Have you ever noticed how much time we spend talking about the church? We emphasize church growth, health, and viability. We talk about how to renew, revive, or reimagine the church. We judge a believer’s faithfulness by how much time they spend within the walls of the church.
I once heard missional advocate Alan Roxburgh make an observation something like this: “We spend too much time talking about the church and too little doing the work of the kingdom.” His comment got my attention and I imagine that it gets yours, too.
Those of us who are Baptist in background have always had a thing about the church. We live to build up the church (usually meaning our congregation). We have been (perhaps too much) devoted to the autonomy of the local church. This has led to some aberrations like closed communion which restricts the Lord’s table only to the baptized members of the congregation where it is being offered. I am thankful that I have never been part of a local church that followed that practice. When I first learned about the universal church made up of all believers of all time—as well as those living today—I was relieved and felt a little less lonely!
I don’t think that Roxburgh is saying that we should do away with the local church. What he is saying is that the church is part of the work of the Kingdom (or Reign) of God. The church is an expression of the Kingdom but it is not the entirety of that reality. The mission of God is pursuing in many settings. God’s mission is being carried out by the people of God within congregations, in the marketplace, and in our world.
This has some important implications for us.
First, local and regional expressions of the church are intended to be part of the great work of the Kingdom of God. Churches and denominations should not lose sight of the bigger picture. Each has something unique to offer if open to the leadership of God’s Spirit.
Second, if we would spend less time thinking about congregational survival and more time on doing the work of the Kingdom, our eyes would be open to what God is doing in the world. Once our eyes are opened, we can join in.
Third, there may be disciples doing ministry in the world that is not connected to our church or any other church, but they are still serving God. We should pray for them and encourage them.
Fourth, even if our little part of the Kingdom of God outlives its usefulness, the mission of God will go on. This may be sad, but it is true.
Let’s not “forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25), but let’s use that a departure point to engage in God’s mission outside our walls.