The Nature of Church

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By Clark Reichert

I have been going to church all of my life. As kids, my mother hauled my brothers and me to church every single Sunday. I sang in the choir. I was a member of the youth group. I was an acolyte. I was going to church four or five days a week. Since I have grown up and become a church pastor, it has only gotten worse.

It is funny though; the Greek word found in the New Testament that we translate "church" is ecclesia, which literally means, "to call out from." All of these years I have been struggling to get up on time, travel to some imposing edifice, and jam myself into a crowded room while it seems that the original intent was for me to do just the opposite!

That is the great paradox of the church. Say "church," and for some it conjures up images of elegant, pointy buildings set up on a hill. Others think of the church as a busy place with events and meetings that never end. Still others think of the church as a refuge or a resting-place. It is, in fact, none of these things.

The church is a "calling out" of persons, not a closing them in. It is not a place to engage persons but a preparation of persons for engagement with the world. When Jesus commissioned his disciples and initiated his church he did it with these words:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

There is nothing said about buildings, fundraisers, meetings, or anything else that we commonly associate with "church."

The church was originally founded as a mission and as such still finds its truest expression. The modern church has responded to Jesus' call by funding mission projects and sending missionaries around the world. This is laudable and good but still falls short of the Great Commission. Jesus calls all of us who are the church to be about our mission of love, justice, and mercy every day. Imagine such an army of missionaries ministering to every community on earth. That is just the thing needed for a weary and hurting world.