What is “Church”?

I’ve been asking the staff of First Baptist, Richmond, to answer the question: “What is Church?”  Here are some of the answers I’ve received so far.

Phil Mitchell says: “For the biggest portion of my life, I thought of the church as a place where Christians went to worship, fellowship, be resourced and trained, mobilize to do and give to missions, and find personal support. Though I don’t believe any of that is untrue, I believe it is less true. I now believe church is a movement of the Body of Christ to make earth look like and function more like heaven, that place where God’s reign is clear and evident. As the church embodies the mission of God, its heart is changed. As the church changes its heart, the mission of God becomes increasingly real and present. So, the church is about changing the world and its heart for God’s sake.”

Lynn Turner says: “Having just returned from the BWA Congress, I am reminded once again that church is so much more than our little corner of the world in Richmond Virginia.  The church as Christ intended it to be, is the living, breathing, moving, presence of the Holy Spirit that sees the needs of people through the eyes of every believer and causes us to do something that will have an eternal impact in the life of another. With Christ as her foundation, the Holy Spirit as her power, the church of Jesus Christ has no limits of sharing the love of God in a world that desperately needs hands of compassion and a message of hope! Now that is something I can get excited about!”

David Powers says: “My thinking and feeling about church have been heavily influenced in recent months by Eugene Peterson’s newest book Practice Resurrection. It is essentially a study of Ephesians. In his translation of 1:23, Peterson has Paul saying, “The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” Our function, as members of Christ’s body, is to help one another to grow up into mature disciples (4:14-16). That sums up what church means to me. I am part of God’s body, his family. As such, I am responsible for contributing to the nurture of other members of the family. And I strive to remain open to and responsive to the nurture provided to me. Together, we hear Christ speak and see him act. This mutual feeding and being fed leads to deep love and respect among the family. The result is that we begin to mimic what we see Jesus saying and doing among us: we act out Christ’s love in the world – we become his voice, hands and feet.”

What about you?  What do you think “church” is?  How big does it have to be?  Does it have to happen in a building?  Do you need a preacher and a choir?  If you had invented the church, what would that church look like?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Why don’t you click on the word “comments” below and tell me what you’re thinking.


9 thoughts on “What is “Church”?

  1. Having grown up as a “PK” (preacher’s kid to the uninitiated!), church has always been an integral part of my life, and going to church is one of my earliest conscious memories. The churches to which I have acutally belonged (2 – one in a small town with about maybe 250 members & FBC since 1943 when the membership was perhaps about 4000+) and attended regularly (2 in small villages & 1 rural one which ordained my father & which I attended every summer & holiday spent at my grandparents) have each had their own particular cultures and “flavors” — as do most organizations. But each of them has to me been an integral part of my life, and a source of the grace & strength which I need to get through each day! They are not just the buildings, but more importantly the “church family” that helps keep me on track in my spiritual journey, and provide the primary resource for me in my efforts to understand and to follow the teachings of our Lord and Savior. I very much like FBC’s current emphasis on our efforts to bring “heaven to earth” … right here in Richmond, and flowing out from that, our love for our neighbors, wherever in the world they happen to be.
    The building is important to me, simply because it provides a focus of attention, and houses the resources we all need to find that “sense of community” that is the body of Christ.
    But the building alone would not mean much if it did not contain the people who gather there, are inspired, and go out to take God’s message to others who haven’t come to know Him as we have. “Church” can happen at a lot of places besides at the corner of Monument and the Boulevard, but it’s good to have the location as a focus of our attention, and a resource for spiritual growth.
    The size doesn’t particularly matter to me — FBC, because of its size, has the luxury of many more resources than others with which I’ve been associated. There are many smaller “communities” within the large church, which probably do more of the daily nurturing than the preacher and/or the choir, but I surely wouldn’t like to try to do without either of those. The more skillful they are, the better I like them, and the more I get out of the formal worship services — the contemporary services with which I have been acquainted don’t begin to provide the nurture which I find at FBC. I need a church that challenges me to try my best with all my heart to follow Christ’s leading.

  2. Church can be anywhere – anytime.
    I am in Baghdad, Iraq now as a USAID Consultant.
    Yesterday, Sunday at 6:15pm my time, my wife text-skyped me to ask if I could get ‘Jim’s’ sermon live on the podcast.
    I was working so hard, under a lot of stress, & had forgotten it was Sunday. It’s Ramadan here & schedules are strange.
    At 6:20pm (11:20am Richmond time) I put my earphones on & tuned into the podcast.
    Outside it was pushing 127 degrees, generators cutting on/off from overheating, helicopters rounding everywhere, a dust storm on the way….
    I dimmed my lights, laid back and shut my eyes listening to the service. And then, Jim’s voice came through. I opened my eyes to watch. I was in church.
    Henry Kellam

  3. Henry’s comment pretty much sums it up. Church is wherever you want it to be; not the building, but rather what occurs there. It’s worship, and it can take place anywhere on any day of the week. It is when we communicate with God…anywhere we happen to be.

  4. When we love God and practice His presence, ‘church’ happens! If we have open hearts, the Spirit (the Spirit of Jesus) lives and moves within us, and through us, even touching our neighbors. There is a sense, in which we never get out of ‘church’!

  5. Growing up a English Military brat and married to a U.S. airman, I have worshipped in many different places, as I moved around the world every two to three years. However, one does not need a building to worship. I have worshipped out in the open, under a tent, I’ve even worshipped on the beach, and as the saying goes: ” when two or more are gathered so may they worship.”
    No, the church does not have to have a building, a preacher, or a choir, all the church needs are people, a Bible and maybe a hymnal.
    The church can be as small as two people or as big as one wants it.

  6. Henry Kellam’s tender comments made me cry. I do not know him or his wife but I love them already as my brother and sister in Christ. And I love the technology that we are so very blessed to have and which made it possible for them to share their love of God’s word with each other and bless us also.

    If I were to invent a church what would it look like? It would be a great sea of people of every size and shape, color and tongue, residing in every corner of the earth. When their hearts were full of joy their faces would be turned to heaven in praise and thanksgiving and when they were touched by sorrow they would be bowed before the Father seeking His guidance and compassion. And all the while they would be connected to each other like a giant patchwork quilt, stitched and strengthened by hard work and sweat, by loving and giving, sharing and praying, rejoicing as each new patch became part of the whole. And that quilt would not only be beautiful but it would bring encouragement and compassion and great comfort to all those cold and sad corners of our cities, towns, countries of our world. A bit like our church really!

  7. What is Church?
    When I think of how to answer this question many things spring to mind. I have been a member of the same Baptist Church here in the town where I grew up, since I was born. My mother was a charter member of this same body. And yet as I grow older, I realize that this is not in and of itself “church”. I have come to realize lately, that Christ’s church is his physical body on this Earth. Between them, He and God spoke the world into being, created a divine covenent with his people and sealed it with the ultimate sacrifical offering. As we who are co-heirs with Christ Jesus allow the Holy Spirit to move within us, we manifest the Father’s and our prescious Lord’s love for all mankind. I like to envision the trinity sort of like this: God the Father is a being of pure love and intellect, unblemished and unencumbered by human fraility; Christ the Son was God manifested into flesh in order to not only become the scraficial Lamb for our sins, but to show us it is possible to live a life of loving service to God and his creations, even though we are encumbered by human fraility; the Holy Spirit is that energy that Christ sends to us in this world to motivate and comfort us as we move in his will.
    As the Body of Christ, we then have been charged with becoming Christ’s eyes, His ears, His hands, His feet, His Heart to give unto all of God’s Creation all that he has given to us.
    Is a Church a building, no more than this body is a repository for our soul. A Church is a group of brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus committed to serving their fellow man according to His will. You don’t need a building, you don’t need large numbers, (in fact some of my more memorable communions with the Father and my Lord have occured alone and wrapped in the glory of God’s wonderful natural world); you do need a willingness to humble yourself before God’s will and to go wherever He might lead you to go.
    I the past several years, as I have watched so many people wander astray from the Gospel; as I have sat an listened to pastors use their pulpits to make political statements; as I have watched my own Church become more and more insular and closed off; I have despaired. When I am able to sit before my TV on Sunday and join with you in fellowship and praise, I am once again reminded that God’s people are alive and well in this world and I am renewed.
    I have taken to my heart as my creed for my walk with the Lord these His words: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt 22: 37-40) and Matt 25: 34-40 which says “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inheirt the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took the in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
    Within these two passages lie the purpose of Christ’s Church.

  8. Not intending to convert, just attempting to learn more about my sisters and brothers in Christ, I have been studying the Roman Catholic Church. I have been touched and impressed with this huge organization with a history back to those who sat at the feet of Jesus Himself. Even so, when I think of “church”, I think of several (what I would call) “mainstream denominations”, missions organizations of various kinds, local churches from “hugemongrous to little bitty tiny” in size, I think of small groups of people, Sunday School classes, and I think of individuals both those whose faith is well known and those whose faith is only known about by God. I think of formal, liturgical worship services, such as those conducted by Roman Catholic Churches, I think of various other kinds of services, from formal to very informal, and I think of individuals, like Henry in Iraq or myself, conducting my usual midnight devotionals in the chair in my wife’s and my bedroom. All of us the “universal church”, all of us worshiping God wherever we may be and however we feel inspired to worship God through our prayers and through our service.

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