Heartwarming movies usually involve transformation. For example, you have a character that may be driven by their job and neglectful of the family. At some point in the movie they find themselves alone, walking the cold, dark streets and as they pass by a house in some neighborhood they are able to see in the window and observe the family having a meal together in a bright, warm house full of life. It’s usually at that point in the film that they begin to realize the value of what the family they’re missing. When done well, it’s almost always a very touching scene and it ought to be more common in the real life of the church.
The church is a window into the Kingdom of God. Passers by need to be able to look into the window of the church and see light and life. They must see redemption in our lives and in the life of the church if they are to become aware of what they’re really missing out on. We need to show them what redeemed relationships look like – the value of following Jesus – if we are to see transformation in the lives of people. The problem is, our windows are too often cluttered and blocked so that no one can get a clear view of what Jesus invites them into.
The purpose of the church is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Now, the church has become very proficient at many things. We can build programs, form committees, construct beautiful campuses with all the amenities. We have cozy little coffee shops and reading rooms and have done everything to make the world comfortable in our churches. We are building very successful businesses, but we are utterly failing at making disciples. We are so eager to relate to and connect with the world in the name of “relevance” that we really look nothing like Jesus.
There are movements in Christendom to “return to the first-century ‘Acts’ church.” The problem is, we scour the book of Acts looking for structure and structure is never, ever addressed in scripture. We see narrative of what those early believers did. We are told there are elders and overseers. We see how they dealt with the issues of their day, but we are never ever instructed on how to “do church.” Why? Because church structure is nowhere near as important as we make it. Jesus never led anyone into a synagogue. He met them there and them led them out into the world to live New Life.
God is a God of order, and so structure in involved in what we do, but we have made it a defining mark of the church to the point where how we do church separates us from other groups of believers who do church differently. It impacts our own personal walk where we decide what church we’ll attend based on what programs that church does or doesn’t offer. For all our structure, we are structurally unsound. We have erected walls in front of windows and the world sees an institution rather than a living organism or a community.
The purpose of the church – the community of faith – is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Through a devotion to the Word of God (reading it and living it) and the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are to partner with God in the transformation of lives for His glory. Transformed lives are the measure of our success. As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3, those transformed lives are our letter of recommendation; our faithfulness and God’s presence and activity are measured, not by attendance numbers, budget figures, or the number of ministries a church offers, but rather by the lives transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What good is it if we feed 10,000 homeless and hungry people if none of the them are saved by grace and transformed by the Gospel? What good have we done if we provide a safe place for teens to “be themselves” if they stay themselves – lost? “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world and yet forfeit their soul?” Our personal lives, and the life of our church, needs to be about making disciples. Nothing else is acceptable or pleasing in the eyes of God our Father.
Maybe it’s time to restructure…or de-structure the church. Maybe we need to start looking at what we do, how we do it…and why we do it. Perhaps, like Nehemiah rebuilding the wall, we need to clear away the rubble and debris so we can make the best use of those opportunities that are really good. Maybe simple really is best. We cannot keep followers of Jesus bound up in a church building rotating through programs, spending all their energy and effort in “Christian service,” and keeping them from actually following Jesus into the world to be salt and light. It’s time to equip the saints for works of service…and send them out to serve Christ in their everyday lives. It’s time to be transformed.