I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and
the gates of Hades will not prevail against it”
Chances are, if you have been around churches for the last 20 years, you will have heard of at least one seminar related to either church growth, or church health. Strategies to “build your church” abound, and the number of books committed to explaining the strategies, systems and ideals continue to grow. Everyone has a favourite means: “Purpose-Driven”, or “Seeker-Sensitive”, or more recently “Emerging church” are just some of the systems and ideas around to “renew the church”, and build a christian community. All commendable. But, it seems, inherently flawed.
When Peter seized the moment to make the first declaration of faith, Jesus’ response was affirming, but limiting. “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in Heaven,” said Jesus. But Jesus never gave Peter the charge of building the church. Neither did Paul, who addressed the Corinthians, who seemed to hold different allegiances to church leadership paradigms, some following Paul, some Apollos. Paul reminded them that it was God who causes the growth (see 1 Cor 3).
Our call is not to “build the church” but to live in ways which exhibit God’s love and grace. The church was never meant to be a system or an organisation, but a living organism of relationships, through which God is experienced, both by those ‘inside’ and the wider community. It is through this – and any other means at His disposal – that God then builds His church: he is its owner, master architect, and builder.
One of the consequences of the many church growth strategies has been to separate the way we live from the way in which we bear witness, and from the way in which we are the church. In the New Testament, all three are intrinsically entwined. Though we have grown to understand a distinction between discipleship, evangelism and community, Jesus never drew such distinction, calling all who would follow Him to a whole-of-life experience. When the church is regarded as an institution separate from Christ’s followers, it becomes something else.
I pray that God will build His church, and at the same time live and work in ways which I hope represent God’s grace at work in my life, and in the life of our community.
July 4, 2004