What does church look like?

It’s a fair question. It’s also loaded with dynamite. If you ask the question of any group or in any setting, you will find a different answer when you move into another setting or group where you intend to pose the question.

For instance, if you pose the question to a Baptist, he’ll reply . . .  No, wait. . . I have to be more specific because there are so many different kinds of Baptists just in the United States alone that we’d have to seek out dozens of them just to get a consensus of what church is. So perhaps we should narrow our search down just to Southern Baptists (that’s much easier, because that’s my background). Now, let’s ask a Southern Baptist our question—her answer will be . . .  no, we still can’t get a handle, because our “Southern” Baptist may be from Georgia or New Jersey; from a rural setting or a sprawling urban area. Suffice it to say, there are innumerable definitions as to what church is.

One person may suggest that church centers around spires and cathedrals with magnificent stained-glass windows. The one sitting right next to them insists that church is the way worshipers sing and pray. Across the room another will jump up to dispute this and say that church is filled with exclusivist people. And even another will insist that the church is the people and not the place.

The problem with most definitions of church is that we tend to look at church from the outside and examine what church is by what it looks like, what it does, or what it seems to be. What we need is new eyes with which to see the church. We should look at church through the lenses of the Maker—the One who created church and built church on the faith of the believers.

What church is not: church is not a social club—like Kiwanis, Rotary or Lions. While these organizations are often good and provide valid service to the community, they are simply a means for businessmen to gather for the purpose of advancing the community (with the main point of building contacts for one’s own business in the process). Nor is church a country club into which we buy admission, after having been screened by the membership committee.

It is important not to treat church as we would a cafeteria—choosing which parts we like and leaving alone those that we don’t. Many people shop around for church in just this manner. They don’t return to a church where their own personal needs are not met or where they don’t like the selection of songs in worship or where the wrong kind of people go.

Church does not exist so that we can be satisfied or have our needs met. Neither does she exist to cater to the needs of her community. It is not a place for me to go for my weekly spiritual fuel. And it is not a place for me to bully my opinion into being felt, heard, and heeded.

When we look at church through our new eyes, we see that the church is the Bride of Christ—His love, His desire. And what does a Bride do as she encounters her bridegroom? She loves him, adores him—lavishes her love upon him. As the Bride of Christ that is the church’s responsibility whenever she encounters Him—to love Him, honor Him, lavish Him with worship.

The church is the Body of Christ—following Him wherever He leads, bowing to His every request, obeying His least command—just as my fingers type the words I desire, my feet take me the places I desire. The local expression of the church in this way is no different from the church at large. When we gather we love Christ, we obey Him, we glorify Him. Yes, we find spiritual nourishment at church; yes, we have needs met at church; yes, we address the needs of our local community from the church. But when we see church with new eyes, all of these things are a result of us doing what it is a church does—call attention to God, worship Him, glorify Him, and follow Him in obedient abandon.

Are you not finding God at church? Seek Him with new eyes. Are you more concerned about how your needs are (or are not) being met in worship? Remember that worship is not about you, but about Him. Reject the old-line thinking about church. Repent of the sin of selfishness that pervades your impression of church. And refocus your attention on Christ in church—become His Bride—His Body—again, and see church with new eyes.