The Purpose of the Church
While it appears that many people have an increasing hunger for the spiritual, few are looking to the church for help in their quest. Instead, many are leaving churches in record numbers, or not even going in the first place. Perhaps it comes from a prevailing misunderstanding of what the church should be.
Why does the church exist? Is it here to help meet the needs of you and your family? Is it here to win the world for Christ? Is it here to right the world of social wrongs? You might be surprised by the Bible’s answer.
According to Scripture, the church has a three-fold purpose: the exaltation of God, the edification of the saints, and the evangelization of the world.
The exaltation of God
God has called us to live “for the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:12). We are here to glorify and know the God who created us. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
The edification of the saints
Paul said that his own goal was not merely to evangelize, but to “present every person [mature] in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).
“He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–15).
The evangelization of the world
If we are glorifying God and edifying the saints, we will naturally want to share the hope of salvation with others. We will also want to obey the Lord. Since Jesus has specifically told us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), we should do just that.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20).
We must keep these principles in their proper balance. We are not to emphasize one at the expense of another.
The dangers of an imbalanced church
A church that over-emphasizes worship at the expense of teaching of Scripture and evangelism (and/or personal experience) will end up with inadequate Bible teaching for the believers, who will remain shallow in their understanding of Scripture, as well as in their understanding of the nature and purposes of God. They also become easier prey for false teaching.
A church that over-emphasizes the edification of believers at the expense of worship and evangelism easily minimizes the importance of worshipping God and reaching out to others. It will soon become ingrown and stagnant, for new believers are the lifeblood of the church!
A church that over-emphasizes evangelism at the expense of teaching and worship is in danger of neglecting the teaching of the Word and the worship of God. The church will end up with immature Christians who emphasize growth in numbers but lack true spiritual growth in their own lives. They will also become a beaten flock of guilty people because they are always being scolded for not bringing others to Christ and to church.
All of these principles must be emphasized on a regular basis to keep a church strong and healthy. Laying the foundation of a church properly is essential. As A.W. Tozer said, “A church that is soundly rooted cannot be destroyed, but nothing can save a church whose root is dried up. No stimulation, no advertising campaigns, no gifts of money, and no beautiful edifice can bring back life to the rootless tree.”
I was talking with a group of pastors who asked me why our church was so large. One said, “Well, whatever works and whatever pleases God, that’s what I’ll do.” I had to correct him and say, “Whatever pleases God—period.”
“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1).
“I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18).
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gave the increase…For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:6, 9).