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On the Five Purposes of Our Church
January 9, 2018, 12:00 AM

There are five purposes of the New Testament Church. Our church body--the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod (LCMS)--had published those purposes for our congregations sometime in the early 1980's. They were most widely circulated, however, by Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California via his books "The Purpose-Driven Life" (2002) and the earlier release, "Purpose-Driven Church: Every Church Is Big in God's Eyes" (1995). 

Now, this is not an endorsement of everything or every bit of theology in Pastor Warren's books, lectures, writings, blog, or other publications. I am simply trying to agree with the five purposes and use them in our Lutheran way.

You know that we are liturgical. We are historical. We are orderly. But none of these mean "dead." Liturgy, history, and orderly procedures are to be used by the living church for living purposes. They are to uphold Christ and do so in the vernacular of the people. This is why you are reading this in English, and not in German (the founding language of the Lutheran Church). Nor are you reading this in Latin, the language of the academy and all serious theologians in the 16th Century when our church began. It is because each element of the church's life and practice is scrutinized for, may I say it?, "usability." It used to be that Latin was the only language that could be used in church, for church, and especially in Mass. But the Lutheran Church immediately (in the 1520's) said, "The Gospel needs to be understood in the language that people actually use everyday." By contrast, it took the Roman Catholic Church until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's to officially allow the use of languages other than Latin in its worship services.  

The 5 Purposes, like language, are definitely something we can use in service of the Gospel. 

From the Website, they are: 

  • We were planned for God's pleasure
    • so your first purpose is to offer real worship.
  • We were formed for God's family
    • so your second purpose is to enjoy real fellowship.
  • We were created to become like Christ,
    • so your third purpose is to learn real discipleship.
  • We were shaped for serving God
    • so your fourth purpose is to practice real ministry.
  • We were made for a mission
    • so your fifth purpose is to live out real evangelism.

Perhaps these seem overwhelming, but when you break it down, they are no more complex than five points on a star. And, in practice, many of them flow together. For example, when a group of the saints prepares for an "evangelism"/outreach event, they work together serving and in so doing have fellowship. Thus, they are serving/ministering to one another and the guests our church will have, they are in meaningful fellowship with one another as they share that experience, joy, and challenge; and finally, yes, they are about doing evangelism or telling the Good News of Jesus when the time comes to execute their plan for the event. Be it a spaghetti dinner or a parent's night out at church, they have accomplished three purposes in one event.

Does this make sense? 

When the world sees this happening among us, and that we are enjoying serving and loving others so much, it is attractive and winsome. Now, this isn't "the whole boat" as they say. There is much more to being the Holy Church of God in Christ Jesus on this earth. But as for catching fish and fulfilling our mission of making disciples of all nations, tribes, and peoples--a place to start. It opens the doors of the church to more of our neighbors and invites them to come and see the salvation of our God. 

Studies by the Alban Institute have shown that it doesn't matter what style of worship the church has--any church can grow! Is a liturgical style like ours done well and in Spirit and in truth (John 4)? Or, does the worship languish from bad sound, poor organization, or unclear sermon messages? The Law should accuse and eliminate the hearer's sin-hearts, and the Gospel should ring like a bell from the rafters of the church leaving no question that our forgiveness is free and accessible to all in Christ Jesus, by faith alone and by God's grace alone.

I have left the toughest subject for last. But, when followed in faith, it is not burdensome. It is sometimes difficult, but not burdensome. There is a difference! It is "discipleship." As a result of all of these activities, we are finally to be quiet and listen. What is God calling us to do or say in our context that may challenge the status quo? Or, what areas of weakness do I constantly have as I am in the practice of living as a follower of Christ Jesus? These I NEED to confess--it is not optional--and then I need to put to death these "weaknesses" which are really sin, clinging to our natures, and constantly battling against our new life in Jesus. 

The Church is not a customer service for the soul. There is considerable tension in the balance between being "seeker friendly" as the catch phrase used to put it, and simply saying, "If you wish to be a disciple of Christ here, you must put some of your own effort into understanding what is being said and what is happening in worship." But it's not only with Worship. In our life together we must also have "staying power" and exhibit the qualities of disciples when something (like a vote) doesn't go our way. We need to forgive, forget, and move on with the Body of Christ. Too many saints in our day forgive, but then leave a church when something emotionally adverse has happened. They say it's too stressful for them. But I would gently push back, and try to in my service as pastor, in a challenge to that way of thinking. I am willing to bet that God has growth in mind for you through some contentious time at church! Or at the very least, can you really discount that as a possibility? That God wants to instruct you and guide through something like that to teach you about yourself and stretch you to a new place with Him? 

There is an old saying that "God loves you as you are, but would never leave you there." That is the challenge and the work of Discipleship. The Church is the only organization on earth that calls out to everyone with a message of love, but when people get into a faithful church, what they hear is a Savior saying: "Take up your cross and follow me." And, "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." And, "No servant is greater than his Master. What the Master suffered, the servant will also suffer." Etc. 

In my own words. All of the above is our mission. In Christ our Savior and Redeemer, 

Pastor Joel