The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklésia (ἐκκλησία), which is derived from two Greek words ek-kaleo (ek, meaning from out of; and kaleo, to call.) The word ekklésia was used in secular Greek to refer to a group of persons who were organized together and meet together for a common purpose. It was a word used to speak of summoning an army to assemble; to send out a call to assemble together all the townsfolk of a city for a particular purpose; or to call together a group of tradesmen who are involved in a common trade interest.
The word ekklésia was used by Christ and adopted by the early Christians to refer to a gathered body of believers who are assembled in any one place for worship and instruction in God’s Word. While the word ekklésia is also used to describe the Church as a whole, the whole company of believers in Jesus Christ in every place and in very nation, the most common usage of “church” in Scripture refers to a local gathering of believers who have given their hearts and pledged their lives to Jesus Christ. It goes without saying the church consists of the believers gathered, not the building itself.
The function of the church is for gathered believers to be in unity in worship Christ, to disciple and equip the Christian to be a more loyal and productive disciple of Christ. Each local church is to become the Body of Christ in their community to reach the lost with the Good News of Christ’s redemptive grace. Each local church is to obediently function as an instrument and agent of Jesus Christ who commanded, “Bring them in.” Every church is to be missional.
There are numerous gathered congregations that assemble weekly who have a sign attached to their building that reads “church.” But when does the church cease to function as a church and only becomes a group of warm bodies meeting for the camaraderie and warm fellowship that exists between them? What is one to conclude when a church is no longer worshiping Christ, no longer making disciples, no longer concerned for the lost, no longer being the Body of Christ, and reaching the lost is no longer a priority?
Seven observations are considered regrading categorizing a church as no longer functioning as a church.
A church ceases to function as a church when the leadership stifles growth for fear of losing their power. This is more prevalent than one might imagine. While the leadership tells the pastor they have a desire to grow, once new people start attending those who have held leadership positions since Noah’s Ark become fearful the “new people” will get control and they will lose their power. When this happens, the leadership will either run off the “new people” or dismiss the pastor…or both.
A church ceases to function as a church when members arrogantly look down their noses at visitors and say, “Well, they are not our kind of people.” Sadly, this is nothing but Pharisaism. Modern day Pharisees will point out that “they” are not dressed properly, they talk differently, are different in ethnicity, or have little or no money to give. After all, outsiders could intrude into the comfortable clique. One who has a Pharisaical attitude needs to examine their heart in the light of the cross. Seems the Bible teaches that Jesus died for all, not just those who are like us.
A church ceases to function as a church when there is no concern for reaching the lost and lost people are no longer a priority. When a church ceases to be missional, has no concern for evangelistic outreach and is content with the status quo, the pathway to death has begun. If there is no active outreach to the lost, no outreach to those bound for hell, and lost people are not a priority, the church is ignoring the command of Christ to go into all world and preach the Gospel. Obedience to Christ’s command begins in each church’s community. A church ceases to function as a church when it no longer is concerned about the evangelistic needs that exist in the community and its light of witness becomes nonexistent.
A church ceases to function as a church when the leadership is more concerned about having their way, than adhering to Biblical mandates and principles. Christ is to be the Head, not an ignored Guest. If leadership is more concerned about their will than doing God’s will, if leadership is more concerned about doing things their way regardless of what the Bible says, then that church has ceased to function as the Body of Christ. When Scripture ceases to be the guide upon which church decisions are made, then that group of people are no longer functioning as a church of Jesus Christ.
A church ceases to function as a church when open sin is tolerated, accepted, and outrage is expressed if anyone opposes unbiblical behavior and lifestyles. This is becoming all too common as more and more “churches” succumb to the worlds thinking of “happiness instead of holiness.” Christ didn’t die on the cross to save us in our sin, but to deliver us from our sin. Christ came to make us new creatures, to be pursuing holiness. A church that tolerates and accepts willful and habitual sinful behavior and lifestyles to appease the world, has ceased to be the church and is powerless to change a life.
A church ceases to function as a church when the actions undertaken don’t uphold God’s glory as supreme. When decisions are made that does not first ask, “Is what we are about to do gonna bring glory to the name of Christ?” and instead the chief consideration is that the few in leadership successfully push through their agenda even if it is a determent to the rest of the members, then that church has ceased to function as a Body and the Light of His witness is greatly diminished.
A church ceases to function as a church when a premium is placed more on human wisdom in making decisions than the priority of prayer. When a church neglects prayer as the foundation of decisions and the wisdom of man is elevated over prayer and the wisdom of the Word, then where is that “church” any different from any secular business? A church where prayer is not the priority and God’s wisdom earnestly sought, it is no longer functioning as living organism but only as an organization. Where there is no prayer that church will function in the natural not the supernatural.
Many will contend the seven categorizations are rather harsh, but after over forty years in the ministry, observation indicates only the tip of the iceberg has been addressed as to the ways many churches have ceased to function as a church. It is not the intention of this writer to be harsh without purpose, but to reprove and exhort churches to live out being the church in their community; to exhort church leaders and members to seek above all else to glorify Christ and lift up the cross. It is only when the Church uplifts the cross, the Church’s true magnetic North, that men and women can be drawn unto the saving grace that has been provided in Christ. The world has witnessed way too many churches who have ceased to function as a church. O, how the world needs to see a church which will function as a unified Body fleshing out the Christian life in such a way that results in others saying, “They have been with Jesus.”
O Father, grant it to be so.