What is the purpose of a church? The answer to that question is very important because it defines where we should be focusing our time and energy. Some voices today seem to be saying the answer varies from church to church. One church will be called to focus on one thing while another is called to focus on something quite different. And we need only look around to see how varied the answer to this question can be. But somewhere in our attempts to determine the purpose of a church we should look to see if Jesus has answered the question for us. After all, He is the Head of the Church, so if He left us clear instructions those should overrule our own personalized vision of whats truly important.
If you asked most of us to answer this question, we would be quick to answer that the purpose of a church is to win souls. And I agree that this is our most important task. But when I listen to Jesus speak about what He will look for when He comes again, I hear at least two more purposes. Each is different from the other, and if Im correct, He holds Northwest Church accountable to do all three.
Each fall we pick a weekend to refresh our understanding of what we do and why. It helps us as a church-family stay focused and in unity. So today, lets listen to the real Pastor of this congregation give us our assignment for the year ahead.
1. Get People Saved (Mt 28:18-20)
Its significant that He doesnt just say, Go and get people saved. He says, God and make disciples. And then He tells us to whom we are to go: all the nations. In Acts 1:8 He even breaks the whole world down into specific categories. He says we will be His witnesses in: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the remotest part of the earth. In other words, He wants His church to carry the gospel to every person on earth. But He wants more than just decisions, He wants disciples: people who have been baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, meaning people who have repented of their independence and rebellion, and have put their faith in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and have received inwardly the Holy Spirit who God pours out upon them. These three essential steps instantly transforms a person into a disciple with eyes to see and ears to hear spiritual truth (Jn 3:3). Then Jesus tells us to teach these disciples to observe all that I commanded you
. In His plan, the new birth must take place before real learning can occur.
So, our first priority as a church is to reach people with these three baptisms so those who are willing can become disciples.
2. Keep people saved (Mt 25:1-13)
Of course, it is the Holy Spirit who keeps us saved, but He does so using the various gifts of grace God has given us, and many of those gifts are made available when His people gather. Such grace gifts as worship, the preaching of the Word, the Lords Supper, prayer with the laying on of hands, encouragement or admonishment by other believers are all regularly made available when a healthy church gathers. Jesus explains that a gathered church can be a group as small two or three (Mt 18:20), but regardless of size Jesus expects His people to gather and says He will be with them when they do.
When we read this parable of the Ten Virgins, unless we are determined to ignore its obvious meaning, we hear the Lord say that our faith in Him must burn brightly until we see Him again either in death or at His return in the clouds (Mt 24:29-31). It warns us that its possible to cease laying hold of the means of grace He offers (sleep) and thus let the oil (the Holy Spirits influence) run low in the heart until the flame of faith dies out entirely.
So a second priority for a church goes beyond just winning souls to preserving souls. What happens when we gather must also refresh the faith of believers. As we mentioned there are many ways this happens when Gods people gather, but one analogy I use to keep this truth in focus is to say, the Bride of Christ must regularly be fed bread and wine to grow strong and healthy. In this case I use the word bread to mean the bread of Gods Word taught and preached so His people can understand it and obey it, and the word wine to mean the new wine of His Spirit whose presence ministers to us when we worship. For that matter, its normal for us to have the bread and wine of communion available whenever we gather.
But the next parable Jesus teaches shows us there is a third purpose for the church.
3. Help Saved People Serve (Mt 25:14-30)
This parable tells us that each believer will someday have an interview with Jesus during which He asks us, in effect, what did you do during your lifetime for Me? I gave you resources (time, talent and treasure), how did you use these to further My kingdom? And whats at stake goes far beyond the sense of personal satisfaction that comes when we serve others or use our gifts. The way Jesus pictures it tells us its urgent we serve Him. In fact, He clearly requires us to serve Him. And as disturbing as the final verses of this parable are, they cant be safely ignored. When the Master returns He will call each of us to account for the stewardship of the resources He has given us. The apostle Paul was also very aware of this, saying that his life and ours would someday be examined by Jesus (1Co 4:1-5; 2Co 5:10).
So there is a third purpose a church must address, and that is to prepare people for their interview with Jesus. Disciples need to be fed and refreshed, but they also need to be taught and trained and encouraged to serve God. So the many opportunities for training and service here at Northwest Church arent an accident or just the result of our style. We are earnestly trying to be faithful to Jesus and to you by opening doors for all who will to fruitfully serve their Lord.
Today, as you browse through the ministry fair thats waiting for you in the gym after service, please be aware that we dont hold this event to give you an overview of all the ministries available to you, but as an opportunity for you to prayerfully seek an area of service where you can partner with others who are investing their talents for God. Think of each booth as an open door inviting you to serve with others.
Its true, there are seasons in life when we are too wounded or working so many hours its difficult to serve, but those seasons dont last forever, and when we become healthy or our workload lessens, our love for Jesus constrains us to step out in new areas. Thats why our goal today is to say, when youre ready, welcome!
Describe one of the ways you are now bringing the love of Jesus to others.
Do you feel called by the Lord to a particular area of service? Tell us how you heard that call and how youre obeying it today.