Based on your experience and perspective, what comes to mind when you hear the word “church”?
Is it a building? A set of beliefs? An agenda or an organization? Does it bring up positive feelings or bad experiences? Is it relevant in your life or in our community?
With more than 35,000 residents in the city of Delaware, we probably have thousands of different definitions, feelings and stories about this thing called “church.”
Some of you have been committed to a church for decades. Others have attended several churches over the course of your lives. Some of you have not been to a church in years or perhaps have never attended a church.
As a life-long churchgoer and longtime pastor, I find it helpful to remember some clear and simple things God says about His “church.”
• The church is people. The Bible never talks about “church” as an address, a building or a music style. When Jesus announced He would build His church (Matthew 16:18), he uses a word (“ekklesia”) that means “a called-out group of people who follow a leader and a mission.” Though it may sometimes seem like an institution or a corporation or its own society, we must remember that God’s church is simply people like you and me who follow Jesus and His mission.
• The church is flawed. As a group of people, every church is full of sinful, imperfect, mistake-prone people. One of our mistakes is when we fail to simply admit when we stink. We make mistakes. Another is when church people act like everybody else is wrong and we have all the answers. We do not!
Remember this – there are no perfect people and no perfect churches. When Jesus called people to believe, He used language like “I have come to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). In other words, we are all lost and must depend on God for guidance, forgiveness, patience and love.
If you’ve had a bad church experience, it may be because the people were flawed or because you hoped church people would be better at this. If you’ve had a bad church experience, it may have been the church’s fault and someone should apologize, especially if the church’s mistakes hurt your view of God or His people. Healthy churches admit their mistakes, learn from them and seek to grow their faith.
• The church is dearly loved. In Ephesians 5 (a Bible-letter written to tell first-century Christians how to follow Jesus), the church is described as the “bride of Christ.” Husbands are even encouraged to “love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:22-33).
Read that again: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
It’s the kind of verse I remember when a Christian tells me he has no need for the church. It’s the kind of verse that comes to mind when someone takes a critical cheap shot at a church or a Christian leader on Facebook. It’s the kind of perspective I need when I make mistakes or watch others make mistakes.
The church is the “bride of Christ.” In other words, Jesus dearly and sacrificially loves His church.
If you say you love Jesus but don’t need a church, then I’d wonder if you truly believe in Jesus.
If you call yourself a believer, but are also quick to blame, criticize or leave a church, you may be ignoring and insulting His love for His bride in the process.
When it’s working right, a local church is a group of sinners who are dearly loved by our Savior. When a church seems far from perfect, she is still the bride of Christ, who paid an incredible price for her on the cross.
So, if you’re part of the “church,” let us fix our eyes on Jesus Christ. He loves and forgives flawed people like you and me, calling us together to follow Him.
Gary Underwood is lead pastor at Delaware Grace, 375 Hills-Miller Road.