“Pastor, where are we going and how are we going to get there?” That question was posed to a friend of my father’s in Colorado, and his inability to formulate a satisfactory answer eventually led to his departure from the ministry. Sound extreme? Sure. But I fear that many churches give little thought to their reason for existence or their ultimate goal. Some “do what they do” based on the latest ministry fad being pushed by evangelical publishers—a reckless strategy, to be sure. To hit closer to home, many who reject such fads “do what they do” because they are imitating large fundamental ministries or well-known pastors. Still others seem to “do what they do” based on tradition—that’s the way it’s always been done. All of these reasons are inadequate. It is essential that we have a biblically-defined purpose in mind for local church ministry. Why are we here? It’s a question you should seriously consider, and with an open Bible. Here is some food for thought to get you started:
The basic purpose of the church is the same as the basic purpose for all of creation: we exist to glorify God. This is seen most clearly in the book of Ephesians. Three times in the first chapter we read that God has drawn the church out of the world and saved it through Christ for His own glory (Eph 1:6, 12, 14). Even more clearly, Ephesians 3:21 concludes the more doctrinal portion of the book with a prayer that God would be glorified in the church by Christ Jesus. That’s what we’re for—to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, as the Westminster Catechism states it.
It is helpful to be even more specific, however. I suggest that a good way to communicate the local church’s purpose is to think of it in terms of our various relationships: outward (our focus on the lost, Acts 2:41, 47b), inward (our focus on fellow believers, Acts 2:42a), and upward (our focus on God, Acts 2:42b). It is worth briefly noting that all three of these relationships is centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Further, all three relationships motivate our defense of the faith. In light of these truths, I believe that the church’s mission can be generally summarized as follows: The local church exists to glorify God by exalting the Lord, evangelizing the lost, and edifying the body of Christ.
Far from being a mere platitude on a plaque or letterhead, a biblically-derived purpose statement should be useful in real-life ministry. Used wisely, it can serve as both a sieve and a measuring stick. As a sieve, it helps eliminate unnecessary activities. For example, when considering a new ministry, you might ask yourself questions such as these: Does this activity contribute to our purpose? Will it glorify God? Does it aid in our worship, outreach, or building up of the body? If not, don’t do it. As you work through this process, be sure that individual ministries are viewed as vehicles to accomplish your biblically-derived purpose, never as ends in themselves.
Such a statement can also serve as a measuring stick, allowing you to evaluate whether or not your ministry is succeeding at your God-given tasks. For example, you might make a list of your various ministries, and categorize them under the headings of exaltation, evangelism, and edification. (There will be some overlap, of course.) Do you find that one facet of your ministry gets the lion’s share of your attention, while another gets the leftovers? Are you evangelistic, but not faithful in discipleship? Are you a Bible-teaching church that has a “take it or leave it” attitude toward worship? Are you dropping the ball evangelistically? I compare exaltation, evangelism, and edification to a three-legged stool: if any one of the legs is short, the church is out of balance, and sooner or later headed for a rough landing.
Many Christians will argue that such a statement is unnecessary: “We’re not a business, after all.” I agree that the church is not a business, and it is undeniable that many churches are relying on the “horses and chariots” of business principles rather than on the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. May God deliver us from such idolatry! However, the work of God in the local church must not be carried out haphazardly. We must be intentionally biblical, giving prayerful consideration to what we’re doing, how, and why. The work of God in the local church—the flock purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28)—deserves no less!
“Sound Words” is a monthly column in the OBF Visitor, the publication of The Ohio Bible Fellowship. This article was first printed in February 2008 and is cross-posted from the OBF Visitor blog, where many other articles are posted and may be searched by author, category and keyword. Information on subscribing to the Visitor is available here.