Since its birth, the church has been among the most misunderstood organizations in existence. It has been maligned, persecuted, challenged, rejected, and ignored. And yet, there are millions of congregations around the world, and in many nations the church is growing faster than we can imagine.
It seems striking that while those outside the church are often the ones that misunderstand it, so many times the misunderstanding comes from within. When those within the church don’t quite understand it, there is often confusion, complacency, lack of vision and direction, decline, and even division.
Often, church members see the church as something you “go to.” We’ve all had those conversations in which we talk about going to church, or getting others to go to church. At times, this view causes us to think that if we “go to church,” we are in good standing spiritually, as if being “in church” makes one a Christian. However, as has often been said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.”
Sometimes, people see the church as something to be joined. It is as if we are somehow changed by affiliation or by finding our names on the church roll. Other times, church people have the illusion that the church is a social organization created to change things around us, or as a place where like-minded friends are.
While all those and many other views of the church contain some elements of truth in them, the fact is that the church is nothing less than every single person, wherever they may be, who live in a relationship with Jesus that has been secured by his death and resurrection. When any one accepts the forgiveness of God through the grace he has offered us through his son, Jesus, and then determines to follow Christ as a believer, that person is born into the church, not by human choice but by God’s action.
To state it very simply, then, if you know Jesus, you are the church. We are the church together. We have been entrusted with the most important task in the world, that of taking the good news of Jesus to a broken, lost, and dying world. So the church is not a social organization, a gathering of people who think alike, a roster to get one’s name on, or a gathering of religious people. It is the body of Christ, on mission. It is me. It is you. It is us together. We exist together so that Jesus can be made known, so that broken people can be made whole, so that empty people can be filled, so that people who are guilty can be forgiven, so that reconciliation can come to broken relationships.
When we came to know Christ, we became part of the church. It’s hard to imagine, but God believes in us enough to trust us with being his body in this world. Of all the things to be part of, the most exciting to me is to be part of the church. Imagine, Jesus touches broken people with our hands, encourages them with our words, helps them through our giving, loves them with our hearts, and draws them to himself with our witness.
And so, church rightly understand is not a burden, a chore, or a confining responsibility. It instead brings great freedom to our lives, freedom to love, serve, give, and belong. The next time church seems like just one more thing you have to do, take a look at your view of church. Remember that it is the greatest, most powerful force in the world.
Best of all, remember that YOU ARE THE CHURCH!