Something that particularly disturbs me and causes much confusion within modern Christianity is the difference between Church growth and church growth. Church growth always results in church growth but church growth does not always mean Church growth. What am I talking about?
Organism vs. Organization
The problem is that we have institutionalized the body of Christ. It is the difference between the Organism and the Organization. The Church is a living organism; it is the body of Christ, the worldwide body of believers. The church is an institution, a localized organization existing within a given space, in its most fundamental form it is an earthly association existing within and around a building or location. Before continuing, it is important to note several distinctions between the Church and the church.
- The Church is eternal and global while the church is temporary and localized. The Church is the global body of Christ and being such exists eternally. The church is a local entity and is temporary, there is one church in eternity, and that is the Church.
- The local Church is different from the local church. The local Church is the body of believers within a given location, which may exist within many churches. The local church is an entity, where members of the local Church may congregate.
- Church membership is active while church membership static. Membership within the Church denotes the bearing of fruit; it means taking initiative and action. There are no nominal members of the Church; everyone is active. Membership within the church is an association that can be inactive and does not necessarily denote the bearing of fruit. You can be a member of the church and have no real connection to it, other than your name being present on a list. There are active members in the church but sadly, activity does not necessarily determine membership.
Alive and Well
I hope that the following passages of Scripture on suffering and the body of Christ will exemplify what I mean by the Church. The Church is the body of Christ and it is a living Organism, it moves, it grows, it talks, and it suffers. That is exactly what Paul means when he says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). He was not saying that the death of Christ was insufficient but that we are Christ’s body and the world must see Him suffer, through our suffering. That is the cry of Hebrews 13:12-13 “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” If you are persecuted ultimately Christ is persecuted and you are blessed enough to bear His reproach. That is why Christ asked “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
The Method to This Madness
I am not trying to undermine the importance of membership in the local church. My point is this: the prominent evangelism model in evangelical Christianity is a “come and hear” model rather than a “go and tell model.” We focus so much of our time persuading individuals to come to our church that we neglect to confront them with what really maters, membership in the Church. I am privileged and blessed to have an awesome pastor who takes time to disciple me and expounds the Word of God every time he steps into the pulpit. There are also several other pastors whose churches, if you lived near them, I would beg you to attend. However, we must always set Church growth as a higher priority than church growth. With that in mind there are certainly churches that I would plead with you not to attend and in many places there may only be one church worth attending, if that. Our priority must not be inviting individuals to the church so that they can hear the Gospel; our priority as Christians must be going and telling the Gospel and, if necessary, encouraging individuals to come and hear our pastor. Honestly, if they truly are members of the Church then they will want to go to a church and hear God’s word. The Church is not an institution, it is not an organization, and it is not centered around a building; the Church is a living organism centered around the living God all the while bearing out the sufferings of Christ for the whole world to see.