I know this will sound strange, but I have come to the point where I have stopped inviting people to church. I should make it clear I still invite people to go with me to worship services and events where the Gospel will be presented. I continue to urge church members to bring their neighbors with them to Sunday services and special events, such as revivals and evangelistic services. However, I have stopped using the word church when extending these invitations.
So, why have I stopped inviting people to church? The simple reason is that inviting people to church communicates something extremely unbiblical about the nature of the Church. The problem is not with the invitation, but rather with our choice of words – how we communicate the invitation.
This is more than just semantics. The truth is, our choice of words and the manner in which we use them not only reflects our theology, it also shapes it. This is particularly true in the way we have used the word church. Understanding what it means to be the Church as the Body of Christ, is foundational to fulfilling our mission as God’s people in the world. It is critical in the task of making disciples. Most of all, it is indispensable in understanding the nature of worship.
The Bible makes it clear. The church is not a building or an institution. Nor is it just a gathering of Christians. When we call these things church, we diminish the true meaning of the Church as the Body of Christ. The Church is made up of followers of Jesus who gather for worship, and then go out to minister. We know all of this. So, why do we keep talking about going to church as if it is a place to go? Why do we continue to refer to the building as the Church?
There is nothing wrong with inviting people to join you in going to a gathering of God’s people. Most of us grew up hearing pastors tell us how important it was to invite our neighbors and friends to events at the church building. The Church however, is much more than a gathering of people. The Church does gather, but the gathering is not what defines the Church. The Living Christ defines the Church, not the gathering. We are His Body. We reflect Him, not just when we meet together in a building, but most importantly, as we live in the world.
Why is this so wrong?
First, it is bad theology. The Church as Jesus described it, and as the New Testament teaches, is not a place to go; it is a people, called out and sent out, to be the Body of Christ! God did not intend His church to be “housed” in a building, rather, to be unleashed in the world.
Second, the church is not an organization or institution! Jesus started a missionary movement made up of people committed to follow Him, and to make disciples of all people groups throughout the world. When we reduce the Church to an institution, it loses the essence of being a divine movement. Jesus did not call people to “join” his band of disciples, rather to “take up their cross” and follow Him. To be sure, there are institutional aspects in how the people of God choose to organize ourselves, but we must never lose touch with the organic nature of what it means to follow Christ.
Biblically, we know being the church is not just going to events and programs at a building, one or two days a week. We know it is important to strive to “be” the Church twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
If this is what we believe about the nature of the Church, our language should reflect these beliefs.