What is a Church?

Again yesterday, listening to a book written by a pastor, I heard it again. He talked about going to church. He meant he was going to the building where his local church met. It’s a building they own. I’m sure they spent a lot of money on it. But it’s not a church. It’s a building.

Invisible Church?

What is a church? There is a universal church, sometimes called the invisible church (ouch!) or Church with a big “C”. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. His Church isn’t a building or a group of buildings. It is the universe of people who follow Jesus and try to do what he says.

Visible Church

We also hear about references to the church at Corinth or Ephesus. Today, we talk about this as the local church or visible church. Even this church isn’t a building. It isn’t a legal entity that files with the government to avoid paying taxes. It, too, is a community. The legal structure and the building support the community. So do the pastors and staff. And so do the methods of worship and statement of faith, the playground equipment and the bank account(s). All of those things are tools, designed to support the community.

Personal Church

According to Ephesians 1:22-23, You’re the church, if you follow Jesus. The church of you gathers when you join with someone else who also follows Jesus. You may join with others on any day of the week and in any location. When you go to work, or serve on a non-profit, you’re the church. When you sit in a meeting at your company or when you go to a restaurant to purchase a meal, you’re the church. Your actions and your life reflect the church and reflect on the church.

Our laziness in how we describe the church contributes to our passivity when it comes to living our faith. If we’re the church, its our job to minister, to care for others, to stand up to injustice, care for the poor and needy, and to make a difference. If the church is a legal entity, or an organization or a building, then all “we” have to do is show up every now and again and put some money in the offering. “They” are the church. They need to do whatever it is you think “the church” should do. “We” are too busy with work and and living our lives to do anything more than show up on Sunday.

The next time someone asks you, “How was church?” or “What church do you go to?” answer them in a way that makes them think about both what they asked and how you answered. It matters.

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