Is church the ends or the means?
It’s a great question to ask. I was on a conference last week, and the speaker very helpfully unpacked this for us.
See very often we see church as the means:
- We go to church in order to be built up in our faith.
- We share fellowship with each other so we can be encouraged.
- We join our voices so that we can have a worship experience.
- We’re taught together so that we can go off and do our own evangelism.
Now all those things are true. But what if church for church itself was the primary purpose? What if church was the ends rather than the means?
When you think of the whole storyline of the Bible, the full end goal is of Jesus returning, judging, joining heaven and earth and gathering a people to himself. That gathering is the final church. Our little local churches are expression of that final gathered church. They’re like samples or tasters of what we will one day experience.
As Jesus died, he wasn’t merely paying for my individual sins. He was dying for a whole people group who would one day come together in him. Though we exercise faith and repentance for our own sins, we are then brought into the people of God.
Now that’s not very typical of our thinking in the UK. According to one researcher, we’re actually the most individualistic nation in the world, followed by USA and Australia. That means that thinking about our corporate identity in Christ is not something that will come naturally to us and is something we must train ourselves to do.
We may be concerned that such a corporate identity loses the value of me as an individual. But isn’t such self-centredness the core of what sin is?
When you think of church in this light, it changes your motivation and purpose in gathering as church:
- If church is the ends then it’s not just something I go to but it’s who I am – it’s my corporate identity as the people of God
- If church is the ends then I don’t just come along when I can make it, but I prioritise it and make every effort to shift everything else out of the way so I can be there.
- If church is the ends then it’s not primarily about what I can get out of it but about how I can be a part of it and contribute to it.
- If church is the ends then I don’t view others as a way of getting something out of them or done, but as an opportunity to collaborate and cooperate.
- If church is the ends then I don’t merely work on making converts but on disciples who will be joined in with us in Christ together.
- If church is the ends then online teaching and worship material is merely a compromise for when it is impossible to actually be gathered.
- If church is the ends then even when I’m not gathered with the people of God, I’m praying for them and in touch with them throughout the week.
So is church primarily the ends or the means? Well in the fullness of time in Christ, it’s the ends. That’s what we should increasingly reflect today.
(Published in our July Magazine)
photo credit: CC Way of the Cross as a ‘Way of Mercy’ – World Youth Day Celebration via photopin (license)