I was back at Gunther Toody’s again this week. One of the men in around the table is a former pastor who no longer believes in God. This week he began to share about his journey from faith to rejection of God.
It was not easy to listen to his story.
He was the senior pastor of a growing church. He was well respected and loved. He cared for people. He prayed with people. He preformed weddings and presided at funerals. Somewhere in the middle of it all, he lost his faith.
Someday, I hope to hear the whole story, but today I heard part of the story.
It began with a question directed to me, “What is the purpose of the church?” This is a dangerous question.
After all, what is the purpose of the church?
I have two teenage boys. They are starting to do all the things that teens do, but they love the youth program at our church. As a parent it is thrilling to know that my boys want to go to church. Attending a church that my boys want to go to is important.
For me one of the purposes of church is to provide quality programming for my boys.
As I answered his question, he began to smile.
“Really?” he said, “what about Jesus’ call to be salt and light? Isn’t the church supposed to serve its community? When did the church become a club just to look after our own?”
I am a parent; I believe that the church has a responsibility to care for its own. That said, when the church becomes a closed system, or, to put it another way, when the church becomes so inward-focused that it no longer has space for new people or time to get involved in neighborhood or money for needs and programs beyond the four walls of the church, we might as well own the fact that we are on the road to losing our faith.
The church was never intended to be a country club to serve my needs and the needs of my family. The church, the body of Christ, those of us who use the term “Christian” to define ourselves, are called to be salt and light. As one writer said, “Salt is only helpful if it gets out of the saltshaker and into the world.”
One more time, what is the purpose of church?