The purpose of the church is to go into all nations, making disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.
The purpose of the church is not to have meetings.
It is crucial to ask of all our activities and meetings: is this forwarding the purpose of the church, or is it distracting from the purpose of the church by giving us an alternative activity that looks spiritual?
After all why spend time with non-Christians, why go on a mission team, why spend extra time in the workplace to build godly friendships with work colleagues when we can spend all our time in Christian activity, and justify it to ourselves because it looks holy. People see us working hard in the church and being at activities.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think that people should be completely committed to the local church. It's just that I am not sure that everything a local church does releases and equips people for the gospel task. Does everything have to? No, probably not. There are some things like providing opportunities for friendship that are good in themselves. My problem is a little more subtle – at what point do the activities actively detract from doing the mission? And at what point do we use them as a convenient excuse and justification for risk-averse comfort?
Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan to confront just such attitudes. The problem with the priest and the Levite was they had a lack of compassion, but also would have had spiritual sounding reasons for not doing the work of God.
Perhaps the most uncomfortable question for me is "when do our church programmes cross the line between forwarding the gospel and hindering the gospel?" Especially in the area of Bible study groups. I think it is possible to have small groups that actively pursue gospel vision and equip people to live with risk-taking faith. And others which spend an equal amount of time in the scriptures but which don’t. In fact for whom the studying of the Bible has become the substitute for equipping people to live with risky faith. There are two factors that lead to this second, unbiblical, kind of group:
· No real life application that is pursued and prayed over week by week
· Leaders who are scared to really push group members to not settle for knowing the gospel rather than knowing and doing the gospel. Faithfulness then becomes understood as being at the meeting, rather than living the gospel with faith
In this type of group the members can know a lot but do a little. After all there isn’t enough time after they have been in the "spiritual" Bible study!
You might think I am being cynical. Well, maybe a bit. But the challenge is for any group to be established and run according to vision for getting disciples who actually do the gospel. And for leaders to lead according to that vision. And to spot any activity that acts as a subtle, spiritual looking substitute for doing the gospel. Small groups ought to be spiritually, biblically risky places all the time. The default position of the human heart is to run away from doing the work of the gospel. The default position of Christians in suburbia is to assume that church provides for spiritual comfort. Gospel church is the precise opposite.