What are the “must-haves” in order to be a church?
We often define something by our experience or preference rather than by its essence. Some would define baseball as the atmosphere of the ballpark, the smell of the hotdogs and nachos, the professional teams playing on the field, the souvenir giveaways, etc. They say it’s just not baseball if you don’t have those things. These people define baseball by the experience they have come to expect connected with baseball. It’s what they prefer. But are all those things the essence of baseball? What do you really have to have in order for it to be baseball? A ball, a bat, three bases, home plate, and some players. Pretty basic. No matter if it takes place in a vacant lot, a pasture, a backyard, and alley, or a manicured ballpark, it’s still baseball. As long as you have the bare essentials of the game, you have baseball.
So, what are the bare essentials of a church? Here’s where it gets personal with some people. They say it’s not a church if you don’t have:
* A building (not just any building; it has to look like a church, you know, with a steeple & stained glass at the bare minimum)
* Sunday School at 9:45am
* three services a week
* paid staff
* piano and organ (whether anyone can play them or not)
* a choir
* office hours
* children’s program, youth ministry, singles ministry, women’s ministry, men’s ministry, puppet ministry, mime ministry (inside joke)
* professional sounding musicians…etc., etc.
I’ve been part of churches that have most of these items, and they’re great. But how much of what we do is really just for us, to make us happy and comfortable, and how much is really centered on building the kingdom by reaching the unreached? Do you HAVE to have all or most of those items to be an effective church? If we can actually improve our effectiveness and kingdom impact with far less, wouldn’t that be preferable? So what are the bare essentials of a church?
A study of Acts 2, 11, and 13 leads me to three basic essentials: people, authority, and mission. A church must have people who have been called into relationship with Jesus Christ and are led by the Holy Spirit to unite together. Those people, then, under the authority of the Word of God and the power of the Spirit, engage in the mission of God: making disciples. Think about it–if any one of these essentials is absent, you cannot have a church. No people, no church (duh!). A people gathered operating outside the authority of Scripture is cultish. A gathered people who recognize the authority of Scripture, but who determine and carry out their own agenda is little more than a civic club. So, here’s a simple definition of church: People under Authority with a Mission.
Sure, the aforementioned stuff that many churches have is okay, as long as it serves to help the church carry out the mission. The danger comes when those things begin to be done or kept in place just to keep members happy with their church “experience.” Hey, the early church didn’t have any of those things and they did alright, didn’t they? We must be careful never to exchange the essence of church for the experience of church. Stick to the essentials.