In the last post we looked at what a church is, and in this post we are going to explore what the purpose of a church is. The difference between the definition of an object and its purpose is found in the work that the object accomplishes. The church is a unified, saved gathering of believers, but its purpose is in what the church does when it comes together. Ultimately the purpose of a church can be found in three primary elements: instruction, fellowship, and service.
First, the church is meant to be a place of instruction. One cannot read the Epistles of Paul and not see that a primary emphasis is placed on teaching the Word of God. This is seen in the pastoral epistles in particular where Paul instructs both Timothy and Titus to teach those things that are sound doctrine. This teaching is accomplished in three primary ways: preaching, music, and modeling. Preaching and direct teaching is the most common of instructive forms found in a church. The expectation is that a pastor will each Sunday engage the congregation with the Word of God so that the congregation grows in their knowledge and wisdom. The second and perhaps most ignored instruction is that of music. Colossians 3:16 specifically commands us to teach and admonish each other through song. Thus a church should provide music for the body which instructs in godliness and doctrine, while also correcting sin. The final method of instruction is found in modeling. Paul told Timothy and Titus to let no man despise them, he also wrote to be a follower of himself as long as he was following Christ. In Philippians 4 he told the Philippian church that the things that they had seen in him to do also. Thus the leadership and mature believers within a church are to provide instruction through the very way that they live their lives.
Second, fellowship, which is probably the most misunderstood. Fellowship in Scripture means much more than just getting together and eating or chatting with each other. It implies getting together for the betterment of each other, and not oneself. Multiple times Paul wrote that we are to look on the welfare of each other. In Galatians 6 he reminds us that we are to carry the burdens of each other. This is accomplished through real sacrificial fellowship. Most when they think of fellowship are actually thinking of socialization. The church is not a place to just be social, but instead a place where every contact with each part of the body of Christ is meant to make each part more like Christ. It is for this reason that Paul warned that our speech is to be always seasoned with grace to edify those that hear it. Real fellowship seeks not just time with each other, but it seeks accountability from each other. In examining Galatians 6 one will quickly realize that the burden that each is expected to carry for each other is directly connected to correcting improper behavior in the very first verse of the chapter. True fellowship should always result in the body being more like Christ, which requires that the body help to correct sin. This then requires that each member of the body be willing to confess their faults one to another, so that a true spirit of honesty, humility, and fellowship can reign.
Finally, the church is to be centered on the idea of service. A church should provide opportunities to serve those within the church first, and then those who are outside of the church second. One primary area of service is to demonstrate Christlikeness toward each within, and then to take that same attitude and service outside of the church to the lost. Service ultimately comes in many different forms. It could be as simple as praying for one who is hurting, speaking kind grace filled words to another, forgiving one another, singing, providing a meal, or countless other ways. Anytime one member helps to meet the need of another member then service has been accomplished. Too often we confuse service with positions. We often think that we serve because we are in nursery, or teach Sunday school. The reality is that we are all called to serve each other and have been equipped by the Holy Spirit to do so. He has equipped us to meet the needs of each part of the body of Christ when we gather together.
Some may say that we are neglecting worship in the purpose of the church, but we aren’t. Worship is not a specific task or function, but is instead the overall description of these elements. Instruction is worship, fellowship is worship, and service is worship. By engaging in worship by these three elements we are directly worshiping both the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. When we neglect any of these three elements, then we are neglecting true worship, we either worship as a church, or we don’t. There is no part of the service that is worship, because it is meant to be the description of every action in which the church and its individual members engage. Thus it could be said that the purpose of the church is to worship the Triune God through instruction, fellowship, and service.