Being an agent of transformative change
The nature and mission of the church is to be an agent of transformative change, first in the individual, then in the congregation, and then in the world. The church is both public and private. The workings of a church occur within the soul and outside into the wider community. Jesus began the church with one person. In Matthew 16 after Peter openly declares that Jesus is the son of the living God, Jesus calls the church into being. The word he uses, ekklesia, has as its root a verb whose sense can be to call out or call together. We are therefore called to gather into a community by Christ and we are called to go forth into a community. It is significant that Jesus speaks the church into being after the one (Peter) declares who Christ is. Jesus starts a community with one person. We are the body of Christ because we step forward and choose to be.
While the church has a private function, where the individual is touched by the various forms of worship: song, prayer, sermon, liturgy, symbol, and sacrament, these functions almost always take place in a public setting. The individual may also be moved by acts of service that church supports or sponsors, whether as participant or receiver, but here too, the individual almost always engages in these acts with others. Therefore, while the action of church moves the individual, that action is operative in community.
A church that is not active is like Lazurus.
One of the primary functions of the church is activity. The church that is not active is like Lazarus, dead, possessing of potential but without the Spirit to animate it. In 1 Corinthians, Paul calls the church the body of Christ. A healthy body is active, it moves in the world, it interacts with its fellows, it learns and grows and changes and contributes. The phrase body of Christ implies that Christ is the animating force that moves and drives the body. Just as the Holy Spirit enables the individual to come to Christ, it is the Holy Spirit that does or does not descend into a church and allow Christ to move the body.
Answering the call
When I began to think seriously about answering the call to ordained ministry, I immediately ran across the term “missional” which seemed to mean active engagement in the world right outside our doors.
- It means spreading the gospel Good News.
- It means looking at my town, my state, my nation, as a mission field.
- It means to go out.
- It means: “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”
- It means taking risks.
I take such a message seriously, and I believe it is rooted in more than a contemporary church renewal movement. I believe the mission of the church is rooted deeply in scripture both Old and New.
In the first two chapters of Genesis, creation is described twice. This is no accident. Chapter one is a majestic and cosmic account of divine creative intent. The second chapter is pastoral and bucolic. In the first chapter God states three times that he creates humanity “in His image.” In the second chapter He places humanity in the garden with the express purpose of stewardship. This is our primary command: to “tend the garden.” When we do so, we are acting in the image of God. When we fail to do so we are reenacting the Fall. When we are creative, we act in the image of God. When we are destructive, we are acting out of fear, the consequence of the Fall. The church’s first function is to creatively tend the garden.
In the last of the Gospels, the final words of Jesus are “Follow me!” In the earliest gospel, Jesus tells us to repent (turn) and believe. As Wesley so clearly articulated, it is impossible to do anything good without surrender to Jesus through the working of the Spirit. The task of the church is to help people come to know Jesus and to be the vessel through which the Spirit can more easily work. In order to make this possible, the church cannot stagnate, it cannot expect that people will come to it, it must go forth into the community and be a place where people come to find sanctuary and challenge. It must be a place where love in all its forms; acceptance, discipline, nurture and example all mesh. Church has been described as a hospital for the soul. We are all patients and we are all called to be ministers. The purpose of a church is to help us grow in love.
Blessing be on you all,
Pastor Chris Jones