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Visiting Churches

Church #57: the Purpose of Church

Another New Church

During our 52 Churches journey, many people suggested we visit today’s destination, but with their location falling outside our self-imposed ten-mile limit, we skipped them—all the while feeling we were missing something.

When the building’s former occupants became too few to carry on, one of the area’s largest churches (Church #52, “Playing it Safe”) took over the building with the intent of it becoming a second location.

The people they sent there, however, eventually decided to start a new church. Today, we’ll see the results.

First Impressions

The building is visible from the Interstate but not so accessible. It’s hard to get to, with no direct route available, but we finally make it. Once we arrive, there’s a circular drive around the building.

Even though a sign, albeit too small to easily read, directs some traffic left and others right, my instinct is to drive counterclockwise. I think the main entrance is to the left, but I can’t overcome my compulsion to go right. Fortunately, it works out. 

As we walk to the building, I enjoy the warm sun and gentle breeze, a nice counterpoint to our cold, wet weather of the past few days. I spot friends, and we talk a bit before they head off to their small group meeting.

Then we see another acquaintance and chat some more. Once we sit down, a friend of Candy’s comes up and talks at length.

The sanctuary is nearly a cube. Its vaulted ceilings, supported by massive arched wooden beams, provide an impressive, open feel. Up front is a spacious stage, not grand but most functional.

Behind us is a balcony. The main floor has about 250 padded chairs, with about one hundred people using them. 

Five musicians begin to play: two guitars, a bass guitar, drums, and baby grand piano. This signals the service is about to start. Candy and her friend continue talking. I try to listen to their conversation, but I want to take in the music too.

The band’s driving sound draws me. Reminiscent of grunge, an unexpected harmonica provides even more intrigue. This church has a reputation for its many talented musicians, and I’m witnessing the results.

What Is the Purpose of Church?

As the prelude winds down, we start the service in surprising fashion. One of the members gives us an assignment: break into groups and answer the question, “What is the purpose of church?”

I look at the stranger to my left, the only one close enough for a group. I extend my hand. “Hi, I’m Peter.”

“I’m Lisa, and this is my son, Jordan.”

“Hi Lisa. Hi Jordan.” When Jordan ignores me, I turn back to Lisa. 

“How long have you been coming here?” she asks.

“One week!” I flash a crooked grin, something I do well. “We’re visiting.”

She laughs and then becomes serious. “So, what is the purpose of church?”

“This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to.” Despite extensive contemplation, I don’t have a pithy one-liner to share. However, that doesn’t stop me from trying.

I think out loud. “The purpose of church is to form spiritual community.” That’s a good start, but there’s much more: serving, outreach, giving, worshiping God, and mutual edification. The list goes on in my head. 

Then my mind races to what church shouldn’t be. It’s not a place that entertains, serves me, meets my needs, or feeds me spiritually—that’s my job. It’s not a one-hour-a-week meeting or an obligation to fulfill.

I want to say something snarky about sermons, too, but decorum prevails. This is good because I later learn her husband attends seminary.

Our discussion has just started when the leader tells everyone to wrap things up. I tune out the lengthy set of announcements that follow. I’m still thinking about what else I should have said.

Church needs to have an outward focus, but we can’t ignore an inward component either. What I am quite sure of is that true church seldom happens Sunday morning. I’m convinced it’s a mere distraction to what God desires for us to experience. 

Calm down, Peter. Don’t get yourself worked up.

Worship Conundrum

The musicians return to the stage, along with three backup vocalists. The lead vocalist plays piano. Curiously, she has her back to us. Her voice is strong, but I have trouble following since I can’t see her face. Her seven compatriots face the congregation. Why doesn’t she?

If the intent is to remove them as the focus and let God receive our attention—a goal I heartily support—then why are they even on the stage? This so unsettles me that I struggle to sing, failing in my worship of God.

The Big ‘C’ Church

They’re in week two of a series: “The Big ‘C’ Church.” Today’s installment is “The Purpose of Church.” Their minister is gone, with the intern filling in.

He’s comfortable in front of a group, speaking more as a teacher than a preacher. He also attends seminary, and what he shares seems plucked from the classroom. 

He imparts a string of Bible verses and theologically intriguing soundbites, but I fail to grasp their connection with each other or how they relate to the purpose of church. I learned more during our thirty-second group discussion than from him.

The fault could lie with me. Or did he try to cram too much into his talk or do his presentation skills need work? Regardless, I leave still pondering the purpose of church. 

Post Service Interaction

The worship team plays softly to end the service, while the prayer team comes forward to pray for those who seek prayer. I talk more with Lisa. Her husband joins us. He attends the same seminary as today’s speaker. 

“What do you plan to do when you graduate?” I ask.

“I’m willing to go wherever God sends me and do whatever he asks.” Then he grows somber. “So far, I don’t know.”

“What would you like to do?”

“Well, I don’t want to preach. I’m leaning toward small groups or discipleship ministry. Or ministry that involves one-on-one interaction. I’m waiting for God’s direction.”

I nod. “Usually, he only tells us one step at a time.”

He smiles in agreement. 

Before he heads out, I bless him and his studies.

I find another friend. I sense I’m supposed to pray for him. He wants prayer, but not in the area I assumed. He receives my prayers for his future and for wisdom.

The second service is about to begin. Candy’s waiting for me. When the music starts, we hustle out of the sanctuary.

Reflections

We had rich interaction with people before and after the service. Yet they were people we knew. I wonder about our reception had we not known anyone.

Our only other conversation was with Lisa and her husband, something that may not have happened if not for the assignment at the beginning of the service. 

I think we need to return to better understand this church. I suspect they have much to offer, but I don’t feel any compelling reason to come back and find out.

[See the discussion questions for Church 57, read about Church 56, Church 58, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

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Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

2 replies on “Church #57: the Purpose of Church”

Hi Peter. I’ll give it stab at what I think the purpose of the Church is. I’m paraphrasing now what author John C. Nugent says in his book, Endangered Gospel: the purpose of the Church is to fulfill the purpose of the Mission of God to be the “better place” by embracing, displaying and proclaiming the kingdom of God. His book rejects the idea the the Churches purpose is to try to make the world a better place. Rather we are called as the Church to present a preview of what the consummated kingdom of God will be, similar to a model home at a new neighborhood. This present age is passing away. It will be over lapped by the coming age.

What do you think? Please leave a comment!

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