As the pastor of a Christian Church I often ask myself a question. What is a “true church?” In attempts to create alive and vital churches we have come up with all kinds of sub categories and names for churches. We now have emergent churches, contemporary churches, seeker churches, cowboy churches, urban churches, missional churches, traditional churches, coffee house churches, mainline churches, charismatic churches, organic churches, meta-churches, mega churches, purpose-driven churches, and many other flavors of style, theology, or namesake.
But beyond a marketing phrase or academic moniker, what is a true church? Shouldn’t that be our primary question? Are we the true church that God intends us to be? Who really cares what our name is, what our logo looks like, how we dress, what movement we align ourselves with, or what kind of music we play if we are not a true church?
So what is a real church? I guess God only knows the full answer to that, but he has given us some pretty good clues. A true church is in the business of doing God’s work on earth. God’s work includes lots of things but the focus of it is Jesus. Through Jesus we find salvation, forgiveness, and our life mission. Our job as a true church is to draw others to Jesus and help them grow as followers. For references read the New Testament.
I believe that there are not many true churches in the world. Most churches are content to have nice buildings, respectable pastors, and enough money to pay the bills. Most churches don’t try to place any expectations on their members other than just to show up... as much as possible and when it is convenient. Most churches try to make disciples by teaching instead of calling to action. For the most part, they ask people to dutifully attend worship and programming activities while the pastor circulates among them as a chaplain. They call this “going to church.”
To the untrained eye that church may look like a church, smell like a church, and even act like a church, but it is not God’s church. It is just a religious social organization with nice platitudes and programs that are helpful but not transforming. Most churches do good and Godly things, but they don’t focus on the one thing that really matters… drawing others to Jesus and helping them grow as followers. When we lose focus of that we have lost our identity as a true church. C.S. Lewis said it this way in Mere Christianity:
“The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christ’s. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, mission, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time… It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.”
So are you part of the true church. Are you actively drawing people to Jesus and helping them grow as followers? Are you involved in the mission and ministry of your church… or do you just dutifully show up?