There are a lot of things that the Church is in our culture: The physical representation of God in the world, a place where Christians can gather to encourage one another, God’s chosen method of spreading the Gospel.
All of these things are good and biblical manifestations of the Church in the world around us. But of all the great things that the Church does in the world today, there are also some traps the Church can fall into. And like anyone that wants to be healthy, we ought to be performing regular checkups to make sure that we’re not falling into one or more of these traps:
The Church is Not A Political Institution
When the Church first got started, it was a grassroots movement of working class citizens in an occupied nation in a small corner of the Roman Empire. But as more people were added to the Church, the Church began to increase in influence and power. Eventually, Christianity was adopted as the official religion of Rome. As a result, the Church was able to influence laws, enforce its morality and even coerce people into joining the Church.
That kind of power is something the Church still has in some cultures today, but there’s nothing in the New Testament that supports this kind of power for the Church at all. To the contrary, Jesus modeled a surrender of power and influence in order to become servants of all. If the Church becomes connected to the state, even unofficially, it has to serve two masters—something Jesus tells us we won’t be able to do.
The Church Is Not a Club of Like-Minded Individuals
The Church has always been a collection of people from different cultures, backgrounds and experiences. Despite that, many church buildings are full of very homogeneous groups of people. Churches tend to be separated by race, age, political belief and any other number of factors and types. But the whole New Testament is full of reminders how the Gospel is Good News for everyone in every circumstance.
Because of that, the Church needs to embrace diversity. It’s easy to gravitate toward the people who are like us, but a body needs all of its different parts. We all benefit from a diversity of cultures, races, talents and personality types. And we can better accomplish the mission of the Church if we embrace that diversity.
The Church is Not a Stronghold Against the World
You’ve probably heard this at some point: The world is evil, and the Church has to stand up against that evil. People like to use the phrase “in the world, but not of the world” to insist that the Church is supposed to protect itself from the world.
But the Church isn’t opposed to the world. Church isn’t an “us vs. them” game. To the contrary, Church is an “us for them” game. We’re supposed to serve and advocate for the people in the world. We want to share the Gospel with them. We want to affirm people as valuable and loved, and we want to help people come into a better relationship with God. That doesn’t happen if we treat the world like an adversary we protect ourselves from.
The Church is Not A Building
Church isn’t supposed to just be a place that you go. If Church is just a thing that we go to once or twice a week, then it’s not living up to the mission Jesus set up for us. Church is who we are. We’re the Church when we worship together on Sunday, but we’re also the Church when we go into work on Monday morning or go to the movies on Friday night.
The Church isn’t a building; the Church is God’s hands and feet in the world. We may meet in a building, but we do that in order to encourage each other, build each other up and get ready to go back out into our lives and be the Church in the world around us for another week. If our Church experience centers around the building that we meet in a couple times a week, we aren’t accomplishing the Great Commission.
The Church is Not Supposed to be Comfortable
Many of us get comfortable in Church. It’s where we grew up. We’re used to the way things go. We go to Church and we sing songs we like, talk to people who think like us, and listen to someone tell us things about God and the Bible that we already agree with.
But what if that’s not enough? What if being comfortable with Church is a sign of complacency? In the New Testament, churches were sending out missionaries, bringing in new speakers, trading letters with each other. For a brief period of time, church members were all giving up their possessions to the church and sharing with anyone who had need.
I’m not saying we have to go to extremes, but we ought to be doing things that get us out of our comfort zones. Because growth happens in discomfort. We should be participating in missions that stretch us. We should be giving up more of ourselves than we feel safe doing. Because that’s where God is able to use us the most, and that’s where we draw closer to God. If a church is comfortable, it probably isn’t doing much that’s worthwhile.
The Church does a lot of things well in the world today, but there are also a lot of ways that the Church has adopted roles and characteristics that may be detrimental to our overall mission. We need to be willing to examine ourselves to prune out these undesirable characteristics so we can be more effective in our mission of sharing the Gospel and participating in God’s work of redemption in the world around us.
Tyler Jarvis is a husband, youth minister and writer. You can check out some of his other articles at his blog (tylerjarvis.wordpress.com) or follow him on Twitter (@Tyler_Jarvis).