I’ve been pondering a question lately, the sort of thing I suppose only pastors wonder about: Why do we do church? Why do we keep coming together week after week after week the way we do? Why do we do so many of the activities that we think of as church: from the church service to Sunday School to Bible studies to fellowship dinners to mission trips and service projects? Why?
Of course, for me all of that raises the more fundamental question: What is the nature of church? What is it exactly that church is supposed to be or do? Understand, I’m not really asking this from the individual church point of view, but rather from the church-in-general perspective. What constitutes church? What exactly is it that defines us as a church?
After all, there are any number of ways of looking at it. We as church do so much. So what part is the ‘real’ church, the heart of who and what we are?
So, for instance, we do a lot of reading and studying the Bible in most churches. So is that our primary function? Is the church mostly an ancient form of a religious learning center, a forerunner to the parochial school?
Or are we more of a social fellowship group? After all, we do a lot of social activities. We are a community of people, and we reinforce that with all our dinners and fun gatherings and trips. So is that who we really are? Are we as church primarily a religious social club?
Or are we perhaps more of a community service organization? Do we exist mainly to go out into our neighborhoods and communities and try to help those who need it and to make our world a better place? Are we in essence little more than a religious version of the United Way or the Peace Corps? Is this who we really are as church?
What is it that defines us as church? What is our primary purpose? What is that thing that if we were to stop doing it, we would cease to be a ‘church’ in the proper sense?
I have my opinion about how to answer that question, and I may well share that answer in a later post. But, for now I’m simply interested in the question itself, because it strikes me that this is central to the problem of the United Methodist Church right now.
As I talk with other UM pastors, I am always surprised by the variety of answers I get to these questions. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. We are, after all, a fairly diverse church. Why should we be any less so here?
Still, it concerns me. This is a matter of ecclesiology, and we don’t seem to have a central one. Everyone assumes we do, but that’s because everyone assumes that their answer is the answer. We all think that everyone else is working off our assumptions and presuppositions. But they’re not.
This is part of why our marketing efforts fail, I suspect. We don’t know which ‘church’ to advertise. And, when we pick one at a national level, it seldom reflects the majority of our churches. Not because we’re all working off of another well-defined concept of ‘church’, but rather because we are all working off of so many other definitions.
So, if I may, let me ask it here: What does it mean to be church? What is it that you think we ought to be doing as a church? What defines us? And why? Why should we bother to do it that way and not another?
What do you think? Why church? What’s the point?