Last week we began a 2-part sermon discussing the various purposes of the church. We identified 5 broad categories of purpose - worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and missions. In that message we took a closer look at the first two of these purposes and discovered that worship includes those actions of the church that ascribe praise and glory to God while discipleship includes those activities that are intended to help believers grow in the likeness and knowledge of Christ. For the most part, worship and discipleship have to do with the individual’s relationship with God. Through worship I speak to Him, and though discipleship He speaks to me...
This morning we will continue with the latter half of this message as we explore the final 3 purposes of the church - fellowship, ministry, and missions. These 3 emphasize our relationships with one another, both inside the church and with the lost world outside the church. By maintaining a healthy and vibrant relationship with God through worship and discipleship, churches are better positioned to make an impact for Christ in their communities and beyond through fellowship, ministry, and missions.
One of the markers of a more mature church is that it is people-oriented both internally and externally. It promotes and strengthens relationships among it members, and is open to and eager for new people to join. In addition, many of its programs and activities are designed to reach people outside its own membership. There is a concerted effort by the church to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives by sharing the love of Jesus with them. Of course, all of this “people-focus” must be grounded in solid Biblical doctrine accompanied by an uncompromising first love for Christ.
I. PURPOSE THREE - FELLOWSHIP - Acts 2:42
Fellowship has to do with the companionship or association of Christians with one another as the family of God. Through these relationships members of the church love, encourage, and support each other as fellow members of the body of Christ. The Christian life was never intended to be lived alone or in isolation from others. While there are definitely some private aspects to one’s faith and even seasons when an individual Christian may need to be alone, the prevailing condition is that believers are to serve and worship God corporately as a group.
Truth be told, most people attend church primarily for the fellowship it offers. They attend where their friends and/or family attend. They want to be around people that they know and like. If or when this fellowship breaks down, many people will leave a church in search of another where they feel more welcome. Some value the camaraderie between the church's members more than they do the church's beliefs about God. They have no problem bouncing from one denomination or even religion to another so long as they feel included. For many, the church has become nothing more than a spiritual social club where people go to hang out with friends. While fellowship is certainly important, it should never be the main reason why we go to church.
Groups of people can accomplish more than individuals. The tasks of the church are enormous and demand the combined efforts of all Christians to achieve. Groups of people can care for, support, and encourage one another as needed. They can pray for, teach, and nurture each other. Whatsmore, groups of people can protect or defend one another as they advance a common cause. As the redeemed children of God, we desperately need each other for a variety of reasons. Thus, fellowship between the members of the church as well as fellowship with God is extremely important.
II. PURPOSE FOUR - MINISTRY - 1 John 3:17-18
Ministry most commonly refers to service that tries to meet the physical, emotional, or spiritual needs of others. It includes activities such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, comforting the brokenhearted, or giving to the poor. Ministry is the practical manner in which we share the love of Jesus Christ with humanity. It takes the verbal message of God’s love and puts it into tangible action, thereby demonstrating it visibly.
Jesus was very concerned about the physical needs of people. On one occasion He fed over 5,000 hungry people with a few loaves and fish. A few weeks later He feed over 4,000 more people in the same way. The Lord was always keenly aware of people’s material needs. Through His teaching, Jesus challenged us to recognize these needs and to strive to meet them. Acts of service and ministry are the works that prove that our faith and love is genuine. As a church, we must implement programs and services that will help those in need and/or provide for those who are without.
When the outside world looks at the church, or doubting skeptics begin to critique her, most often they cast judgment on the basis of the church’s ministry efforts. When this purpose is not adequately addressed, accusations are made that the church does not care for people or what happens to them. The charge is often brought forward that the church only cares about herself and her own needs. On the other hand, churches who frequently and lovingly serve the needy in their communities and beyond are often held in higher regard by onlookers. It is wise for us as Christians to remember that Jesus himself said that He came to earth not be served, but to serve.
III. PURPOSE FIVE - MISSIONS - Mark 16:15-16
Missions involve the carrying and proclamation of the gospel message to lost people worldwide. Evangelism is the primary emphasis, with the goal of spreading the message of salvation to those who have not yet heard or accepted it. Those who accept this challenge are called missionaries. There are all types of missionaries including home and foreign missionaries, short and long term missionaries, volunteer and vocational missionaries, and so on. In truth, all Christians are missionaries within their own spheres of influence in that they are responsible for telling their friends, family members, acquaintances, and even strangers about Jesus.
I have had the privilege of going on several mission trips, both in Texas and around the world, during my life. Later this year my son Owen is planning to go with a group on mission to Alaska. Leah will be going to work at a summer camp in East Texas where she will have a chance to share Jesus with young children. Perhaps others of you will have opportunities to go on mission trips in the near future as well. As a church family, we can participate in missions by helping send people through prayer and giving towards their expenses. By enabling and equipping missionaries, we are directly participating in the missions work of the church.
One of the most successful initiatives of the Southern Baptist Convention is called the Cooperative Program. This program is the primary source of funding for Baptist missionaries all around the world both at home and abroad. When member churches give to the Convention, a large portion of their offering goes directing to the Cooperative Program. In this manner, thousands of SBC churches actually work together to share the financial burden of keeping missionaries in the field. This has allowed Southern Baptists to ensure that missionaries remain active even when the economy slows or catastrophe strikes . The Cooperative Program testifies to the Southern Baptist Convention’s commitment missions and is one of the hallmarks of our denomination.
Missions is highest duty of the church. By sharing the gospel message to unsaved people, the church grows and is perpetuated. More importantly, the kingdom of God expands as lost people are saved. There is no greater act of love than to share Jesus with a nonbeliever. While ministry can meet someone’s present physical needs, only the saving power of Jesus Christ can forgive sin and provide for their eternal salvation. Churches that are mission-minded demonstrate their understanding of this high calling.
So there you have it, the 5 major purposes of the church - worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and missions. Practically everything that the church does or should do falls into one or more of these categories. As churches pray about and plan new activities and programs, they should be mindful of how their decisions and actions will achieve these goals.
Some churches tend to be good at one or more particular purposes, while struggling with the others. There are churches that focus almost entirely on worship and a quite good at it. Other churches are known for their warm friendly fellowship. While all congregations will certainly have particular characteristics and strengths, they must be careful not to neglect any of the purposes. Healthy churches will seek to be balanced in their approach, intentionally working to address all 5 purposes.
There is a natural progression that can be seen in the purposes of the church. It begins with the church’s relationship with God as nurtured through worship and discipleship. This then flows over into relationships between members within the church through fellowship and internal ministries. Finally it spills out into the world through external ministries and missions. Thus, the 5 purposes of the church can be seen (in a sense) as a barometer of the maturity of the church.