What Kind of Church Will You Join?
A church’s mission impacts what kind of church you will join. Different churches will shape your conscience, your spiritual life, and your worship differently. What your church counts as “normal, faithful Christianity,” you will soon count as “normal, faithful Christianity.” Spend a few years in a church where the preacher and the members emphasize topic X, and you will most likely soon emphasize topic X. If they talk about Y, you’ll talk about Y.
One of your most important spiritual goals in life, therefore, should be to place yourself and your family in a church whose mission reflects the teaching and burdens of Scripture.
Yet look closely. I can point you to four churches that post the same statements of faith on their websites. But walk into these four churches on a Sunday morning, or look at their budgets, or watch their pastors’ social media feeds, and you’ll discover these churches follow different playbooks.
Church #1 emphasizes the Great Commission and Jesus’s command to make disciples. Yet when they say “make disciples” they mean “make converts.” So Church #1 gears everything in the church toward non-Christians, as if local churches basically exist for the sake of evangelism. They talk about Christian growth some, but their programs focus on individuals, not the corporate body or family. They don’t see the connection between their evangelism and being a vibrant, united, other-worldly family. Based on Church #1’s mission playbook, let’s call it Seekers Church.
Church #2 is similar to Church #1 (Seekers Church), but it appeals less to middle-class long ings for things like purpose and more to basic human desires for health and wealth. Join their service on Sunday, and you’ll hear about God’s desire to bless us, if only we would have enough faith. Based on its playbook, let’s call Church #2 Prosperity Church.
While Churches #1 and #2 emphasize how Jesus is here for us, Churches #3 and #4 emphasize how we are here for Jesus. Church #3 we can call Justice Church. Join them on Sunday, and you’ll hear the preacher say we should care for the downtrodden, wake up to the nation’s structural injustices, attend to the environment, and generally do good in the world.
Church #4 is another version of Church #3, but it focuses on the structural injustices that concern political conservatives, like abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious freedom. Call it Righteous Nation Church. It wants to save the nation from moral decay and make it safe for Christianity.
At best, both Justice Church and Righteous Nation Church focus on discipleship, the moral shape of Christians, and the command to love our neighbors. At worst, they risk sliding a foot, or at least a toe, into Phariseeism, meaning, they lay down laws and political certainties where Scripture doesn’t. Members leave church on Sunday not so much thanking God for his grace in their lives but feeling superior to other people because of their moral and political convictions.
To be sure, many churches occupy a couple of these examples. I’m simply outlining stock types, not trying to caricature your church, so that we can all be more careful.
Furthermore, I trust that some variety between churches is God given. Just like an individual Christian working on Wall Street and one teaching in a rundown school will have different daily ministries, so a church in the suburbs might have a strong counseling ministry while a church next door to a refugee camp might excel in serving the poor. Praise God!
Still, there’s a difference between being sensitive to the economic waves and political winds surrounding us and being driven by those waves and winds. When churches are driven, their playbooks—their sense of their mission—easily succumb to biblical imbalances and worldly agendas. Seekers Church shows signs of having succumbed to consumerism, Prosperity Church to materialism, Justice Church to political progressivism, and Righteous Nation Church to nationalism, even if all four have orthodox statements of faith.
Deciding which church to join is one of the most important spiritual decisions you can make because your church can shape you . . .
If you’re from another time or place than I am, you might have different stock types to offer. That’s fine. Describe what you see. But you get the point: when we’re talking about the mission of the church, it’s easy to let our sometimes good, sometimes bad temporal concerns write the church’s playbook. We risk giving such things an outsized importance, or giving these things the wrong job, or even making them an idol. This might sound strange, but a church can actually promote things affirmed by the Bible and still be driven by a worldly agenda.
To return to my earlier point, then, deciding which church to join is one of the most important spiritual decisions you can make because your church can shape you, by varying degrees, with a worldly agenda or a biblical one. In turn, you will give your evenings and weekends, your work and your family, to better or worse purposes.
Making Disciples, Being Disciples
Let me describe a fifth church, one that offers the church playbook commended in this book. I’ll call it Disciples Church. Like Seekers Church, Disciples Church says our mission roots in the Great Commission—“Make disciples.” Yet folks in Justice Church and Righteous Nation Church will be glad to hear that following just behind, like a train car attached to the locomotive, is the Great Commandment— “Love God and love your neighbor.” After all, the Great Commission commands us to “make disciples,” but it also commands us to “observe everything [Jesus] commands.”
Join Disciple Church’s weekly gathering, and you’ll hear the bad news about our sin and God’s judgment, but then you’ll hear the good news about Jesus Christ dying and rising again as a payment for and to free us from sin. With this news in mind, this church then works to “make disciples.” A disciple is a follower of Jesus.
“Making disciples” doesn’t just include evangelism or helping people to become Christians. It includes helping people to grow as Christians. Think about it. “Making” a tree house or a cake or anything involves both starting the task and finishing it. You don’t say you “made” a cake and point to a bowl of unbaked batter. Likewise, Jesus’s command to make disciples includes both baptizing people into the faith and teaching them to obey everything he commanded. It involves the whole Christian life—from infancy to maturity.
Therefore, Disciples Church gathers every week to help people follow Jesus, as Paul says, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
This article is adapted from What Is the Church’s Mission? by Jonathan Leeman.
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