S.O.F.E.W.

purposeI used to teach a fifth and sixth grade Sunday school class where we used the church constitution and bylaws as our curriculum.  Just what a fifth or sixth grader is hungry for, right?  But there was a lot in that little booklet, including the church covenant, articles of faith, and a statement of purpose.  When I taught that last item I would say “SO FEW people know the purpose of the church,” and then I would tick off those five letters on the five fingers of my right hand: “S.O.F.E.W: Service, Outreach, Fellowship, Education, and Worship.”

In my study of dozens of church mission statements and purpose statements since then I have discovered that these five things make up the essential purpose of every Christian church.  Although they say it in lots of different ways, every authentic church seems to be occupied with service, outreach, fellowship, education, and worship.  I think that’s because we all look to the same New Testament, and to the same Lord, for cues as to what the church should do. 

For example: Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor just as much as you love yourself (Mk. 12:30-31).  From that “Great Commandment” we derive the purposes of worship (loving God) and service (loving others).  Jesus also told his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that he commanded (Mt. 28:19-20).  From that “Great Commission” we derive the purposes of outreach (making disciples) and education (teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded).  Finally, Jesus told his disciples to love one another as he loved them (Jn. 13:34).  From that “New Commandment,” the only commandment Jesus ever gave, we derive the purpose of fellowship

As the writer of John’s Gospel concludes, “Now Jesus did a lot of other things that aren’t written here” (Jn. 20:30), and he said a lot of other things that haven’t found expression in any church’s purpose statement, but these things have, these five things, and it’s a shame that “SO FEW people know the purpose of the church.” 

I hope that from now on you will.

One thought on “S.O.F.E.W.

  1. “SO FEW” is a great mnemonic for the purpose of the church! Thank you for sharing it. This week a new friend, a former Marine, pointed out to me that there are only two occasions where Jesus used the word “church.” Once was when he said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18), and the other time was in the Matt. 18 passage on church discipline: “But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (17). My friend’s point was that there are two main purposes of the church: spiritual warfare and church discipline–neither of which show up in most church purpose statements. It’s not surprising that a Marine would zero in on “warfare” and “discipline.” Maybe we should add these two, but that would mess up the catchy SO FEW memory aid. “SOW FEWD” just doesn’t work as well, does it?

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