That people in any culture could even think of “church” as a relic is an indictment upon those who consider themselves “churched” as well as an indication that we the church are not functioning as Jesus intended.
I have not met a leader among those who consider themselves “churched” who would ever teach “church” as a place or event. Everyone one of them I have spoken with agrees that “church” is people, a family of Christ-followers on mission with Jesus. Everyone of them would agree that “church” is a “who,” not a “what.”
However, I know too many leaders who may think of “church” that way and from time to time may even teach “church” that way, but still emphasize “church” as a place or an event. In other words, what they emphasize of “church” does not match what they would teach of “church” nor what the New Testament teaches about “church.” Even though the New Testament never does, too many leaders emphasize “church” by speaking of “church” only as something to come TO or to go FROM or to be AT or to sit IN.
Those same leaders would never think of growing a “church” or building a “church” as a bad thing. But too often they lead and emphasize “church” as something they can grow or something they can build. “Church” thought of in this way and emphasized in this way is a gross misunderstanding of the way the New Testament refers to “church.”
“Church” emphasized as a place to build or an event to grow will become a relic.
God never intended His church to function as a place or event. And God certainly never intended His church to become a relic. Yet, “relic” is a word that European and Canadian and much of American culture might use to describe what they know of “church.”
As strange as it sounds, it is like we have forgotten that God “builds” and “grows” His church.
And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.
(Matthew 16:17-18 HCSB)
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
(1 Corinthians 3:5-7 HCSB)
People comment, “The church is in decline!” That is a relic statement. If God builds and grows His church, as He intended, and we join Him as He does, then His church that He builds and grows CANNOT decline nor become a relic!
If we try to build and grow the “church” as some place or event that needs to recover from decline, then we are already perpetuating decline before we ever attempt to do something about what we perceive is declining.
The crisis of the modern church is NOT “how will the church recover from and survive decline?” The crisis of the modern church is the same as the crisis of the early church – will we unite in Christ’s love to join Jesus as He seeks to make the lost found?
If the lost become found in our communities through disciple-making the way Jesus did and does it, then our local expressions of His church would not be declining or struggling to survive!
The church Jesus intended is sent as He was sent (John 20:21). The sent church doesn’t just ask how to build or grow a church. They ask how to send the church to help others discover that Jesus also wants them as His bride.
If “church” as you know it is threatening to become a “relic,” then “church” as you know it is not functioning as Jesus intended.
His church cannot and will not become a relic.
May we repent of emphasizing “church” in such a way that those who consider themselves “church” as well as those from the surrounding culture could ever, ever think of “church” as a relic.