The local Church Matters
The Local Church matters.
Across Australia (and just about every other western nation) our landscape is dotted by Church spires and bell towers. While these buildings are not the thing itself what they represent is the body of Christ within each community. In each local Church there is a story. It is a story of how God has acted in that community. It’s the story of lives changed and hope found. These stories often centre around the peeling paint and the smell of moth balls and dust and old pump organs; relics of the past decaying and dated. But, don’t be fooled, just because the windows are broken and the denominations have put locks on the doors does not mean the Church is dead in those communities. Just because, those whose doors are still open, play their worship music from organs instead of bands, just because they have no lighting system, no projectors, or kids ministry, it does not mean that their story is history. No, wherever there are believers there is the church. Whether we are speaking of a weatherboard rural church or a city mega church the local church still matters.
The local Church is the body of believers in any given community. When importance is given to the local Church the local Church has the ability to be an active part of the body and it has the ability to encourage the people in it to go out and do the ministry God has called them to do. The local church that matters is not guided by the authority of a corporate structure or system in some far off place but they are a authentic outworking of the Holy Spirit right there in their community. They move as God moves them and the go as God calls them. When the local Church is not considered important the voices of the saints is those places is often silenced like the hand who is told it is unimportant by the eye in 1 Corinthians 12. The local Church is internally governed and has the right to be led and moved by God and his Holy Spirit. So because of this, the local Church, no matter how big or small matters.
It matters because of the great cloud of witnesses in their midst. As one who has a post graduate degree from a very fine seminary I will be the first to admit that my diplomas don’t compare to the lives lived in faith sitting the pews of local Churches. I stand behind a pulpit and pretend to preach to men and women who have held their faith through depressions, war, and tragedy, and I’m somehow to believe that my eight years or study will give me more wisdom than them. God established elders for a reason, yet they seem to be losing their place among many churches today. Their wisdom and words are not antiquated as many would have us believe, but rather they are a great cloud of witnesses who, if we listen, can give us encouragement and wisdom beyond any seminary degree.
It matters for the sake of authentic, Christ driven ministry. Authentic, Christ driven ministry happens when believers look to their neighbours and communities and ask how can I make Jesus known? Inauthentic ministry happens when men in suits sitting around a boardroom table ask the question “how can we get more members”, “How can we get that government grant”, “how can we increase our platform, or our audience”. You see the difference? Authentic Ministry is the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus. It is for the promotion of Jesus not the organization. It’s in local Churches that we find Christians being missionaries and chaplains right there in their own neighbourhoods, schools, and workplaces. They will most likely never receive recognition. They will probably not be consulted or given the opportunity to share their wisdom. In many denominations they won’t be able to baptise those they share Jesus with or preach about him behind a pulpit simply because they don’t have letters behind their names, yet, the reality is, is that they are the truest ministers in our community, those who are sharing Jesus every day.
The priesthood of all believers is the Biblical system while the executive is the world’s system. The local Church relies on the priesthood of all believers and it is in the local Church that we find the call of Matthew 28 being lived out in each individual as a community. The church is a body made up of those gifted to be preachers, teachers, healers, administrators, etc and Christ is their only head. Each of them; a priest with access to His word and His truth. Each of them guided by the Holy Spirit who teaches what Christ commands. This means that each believer will have a ministry. They will be more than numbers counted on a Sunday Morning, more than tally marks at the end of the annual reports, more than attendees and audience members in dimly lit concert halls, they will be a priest, each in their own right, and Jesus will lead them. No one believer can claim executive power or authority. This same sentiment was spoken by the early members of the movement I am part of when they said “that our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. We will, that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the Holy Scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, without any mixture of philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, or the rudiments of the world. And let none henceforth take this honor to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. (This from the “last will and testament of the Springfield Presbytery).
The local Church is motivated by humility over growth and system.. The only way for the above to work is in mutual upbuilding. If all believers in the Church are to be a priesthood than working together as one body requires each to be humble enough to listen and humble enough to put others before themselves (Philippians 2:3) and they are humble enough to put lifting one another up above lifting the system or themselves (Romans 14:12). There is no corporate ladder to climb in the local Church. There no changes of titles and corporate restructurings. The local Church is simply a community of believers living out the call God has put on their lives.
The local Church knows and cares for the people around them. This isn’t to say that large corporate denominational bodies can’t care about people rather that in the local Church there exist people who are there...every day. They aren’t short term missionaries commuting in from foreign places, they are truly neighbours. They work there, live there, and spend their time there. They can walk down the street and ask people “how are you doing” and they will inevitably find our far more than can be determined by a form on a piece of paper or statistics gathered by the census bureau. The local Church knows the needs in their community, they know the dark places because they see it every day. Moreover, they know the call that God has given them to respond.
The local Church has no need for marketing or branding. Local Churches rely on relationships and personal evangelism more than marketing and advertising. Despite the move to create buz words and bumper stickers and large scale media publications and the ever incessant desire to put a brand name on everything, local Church don’t really need to do that stuff. It becomes unfortunate when Churches are treated as franchises started by a corporate office rather than by a group of believers meeting together as THE Church in a particular community. It’s unfortunate when Churches are known as the Such and Such brand name Church of (whatever community you want to insert) rather than simply the Church in that community, or when Churches are recognized by their logo, so as to differentiate the “brand” of Christianity they belong to. The local Church can authentically build relationships as the relationships with those around them already exist and are natural.
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