The Purpose-Driven Church – What Purpose?

In May I wrote about being a “purpose-driven” church and the different purposes (tradition, personality, finances, programs, buildings, events, seekers) that can drive a church. It is important for every congregation to define its purposes. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). He had a specific purpose in mind. It isn’t our job to create the purposes of the church but to discover them. It’s Christ’s church, not ours. Jesus founded the church, died for the church, sent his Spirit to the church, and will someday return for his church. As the owner of the church, he has already established the purposes, and they’re not negotiable.Our challenge is to understand the purposes Jesus has for the church and to implement them. While the programs must change in every generation, the purposes never change. We may be innovative with the style of ministry, but we must never alter the substance of it.

I would challenge every church member to consider the following four questions and formulate your answers, by focusing on both the nature and the tasks of the church. Take a few weeks to think about them and rethink them. Advent would be the perfect time to discuss the purpose we discover as a congregation.

1.    Why does the church/congregation exist?
2.    What are we to be as a church? (Who and what are we?)
3.    What are we to do as a church (What does God want done in the world?)
4.    How are we to do it?

What makes an effective purpose statement?

  1. It is biblical. We don’t decide the purposes of the church – we discover them. Christ established the purposes, now each generation must reaffirm them.
  2. It is specific. It needs to be simple and clear. A narrow mission is a clear mission. A specific purpose statement forces us to focus our energy. What are the very few things that will make the most difference for Jesus’ sake in our world? What can we do that only the church can do?
  3. It is transferable. It’s short enough to be remembered and passed on by everyone in the congregation.
  4. It is measurable. It must have a way to be evaluated – whether the congregation is doing it or not. It has to be proven that the purpose has been accomplished by the end of each year.
A challenge to the church is relating to the culture it seeks to evangelize. How should the church respond to culture? There are two extreme positions: imitation and isolation. Those in the “imitation” camp argue that the church must become just like our culture in order to minister to it. Churches in this group sacrifice the biblical message and mission of the church in order to blend in with the culture. They are likely to endorse cultural values such as the worship of success and wealth and radical individualism.

At the other extreme is the “isolation” camp. This group insists we must avoid any adaptation to culture in order to preserve the purity of the church. They fail to see the distinction between the sinful values of our culture and the non-sinful customs, styles, and preferences that each generation develops. They reject new translations of Scripture, current musical styles and any attempt to modify human-made traditions, such as the time and order of the worship service that they are accustomed to. Isolationists sometimes have a dress code, and a list of what is permissible and what isn’t regarding issues that the Bible is silent on. It is human nature to erect theological walls to defend personal preferences.

Churches in this group confuse their cultural traditions with orthodoxy. They do not realize that the customs, styles and methods they feel comfortable with were undoubtedly labelled as “modern, worldly, and heretical” by a previous generation of believers.

There is a third alternative to imitation and isolation. The strategy of Jesus is the antidote to both extremes: infiltrations! Jesus ministered in the world without being of the world. He “made his dwelling among us” and was even tempted in every way that we are, “yet was without sin.” He walked among people, spoke their language, observed their customs, sang their songs, attended their parties, and used their current events to capture attention when he taught. He did all these things without compromising his mission.

Jesus’ sinner-sensitive ministry made the religious establishment nervous, and they criticized him ruthlessly. Jesus reserved his most severe words for the rigid, religious traditionalists. When the “Pharisees asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” Jesus replied, “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt. 15:2-3) Fulfilling God’s purpose must always take priority over preserving tradition.

Trailblazers always get arrows shot at them. Translating the truth into contemporary terms is dangerous business. They burned Wycliffe at the stake for doing it. But criticism by other Christians (both within and outside of the congregation) should never keep us from ministering the way Christ did. Jesus should be our ultimate model for ministry, not anyone or anything else. 

If we intend to be like Jesus, we must love the church as he does, and we must teach others to love the church as well. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ….. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body (Eph. 5:25, 29-30). Many Christians use the church but don’t love it.

We need to accept the challenge of becoming a purpose-driven church! The greatest churches in history are yet to be built. As we available to the task? I pray that God will use us to fulfill his purposes in our generation. There is no greater use of our life.

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