The Church’s Great Design

The church doesn’t exist for Christians. The church is designed for those who are not members.

Some time ago I made that comment, and it drew quite a response.

The context of the comment was within a discussion about discipleship. I said that Jesus is searching for true disciples in the evangelical church in America but is having difficulty finding many. Need evidence? Read the headlines.

Jesus is searching for true disciples in the evangelical church in America but is having difficulty finding many.

The evangelical church in America is losing ground when it comes to effecting change in our culture. Instead of a trend in our nation toward godliness, the trend is toward secularism devoid of anything godly. Western Christianity has retreated from the battle for the souls of men to the hollow pursuit of self-comfort. True disciples follow Christ into the fray.

God’s design for the church is not that it exists for my comfort or for the convenience of its members, but He instituted it as an equipping station to thrust us into the harvest for souls.

The church at Ephesus was surrounded by false religions and egocentric philosophies. People were consumed by their sexual appetites and practiced “every kind of impurity with a desire for more and more” (Eph. 4:19). Did the Apostle Paul tell Ephesian Christians to get inside their building, close the door and lock out the evil that permeated their society? No. He told them to walk worthy of their calling, obey God’s commands, stay true to the divine strategy and be Christians right where they were.

A Divine Institution

We must first realize that the church is a divine institution. It was not an afterthought with God. We are the strategy God designed to confront the godlessness of our culture. When Christ says we are the light on a hill, He means we are to shine in such a way that those struggling with the turbulence of life could safely navigate to the harbor of God’s grace. When the light from our churches sweeps across our culture, people see our good works and give glory to God in heaven (Matt 5:16). It’s an intentional effort on our part to understand that church is not about us; it is about God, His Kingdom and making His name known among the nations (Ps. 46:10).

However, we become ineffective when we turn inward and our culture has no visible measure of eternal truth. There is no incarnational witness of the Savior. We rob hope from individuals who are on a collision course with eternal separation from God when we focus our energy on ourselves.

Love in Action

As we project the gospel outward from our churches, we must follow the leadership of God. God does not overlook people’s sin. He extends grace and forgiveness in spite of it. We must be accepting of individuals without condoning their lifestyles.

We too often ask folks to change their attitudes, appearances and actions before they get saved. Truth is we need to get them to Jesus, and all those things will change when they meet Him!

I served as pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., back in the early 1970s. It was a time near the end of the Jesus Movement, which came out of the hippy craze of the 1960s. Our church was a church that loved the lost without hesitation. We had hippies by the scores every Sunday in our services. Our folks would just bow their heads and pray for them, and hundreds upon hundreds of them found Christ because we introduced them to Christ without asking them to change their lives. They had no desire or ability to change their lives until they came into a relationship with Jesus. We too often ask folks to change their attitudes, appearances and actions before they get saved. Truth is we need to get them to Jesus, and all those things will change when they meet Him!

I like the chorus of the song, “This Must Be the Place,” co-written and sung by Steve Amerson:

This must be a place where a broken heart can mend

This must be a place where the outcast finds a friend

For we cannot lift the fallen if our hand still holds a stone

And their sin that seems so great to us is no greater than our own

There must be a point where shame meets grace

And this must be the place.

Our churches must become places where the unconverted can find a passionate congregation who reaches out to everyone. They will be different that most of us. They will not know the church language and may not know the dress code. But they must find a place of love and witness that can lead them to saving faith.

Is your church that place?