Purposing the Local Church
by Berry Kercheville
In the book, Essential Church, Thom and Sam Rainer outline three biblical goals of a local church that, for our purposes, I will slightly modify:
Love God Passionately
Love One Another Fervently
Love the World as Jesus Loves.
Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength is the first commandment (Mark 12:30). That’s obvious, right? What is not so obvious is how to get Christians to reach for that goal. Jesus gives the answer in John 6. First, verses 44-45:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:44–45 ESV)
Here is the key to loving God: “the Father who sent me draws him.” In other words, shepherds and evangelists will never successfully bring members to love God passionately if the Father has not drawn them to Jesus. “Drawing” is the idea of wooing and attracting a person to love. It cannot happen by “commanding” or “browbeating.” Christians are drawn to love God by learning to know God deeply. The more we know him, the more we will love him for who he is. Jesus continues in John six with these words:
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.’” (John 6:53–55 ESV)
Jesus is using a figure of speech. So think figuratively. What would it look like figuratively if you consumed Jesus? We even have a saying that fits: “You are what you eat.” Exactly. To consume Jesus is to become what he is, and specifically, to have life in ourselves. The terms “eat” and “feed” dominate the passage. Ezekiel 2:8 – 3:3 and Revelation 10:9ff give us pictures of Ezekiel and John eating a scroll before going out and preaching its contents. In Jesus, God is having us do the same by truly consuming all that he is. The picture is strong, “Eat the flesh and drink the blood.” The point is, we are not just doing some religious acts, nor are simply reading the Bible, we are completely filling ourselves with all that God is. In parables like the Great Supper (Luke 14:15-33), Jesus explains what he requires: hate father, mother, son, daughter and your own life…bear his own cross and come after me…forsake all that you have.
Therefore, loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, is a requirement of a high level of commitment. Leaders must not compromise or diminish the Lord’s demands that Jesus be our number one passion. Therefore, we do not put men or women in teaching positions who are not eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. We do not have men leading in prayers, leading singing, or serving the Lord’s Supper who regularly exhibit a lack of high commitment to Jesus. To do so is to send a strong message to the church, and especially to young people, that this kind of compromise is acceptable. The outcome is leading the church into mediocrity and driving away those who see the hypocrisy. Instead, we are to lead the church into the depth of God’s word so they truly know God and are passionate about serving and loving him.
The second goal is to love one another fervently (1 Peter 1:22). In growing together to maturity we are to be “knit and joined together with every part doing its share” (Eph. 4:16). This does not happen by arranging more potlucks or planning social events. When we work as a team to accomplish our equipping goals of maturity and service, we naturally grow in fervent love for one another. Our love also fulfills the evangelistic goal the Lord prayed for: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).
The third goal for a local church is loving the world as Jesus loves. The parable of the lost things – lost sheep, lost coin, lost sons (Luke 15), portrays the way the Father loves the world with the expectation that we will love the world in the same way.
How This Looks Practically
Once we realize these three broad goals, love God, love one another, and love the lost, a church and its leaders can focus their efforts to make sure all three of these goals are reached. Bible classes, preaching, and all else a church does should be defined by one of these categories. Rainer offers four ways we can keep our activities on track:
Clarify and streamline the church’s work. In other words, discard activities that do not meet the goals and pursue work that will enhance the goals.
Deepen the knowledge of God. This is not the same as learning the right answers on various issues. Many, if not most Christians are content with knowing the basics and have shied away from critical parts of scripture that lead to a deeper knowledge of God.
Expect high commitment. Jesus insisted that we deny ourselves and carry a cross: “No man can be my disciple who does not forsake all that he has” (Luke 14:33). We must expect nothing less.
Share the gospel message. The average church spends less than 5% of its budget and its energy on reaching those who are lost. Sharing the gospel is the only way we will love as Jesus loved.
Here is the main point. All we do in the church should fit into accomplishing these goals. Any work the church pursues as a collective body that goes beyond these three purposes, must be eliminated. When a church gets cluttered by pursuing “social” or “secular” works, the prime directive of being equipped to cause the growth of the body is lost along with the reason for our existence. We are back to a denominational pattern.