What Is the Purpose of the Church?

TCBC’s mission statement has directed our ministry from our first Bible study over a decade ago. I reproduce it here for your edification and thoughts:

“Tri-County Bible Church exists to glorify God by exalting the Lord, evangelizing the lost, and edifying the body of Christ. Every ministry we carry out is designed to meet that objective, and every member is essential to its fulfillment.”

TCBC

Were we writing it today, we’d include the centrality of the cross of Jesus Christ, which is assumed, but not clearly stated. However, we believe that it is helpful in that it is doxological (we exist to glorify God; Eph. 1:12; 3:21) but also practical: it describes how we seek to glorify God. We also believe that it’s comprehensive, addressing our upward focus on God (exaltation), our outward focus on the unsaved (evangelism), and our inward focus on the church (edification).

We emphasize our purpose statement as part of our Orientation class for every new member, allowing them to help us push in that direction from the get go. We also highlight it each week in our bulletin. However, far from being merely a slogan on a back wall (alas, we have no back wall!) or letterhead, our statement of purpose has been useful in the real-life, day-to-day ministry of the church. It has allowed us to evaluate why we’re doing what we’re doing (the deadening answer “because that’s what churches do” is no answer!). Considering how every individual ministry contributes to our ultimate goal has helped us “keep our eyes on the ball,” and sometimes caused us to eliminate ministry ideas that really don’t fit under the umbrella of our purpose statement. Almost as importantly, it has allowed us to measure how we’re doing at what we’re doing! For example, are we focusing on one goal to the exclusion of others? It’s a great measuring stick for us.

Give it some thought! Use it. Adapt it. Improve upon it. But whatever you do, think about it. Local church ministry must be intentional, and crafting and applying such a statement can insure that it is.

_____

Note: This was brought to mind today by this article by John MacArthur. While he seems to agree with the basic principles, he argues that evangelism must take the priority over the other purposes:

“The supreme purpose and motive of every individual believer and every body of believers is to glorify God, and the supreme way in which God chose to glorify Himself was through the redemption of sinful men. It is through participation in that redemptive plan that believers themselves most glorify God.” (emphasis his)

I’m not sure that I agree. I’m certainly not wanting to deemphasize evangelism, but I’d be hard-pressed to argue that it is clearly more of a priority than worship or the ministry of the Word to the body. It’s sort of like saying breathing is more important than eating or sleeping. Actually, all 3 are indispensable, right? To change analogies, I often compare the 3 focuses of exaltation, evangelism, and edification to a 3-legged stool; if any one of the legs is short, you’re out of balance, and probably headed for a rough landing.

Thoughts?

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12 Responses

  1. Chris, would you agree that scripture only indicates evangelism on a personal level and not necessarily the purpose of the the church?
    I’ve always thought of the Churches purpose in Ephesians for edification, discipleship, not necessarily soul winning. I’m not saying that I’m not for evangelism, just not sure that scripture points to the church for that responsibility. I’ll head into Ephesians in just a few minutes to reread and make sure I’m not off base myself, I’ve just always thought evangelism was distinctively personal.

  2. Hey, Bruce.

    I don’t think you can split evangelism from the church. It results in the church, as demonstrated by the example of church planting in Acts & the implicit command to establish churches in the Matthew 28:19-20. Further, Paul commends churches (e.g. in Philippians) for their gospel ministries. And I Tim. 3:15, by calling the church “the pillar and ground of the truth” seems to speak of the church’s role in the proclamation of the gospel. Besides, when individuals evangelize, the church is evangelizing.

    I do agree, however, that evangelism typically happens by the church as it scatters rather than as it gathers. We say that we gather for worship and instruction, then scatter for evangelism. So our worship services aren’t typically designed with the unsaved as our target audience (contrary to the idea of many churches today). And rather than focusing on big evangelistic productions, we focus on getting our members to evangelize. We’ll often say to our members, “YOU are our outreach program.” So yes, I agree with you that this sort of constant evangelism vs. event evangelism does seem more like the biblical norm. But again, even when our individual members bear the brunt of the responsibility for taking the gospel to their homes, neighborhoods and workplaces, it’s still the church doing it.

    (Larry Rogier should be coming to disagree with my “scatter for evangelism” statement any moment now.)

    BTW, this idea is also promoted in this article by Jesse Johnson of Grace Community Church. Here’s part:

    “At Grace Church, our philosophy of evangelism hinges on the idea that evangelism is not a program. A church does not transform a community through activities and events. In fact, church-sponsored evangelism programs generally do not produce results. Rather, a church impacts its community through the lives of its members. The kingdom is expanded as believers are faithful in evangelism in their individual lives.”

    Note that while they emphasize individual evangelism, they still speak of it as something the church is doing.

  3. Speaking of Jesse Johnson, he gives some helpful thoughts on mission statements in this article.

  4. Hi Chris,

    Regarding purpose statements, my own view is that we keep these simple and non-technical, so that they can be understood by the widest possible audience. It’s true, the inferences will need to be taught to our folks, but I’ve found that to be preferred to a complicated purpose statement. For what it’s worth, our statement is “Community Baptist Church exists to help people learn about God, love Him and others, and live for His purpose.” Now, each of those objectives—learn, love, and live—have many inferences that must be taught in order to by fully understood, but I think we’ve been able to do that effectively.

    Blessings,
    Ken

  5. The highest purpose for a Christian or a Church is a Burnt Offering Life poured out for the Lord. This Offering was given individually or colectively for teh nation. It is the first and highest offering listed by the Holy Spirit in Leviticus 1.

    That has no direct link to evangelism per se. A disabled person or a pastor in a jail in China in an isolation cell is just as much living their life in the highest purpose and plan of God.

    Neo-Evangelicals have linked it to evangelism as it then justifies their CCM, ecuemenism etc as a means to the ultimate “sanctified end” of soul winning.

  6. Sam, I’m no fan of new evangelicalism, but to say that making evangelism a priority—or even the priority—for the individual believer or the church is new evangelicals’ doing is about as misguided as anything I can imagine. Honestly, sometimes separatist see new evangelical demons behind every bush.

    Further, I really don’t think the secret to God’s purpose for the church is hidden in Leviticus somewhere.

    I’m not trying to be contrary, but I think both ideas are a reach.

  7. He that wins souls is wise, he that wins them to church is emergent.
    Just kidding.
    All right then Chris, establishing the church according to the references you gave still doesn’t imply evangelism as I understand it. Now don’t think that I’m non-evangelical, I am really quite the contrary. I’ve literally been nicnamed “The Reverend” amongst my colleagues at work. I can’t help it. According to scripture, it’s my responsibility to be salt and light sharing the hope that is within me.
    But think about this, those who are unregenerate around me, when they visit my church, they are clueless. They don’t understand the songs we sing, the reason we worship, or the relationship that I have that brings me to worship the way that I do. They can’t do that until the Holy Spirit moves upon them to turn from sin, and accept God’s free gift of Salvation. But Church in and of itself won’t woo them to that. The work of Christ, His Word, and the testimony of what He’s done to change me seems to be the thing that God uses. Do you understand where I’m coming from?

  8. No offense Chris, and I’m not trying to frustrate you about your Churches mission statement. Nothing wrong with it really just trying to understand the questions I had.
    Even the references that Jesse Johnson provided were given to individuals, were they not. Not necessarily to the local church.
    Would the issue of a lack of understanding of the purpose of personal evangelism be the problem with the lack of people fulfilling their responsibility to be salt and light? Would this also lead one to see why there is always a 20/80 problem of involvement for the church member? Is it because so few take seriously their own responsibility in making disciples?

  9. I’m not frustrated at all, Bruce. I’m glad for the discussion. I think the problem is, your thinking of “church” as a place or event. When individuals evangelize, the church—the real church—is evangelizing. That’s how Jesse Johnson uses the term. And obviously, that’s how Scripture uses the term.

    Make sense?

  10. I know I’m splitting hairs here…maybe not, but, individuals make up the church, yes. They are the witness of Christ, yes. When the souls are transformed, it is then the church’s responsibility as a unit to edify, but not until individuals have fulfilled their part they they have been commanded to do?

  11. Chris,

    This is great. We have a very similar purpose statement, but have added the “encouragement” and “equipping” of the saints to make it a five-pointer :) I realize that those could easily fit under the heading of edification. We look at our purpose statement as our destination. This is where we are going.

    We view our priorities as those things which keep us on the right road to our destination. Our priorities are:

    * Worship
    * Prayer
    * The Scriptures
    * Stewardship
    * Discipleship
    * Fellowship
    * Servant-Heartedness
    * Mercy
    * Outreach
    * Missions/Church Planting

    We let people know our priorities to show them how we plan to fulfill our purpose statement.

    Programs are just the vehicle to keep you on the road to get to your destination. And like with any automobile, they can be changed if necessary.

    Have a great day. I love the emphasis.

  12. Is there a single Scripture passage that you look to which incorporates the purposes of the church as you see them?

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