For a few years I have been concerned about the ambiguity in the English language regarding the word “church”. Depending on the context, the word “church” can mean a denomination (“I am in the Catholic Church”), building (“I left my coat at the church”), worship service (“I went to Sunday School and church today”), an organization (Cresset Baptist Church), or a group of people (“as the church submits to Christ” Eph 5:24). It is obvious that this can be confusing. What does the Bible say about this word? If we look to the New Testament there were no denominations, so that usage is out. Also in the New Testament there were no buildings designated for believers to meet in, so that usage is out. If we look to the New Testament, we don’t see an emphasis on a worship service that happened weekly at 11AM, so that usage is out. In the New Testament, there was some organization of believers in various locations. In the New Testament the primary usage of the word “church” denotes a group of people. Sometimes this is localized, “the church of God in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2) and sometimes it refers to the Universal Church “I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18).
Now that we have cleared up some ambiguity, I am concerned that believers today can often miss being a part of the church when they only come to the Worship Service. I know what you’re thinking, “here is a preacher just trying to get more people involved in ministry…” Perhaps so, but there is a reason. I have read through Acts and I don’t see a weekly church gathering which focuses on a sermon. I am a Baptist and we value the Word of God and preaching, but this should not be the focus of our weekly gatherings. In the New Testament the church (people) gathered to pray together, to encourage one another, to break bread together, to study Scripture together, to minister to one another, and to utilize their spiritual gifts in His Kingdom work.
I have been concerned about incorporating this pattern in our weekly gatherings. I have sometimes wondered if we should allow any all people to stand and teach whenever they feel moved to do so. I have wondered if we should provide lunch every week following the service. I have come to a satisfying conclusion recently. We can be like the New Testament church when all the believers are involved in more than the weekly Worship Service. Our church (organization) has Sunday School prior to the Worship Service. This is the best place for people to pray together over specific needs, encourage one another in their daily lives, break bread together (Krispy Kreme will do), study Scripture together, minister to one another, and utilize their spiritual gifts. Each class gives people an opportunity to be intimately involved in the lives of others. There is time for sharing and praying together. There is time to mentor and disciple one another. We share about opportunities to minister in our community and abroad. If you want to be more like the New Testament Christians, you should be involved in a small group like Sunday School.
I can now step back and feel comfortable with all that we do on a Sunday morning. We function most like New Testament believers from 9:30AM-10:30AM each Sunday. After that we provide the opportunity for a large group gathering for corporate singing, praying, giving, studying Scripture, sharing about opportunities to minister to others, etc. So if you only go to church (Worship Service) at the church (building), it causes you to miss being the church (people).