Thoughts to Ponder

What should the focus of Church be?

I have spoken out against the so called seeker sensitive churches and services for a long time because I believe that they compromise the message to get people into church. I still believe they do that and that it is wrong, but the more I study this issue the more convinced I am that there is a deeper problem.

I think we have for the most part forgotten what church is all about. We view church as a place of evangelism. Don't get me wrong evangelism is a great thing, but is that what church is suppose to be about? Is it the mission of the church to bring the lost in and preach the gospel to them? I think most people would answer yes to that question, but I am inclined to disagree. I don't think the central purpose of the church is to bring unbelievers in to hear the gospel message.

Anyone who has read more than one or two of my articles knows that I don't believe that salvation is the end, it is rather the beginning. I believe it does no good at all, and in fact might actually do more harm, to save someone and then allow them to fall away due to a lack of knowledge and maturity.

2 Peter 2:20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. [NIV]

A church that is focused on evangelism inside the church can't help but have this happen, they are too busy bringing in the lost and getting them to the altar to say the sinners prayer to worry about moving them on to maturity. After all there is a whole world out there that still needs to hear the message. I know what I am saying might sound strange but hang with me for a moment.

I don't deny that we are to evangelize the world, but I don't think that evangelism should be focused inside the church by paid pastors. Even look at the words we use; pastor, shepherd, minister. What do they all mean? They mean someone who has spiritual responsibility for a congregation or flock. This is the person who is to train and teach, who is to protect and guide the sheep.

Here is my point, when churches focus on winning the lost for Christ instead of bringing believers to maturity, they do a disservice to both the flock and the unbelievers. If you have a church of 500, which by today's standards is a very small church, and you equip and mature that 500 member congregation, then you have 500 evangelist, who are out witnessing to the world. But if you have one pastor in a church with 10,000 doing the evangelizing you still only have one person. Not to mention the idea that once saved those people who don't grow will end up in danger of being those that Jesus described like this:

Luke 8:13 Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. [NIV]

I believe it is the church's job, meaning it is the pastor's job to equip the congregation, to bring them on to maturity, to give them pure spiritual milk, and then meat to eat. When a church matures in Christ it will want more meat, it will naturally reach out to the lost. Evangelism will happen in every home, every work place, anywhere those mature believers find themselves with unbelievers. It will happen because their lives will be a witness for Christ, it will happen because they can't quit talking about their first love to those around them.

The early church had this maturity problem too:

Hebrews 5:11-14 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. [12] In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! [13] Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. [14] But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. [NIV]

1 Cor. 3:1-2 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly--mere infants in Christ. [2] I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. [NIV]

So what should church be? Well to answer that all we have to do is look at what the Bible tells us a pastor/shepherd should be:

Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. [NIV]

1 Peter 5:2-3 Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; [3] not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. [NIV]

1 Tim. 3:2-3 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, [3] not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. [NIV]

1 Tim. 4:11-13 Command and teach these things. [12] Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. [13] Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. [NIV]

Titus 2:1 You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. [NIV]

They should keep watch, teach sound doctrine, they should be overseers, and they should do it out of love for Christ, not love of attention or money. We are also warned that they will be held to a higher standard than the common believers:

James 3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. [NIV]

We have lost our way. We think that our job as believers is to get unbelievers into the church so that the professionals can tell them the gospel and then of course those new believers are to go get their friends and bring them to the professionals and so on. I just don't see where this is biblical. Yes the church is to support and send out evangelist and missionaries but each of us should be both evangelist and missionary where we live.

I am not saying it is wrong for us to invite our unsaved friends to church, nor that it is wrong for the pastor to give the salvation message. What I am saying is that if that is the focus of the church, then they are missing the major part of their reason for existence and that is to bring believers to maturity in Christ to serve His kingdom.

I believe this is more important now then any time in history. I believe that the great falling away has started. We need to equip people to stand firm and to know God's word. I believe that things will get much worse before the Lord returns and we need spiritual growth, not numerical growth. Look at the parable of the 10 virgins; are we equipping people to have oil in their lamps when the Lord returns or are we allowing them to be empty and not ready for His return?

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These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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May 2006