Some time ago, I began teaching a Bible Study Class on Sunday morning. The topic for the summer was Membership Matters. After finishing the introduction, the members of my class asked me to post my lesson online. I thought that was a good idea and so here it goes.
Basically, the introduction to the class is an overall statement of my philosophy of ministry. I’ve never hidden the idea that I am no ‘typical’ pastor. I do not like the ‘Cruise Ship’ mentality of many churches today. Travel to any town and you’re likely to find churches that focus their growth upon one of two different things:
Some folks go to a church because they like the pastor or the student pastor or any one of the great men serving in the church. Others go to a church were there is a dynamic program. They love the worship service or the Choir program. Maybe they like the youth ministry that a church has. The only problem with organizing your church around a personality or a program is that the dynamic of a church can change with the change of that position or program. If it doesn’t change, then you have churches like the former congregation at the Crystal Cathedral with all of one type of people. When it did finally change, the church went out of business.
Most churches try and follow a successful church, which isn’t always a bad idea (after all, they are successful). But doing that has left a lot of churches with broken down buses or puppets in the attic. The last couple of decades have left a lot churches pursuing the Saddleback or Willow Creek model. Now, I’m not trying to be critical of Rick Warren or Bill Hybels, these men have done an incredible job. However, our mandate comes from Scripture, not The Purpose Driven Church. Not only do we find our mandate there, but we find everything for establishing our purpose.
One more thing (not to rant), but not only is our mandate there, but we find that a local church body isn’t about programs or personalities (with the exception of the personality of Jesus). A local church is an organized group of believers. Read that again! They meet for corporate worship, gather in smaller groups to be discipled, serve the greater body with their gifts and take their message to the world. Simple. As a matter of fact, we find our purpose (as a body) is to ultimately do one thing: Image the glory of God. Let me ‘splain.
In Genesis 1, God created. And, it appears that he loved everything he created (And God saw that it was good (1.10). And everything he created, he created after it own kind. Every zebra was created each according to its kind (1.11; 21). However, when God came to the time he was going to create man he said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (1.26).” (emphasis mine) But it only takes two chapters for Adam and Eve to mess things up. Basically, the chose a distorted image of what they thought they wanted.
In Genesis 3, the serpent told them, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And, they fell for the lie.
The next time we see this purpose of imaging God is in the people of Israel. Matt Schmucker writes: God, in his mercy, had a plan to both save and use a group of people for accomplishing his original purposes for creation—the display of his glory. In Exodus 4 he even calls this nation his “son”(vv. 22-23). Why a son? Because sons look like their dads. And they follow in their father’s footsteps. Sons image their fathers.
This really becomes apparent when God takes his children to Sinai. He gives them his precious ten commandments. Does this one sound familiar: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Ex 20.4).” But they, too, didn’t listen. The exchanged the image of God for things made of gold (a golden calf).
Only when we see Christ come along do we see the perfect image of God. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb 1.3). Paul writes in Colossians: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. And a little further down in that chapter he writes: For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (1.15,19). Now Jesus is our perfect example of imaging God. We’ve failed time and time again, but not Jesus. Hebrews reminds us that we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (4.15).
Now, enter the church. Listen to God’s plan: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8.29). Did you catch that? We are to be conformed to the image of Christ. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3.18). And again, Paul says: Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Col 3.9).
And that is the purpose that I see for the church: Imaging His Glory. Our ultimate purpose is imaging his character, his likeness, his image, his glory.
This bit of information might lead you to understand why we have set our purpose and process in place.