What business is the church in? Maybe you prefer a less business oriented question. How about this – why does the church exist? It’s the same question, just asked a little differently.
Does the church exist to run a church? To maintain an institution? Make disciples? Redemption? Resurrection? Forgiveness? The Great Commission? Serving the Poor? Proclaiming Good News? Something else? What?
The answer to the question posed is really important. And it makes a big difference. But it goes beyond the stated question. The real answer lies in the non-verbals of a church – How the money is used, the culture, the expectations, the attitudes of the people, etc. Those don’t always match up with the stated answer. Sometimes they do.
The non-verbals tell the story of the real answer to the question of why people believe the church exists. These tell the story of how resources are used to support the true answer to the question – resources of time, money, energy. These determine what the staffing looks like, and how the organization is structured. These determine how the building and its land are used. These determine what ministry and mission takes place. These determine what discipleship happens and how.
Take a look at organizations that are dying or have died. You can look at churches if you want. The common thread that runs through those churches is that they don’t know why they exist beyond the fact that they have existed for some time.
Sometimes though, there is ministry that is taking place, where people are being drawn in, where resources are flowing in. Even in dying organizations. Sometimes in spite of the organization. Where this life is taking root, there is passion, impact, hope, and a future. I’ve seen this in organizations and churches. And what usually happens is that the dying host organization tries to grab hold the thriving element in order to get a shot of life. The only problem is that it usually kills off the life and the organization. Remember, it was an organization that didn’t know why it existed. The movement within the organization does though.
I’m stating this broadly, church – to no one in particular. We can’t kick the can down the road any more. There is no more road. The question remains – what is the church about? What is the institutional church about? Why does it exist? What is Jesus calling it to?
I believe this much – the church will exist in some form. Jesus has pretty much stated as such. But there’s a good chance that it won’t continue to look like it has in recent human history. And I don’t think it will be what it was in the early church either – times have changed, so has culture, context, and humanity. But this opens the door to huge opportunities and possibilities. I don’t see this as a bad thing at all. It will be something new, different. Maybe a variation of what exists right now. Maybe a combination of the two. It depends on the context of the people gathered – what is Jesus calling them to in their context?
Are we willing to set aside our attachment to what we’ve always known about church in our lifetimes and how church has been? Or is this attachment too important to our identities?
Regardless, God will persist. New life comes out of ashes and death. There will be resurrection. The question is if we participate in it, or do we try to stop it? The kingdom is unfolding regardless of us.