What is Church?
Yesterday was Ascension Day in the Christian calendar. It’s the day when the church remembers Jesus’ return to the Father – 40 days after the resurrection. Jesus left his follwers with a command to pray as they waited for the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. That would happen on the day of Pentecost, 10 days later.
In recent years, many Christians have used these 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’ This is a prayer that we offer continually, but we are called to pray this prayer especially at this time.
In our congregation in Gloucester, we are praying that we will learn new lessons about what it means to be church at this time of crisis.
We are considering some questions to help us with this prayer:
- what is church to you?
- what is the spiritual bread you need each day?
- why St Paul and St Stephen’s? why do you come to church here?
- what is it that you cherish about our community?
- what could be different in the days ahead?
- what could we hold onto?
- how is God asking us to reach out to others?
- what are the temptations we need to avoid – as a church?
- how do we allow God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven in this place?
I’m thinking about the first question today.
One model of church (Purpose driven church) has these five priorities: Worship, Evangelism, Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry.
(I won’t unpack any of those words here)
Others will have other models to describe church … One that I have found helpful is found in a book by Eugene Peterson: Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work.
He has five – Prayer Directing, Discipleship Making, Community Building, Pain Sharing and Injustice Resisting. (I’m actually paraphrasing his categories, which he describes slightly differently)
Notice the absence of Worship and Mission ….
I think that’s because Worship and Mission are not things that we do but more about who we are. Worship is at the heart of all of the five categories above. As is Mission. To share the pain of another in works of service and compassion is a missional activity. To resist injustice is a mission activity.
So I would argue that one of the ways we need to see church is with Mission at its heart, not simply a set of activities. The famous analogy of fire works well – As a fire only exists through burning, so the Church only exists in mission.
For many churches, this is about changing a mindset. Having a complete revolution in the way we think, so that we see everything in our lives through a lens of mission.
And at the heart, this mission is not ours to contain and own, but it is the mission of God, expressed most completely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And God invites us to be a part of his saving mission to the world, bringing reconciliation through forgiveness and peace through justice.
It’s good to remember another recent well used phrase – It is not that the church of God has a mission, but that the God of mission has a church.
It is only when we are people defined by mission as much as worship that we will see the world blessed by the church. Otherwise, we remain behind the doors of our churches, in a different kind of lockdown, unable to be the agents of blessing to the world.