hopefully generate dialogue that leads to change in how we act. I will be a referencing a book by Jonathan R. Wilson that I have recently finished reading, Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World: From After Virtue to New Monasticism.
Here is a quote that stood out to me from Living Faithfully that will help to spark our dialogue about our question “what is the church for?”
“We will discover that when we lose the telos, or over arching conceptual scheme that gives meaning to language in practice, then that language and practice becomes more easily assimilated to other purposes and other sources of meaning. We will also discover that fragmentation affects both the internal and external life of the church. That is, since the life of the church has been so intertwined with the culture, the fragmentation of church and culture means that there are fragments of the church's influence present in the larger culture.”1
Church, for many, is the descriptive word for the building that Christians gather in to sing, give money, and listen to a pastor talk about the Bible. It is the place where we ship our children into the basement to learn about David and Goliath, Jonah and the Whale, and Jesus Walking on Water. Church is the building that we use to host weddings and funerals. In short, it is a building for special purposes.
Church may also be understood to mean an organization administratively developed to meet spiritual needs of people. In this understanding the church would be like a club or corporation where people are more like consumers and may choose to distance themselves at any point when moods change or obligations get tight.
These understandings might be acceptable if culture is our matrix for measuring and understanding the church. However, as Wilson's statement points out, this is a way in which we see the fragments of culture influencing the church. The language and practices are assimilated to mean things that are not the intended goal for the life of the church.
How does it challenge your thinking about the church to read that the church is called by God, for God and we are called together. Jesus' final statement to his followers (those he called) was “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore [while you are going] make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mat. 28:18b-20 NIV) What message does this communicate to you about the telos of the church? Does it call you to live differently with those both in and outside the church?
1Jonathan R. Wilson, Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World: From After Virtue to a New Monasticism (Second Ed.) (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010), pp. 19-20.