3 Things The Church Is Not
(Image Credit: Swedish National Heritage Board)
Sometimes in order to best understand what something is, it’s helpful to understand what it’s not. Here are three things that the church is not:
1) The church is not something you attend.
Saying that a church can be attended implies that the church is a building, a service, or a meeting.
This is not true.
The church is people. And those people certainly meet and/or provide services in buildings, but those meetings, services, and buildings don’t define what the church is.
Let’s think of it in another way using football.
A football team is not something you attend. You can attend a football game, practice, press conference, training camp, party, draft, etc., but you can’t attend a football team. Why? Because a football team is a group of people.
Church is not something you attend; it’s something you become a part of.
Attending implies consumption. Being a part of something implies participation.
No one attends churches. You’re either a part of a church or you’re not, and attending meetings and services doesn’t necessarily mean you are a part of a church.
You can attend meetings and services and not be a part of a church, but you can’t be a part of a church without participating in meetings and/or services.
2) The church is not everywhere.
If the church is people then of course the church is everywhere because people are everywhere, right?
The church is not anywhere two or more Christians are gathered. Matt 18:20 doesn’t say “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there is church“. It says “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Two Christians in the same room, office, coffee shop, golf course, beach, or church building, doesn’t constitute the church any more than two or more people in the same place who play football constitutes a football team, any more than two or more people who own guns and camouflage constitute an army, or any more than two people who can articulate opinions about how life and society should work constitute a government.
I think Christians often times confuse the church for the kingdom.
The kingdom, since it’s the domain of Christ’s rule, can be taken anywhere. The church however, since it’s a specific group of people functioning and relating to each other in very specific ways, is not everywhere.
An ambassador can go anywhere and represent the rule of his government, but where two or more ambassadors are gathered doesn’t automatically constitute an embassy.
3) The church is not just a community.
“Community is the beautiful by-product of well lived family, but family is not the by-product of community. We know this because family automatically creates a community like an apple tree makes apples, but communities do not automatically generate family.” (Ben Pasley)
You can have community without family, but you can’t have true family without community.
The bible never calls the church a community, but it does call the church a family (Gal 6:10 NIV), and a community is not the same as a family.
Community is on your terms. Family is on God’s terms.
You can pick your community, but you can’t pick your family.
For example, I could choose a community of a limited amount of friends to hang out with and do life together who I get along with and enjoy, with no particular person in the group having any authority to lead within the community, and call that church.
Or I could live as family with a group of people regardless of whether I enjoy them or not (much like brothers and sisters) and submit to leaders within the family (much like parents) with no control over whether new people become a part of the family, and call that church.
Community falls short of what the bible describes as church.
About Josh Christophersen
Josh is a software engineer, church planter, and blogger with a passion for helping people do their life well. He lives in KC with his wife and 7 kids.