The Epiphany (Winter) Issue of the Daystar Journal will be devoted to the mission of the church. It is a very pertinent topic and was the subject of a recent LCMS conference. Our first article addresses the question, “What Is the Purpose of the Local Church?”
The question has particular relevance to small congregations that are having difficulty in paying a full-time pastor. The article below is written from a small congregation that is lay-led and has not had a pastor for the past eight years. It has benefitted from the visits and encouragement of a wide variety of pastors over the years. Now, however, with lay leadership, it continues a vibrant ministry to its community, missions abroad, and state politics.
The congregation in Attalla, Alabama has opened up its facility to a Hispanic congregation, it has supported numerous community ventures, and it has consistently had strong VBS participation. The past five years it has sent mission team members to Central America. Last year they sent a team of ten to Los Limones, Guatemala, with CALMS (Central America Lutheran Mission Society). There they built a home and led a VBS with 400 children in attendance.
The author is an attorney and one of the leaders of the congregation. In the past several years he has helped to mobilize Christians and others to oppose Alabama’s draconian anti-immigration law, the worst in the nation. After countless meetings, newspaper articles, and visits with law-makers, some progress has been made against the worst provisions of the law. However, it the state and in the nation, he will continue to work for immigration reform as a vital part of Christ’s mission.
The Purpose of the Local Church
Myron Allenstein (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As He ascended to heaven after His resurrection, Jesus gave the disciples the Great Commission: “Go ye therefore into all nations making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all I have commanded you. And I will be with you always to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19).
God anointed His Son Jesus (the Anointed One; the Christ) “to preach the Good News to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, release for the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Jesus accomplished His anointed purposes on earth, and He established the church to continue His anointed purposes. “Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven; what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven” (Matthew 16: 18-19). “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
The Church is Christ’s Body: “God put all things under Christ’s feet and gave him to the church as supreme Lord over all things. The church is Christ’s body, the completion of him who himself completes all things everywhere” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
God empowered the Church (God’s People) with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) to be the Church God designed them (the called out ones) to be and to accomplish the ministry God entrusted to the Church. Jesus said the church would do greater things than He. “I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do- yes, they will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
The church is like a human body (1 Corinthians 12:27), with Jesus as the Head (Ephesians 4:15) of each church and every member as an important part of the church: “All of you are Christ’s body and each one is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
New Testament churches were established through the Holy Spirit by proclaiming God’s Word and appointing elders to be leaders/servants: “In each church they appointed elders and with prayers and fasting, they commended them to the Lord” (Acts 15:23).
To accomplish the purpose of the church, Jesus established the church to have five basic functions:
Worship: Love God –– “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
Fellowship: Love people –– “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 23:34).
Discipleship: Grow into likeness of Christ –– “We must grow up in every way to Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
Ministry: Service ––1 Corinthians 12:27-36; Romans 12:6.
Evangelism: Mission/Purpose –– “Go ye therefore into all nations, making disciples…, baptizing.., teaching…” (Matthew 28:19).
God has marvelously given to the church the “five-fold ministry” to build up the church so that its purposes will be accomplished. “He appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11).
The Word of God and the Holy Spirit infuse churches with life with the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel as a picture of God’s anointing power. The Lord said, “Prophesy to the bones. Tell these dry bones to listen to the Word of the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:4). The five-fold ministry proclaims God’s Word. The Holy Spirit sends life: “Tell the wind to breathe into these dead bodies and to bring them back to life” (Ezekiel 37:9).
Some churches are in disrepair and not living in the fullness of God’s design. God wants to rebuild these churches using Nehemiahs (servant/leaders) who have a heart and vision for rebuilding what has fallen into ruins, “Let me go … so that I can rebuild the city” (Nehemiah 1:5).
God will provide a unique vision for each church. “Without a vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). The Holy Spirit gives gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-11) and desires to produce fruit in each person and each church (Galatians 5:22-23). “Every believer has received spiritual gifts for the benefit of the body” (the people of the church) (Ephesians 4:12).
Four words characterize a vibrant, Bible based, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered church: Purpose, Vision, Relationship, and Empowerment. God wants to plant people in a church where they will flourish and bear fruit, even in old age, and will remain always strong. “They are like trees planted in the house of the LORD, that flourish in the Temple of our God, that sill bear fruit in old age and are always green and strong” (Psalm 92:13-14).
To be planted denotes blessing. To wander denotes a curse. Some Christians prefer “wandering” to “being planted,” receiving a curse instead of a blessing. The punishment of Cain for killing his brother was to be one who wanders. “If you try to grow crops, the soil will not produce anything; you will be homeless wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12).
May God infuse His churches with purpose by the power of the Holy Spirit so as to be “blessed…to be a blessing” (Genesis 12:4) and so as to accomplish His Holy purposes of making disciples, baptizing, and teaching with the promise of Christ’s presence forever.