Why are you part of a church? I suspect that too many of us can’t clearly articulate a compelling answer. Many of us have been dedicated church-goers since we were quite young. Church has become a habit. Though habitual church-going is commendable, it presents a couple challenges. First, we struggle to explain why someone who has never been connected to a church might want to be. Second, we forget what the purpose of church is. I’ll save the first challenge for another post, in part, because solving the second challenge will help solve the first.
What is the purpose of the church? To some extent, this is also a question of identity. What is the role of the church in the world? In his book Living our Beliefs, Bishop Ken Carder reflects on this question drawing from the work of Walter Brueggemann. Carder concludes that the church has lost its memory. Consequently, we allow others to define us. “Without a memory of what the church is called to be,” Carder writes, “The church becomes what people want it to be” (120). We find ourselves making decisions based on meeting the perceived needs of others—or perhaps more honestly, our own. Our churches become more like clubs or service organizations. What makes the church different? What makes it significant?
The church’s purpose makes it both different from other organizations and significant. God calls us, the church, to be part of God’s continuing work of grace in the world. This has several aspects. First, the church is a community that helps us discover our true identity—a person whom God loves. We seek and receive forgiveness. God transforms the way we see ourselves and the world around us. Second, the church is a community that helps shape us to be more Christlike. We find examples and receive encouragement. We begin to live in the world differently through the influence of our church community. Finally, the church is a community through which God engages the world. It is through the church’s collective witness that others can experience God’s grace.
This is a lofty purpose for the church to fulfill. We certainly don’t do so perfectly. It is, however, a purpose that can matter to people. Through us, God offers people transformation and calls us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. That’s a reason to get up on Sunday mornings.