Why Church Matters – Part 1

 

Over the years, I have heard many reasons for why people think “church” is no longer relevant, and that going to one is a pointless exercise. Some may even argue that what we see today is unbiblical. I will take the next few posts to slowly unpack some of the common themes and places of confusion we might have as those who’ve grown up in a church or as someone now on the outside dreading the thought of “church”.

Before I address the most common points surrounding this issue, I think it is worth noting that the fundamental roots of this problem is found in the enterprise of church (more so, in my experience, in the Untied States). It has left many wondering if God is even part of the picture in this “experience”, let alone remaining the center of it. One extreme thrives on making an event become “church”. From the welcome to the coffee, the parking lot to the kids ministry, the men’s breakfasts to the women’s luncheons, the conferences to the streamed content, much of church related activity has been hijacked by a pick-and-mix bar of  programming to meet each consumer’s needs. When all that gets extreme, there is not much attention given to inviting those who don’t know Jesus to true encounters with God and diligently training them as followers of Jesus. On the other end of the spectrum, some churches are so intent on preserving “traditional church” (whatever that means to each kind) that it deviates little from a set format and practice regardless of a changing culture and world around them. It often means long meetings with little engagement of the attender, a few chosen ministers who do everything, and everything revolving in the orbit around THE “man of God”. Committees and boards abound and a lot of talking is done. Likewise, in extreme cases, encounters with God are missing and little training and developing of disciples happens.

<Sigh>……..This is where much of society finds themselves at odds with the “church”. Their wariness is founded on an opposition to both these extremes or a fear that every church between those extremes is headed towards one of those extreme ends. This leads many to make a summary statement “I would much rather meet Jesus by myself, and not have to deal with all this”.

With that backdrop, and all the preconceptions that fueled those blanket statements above, you can see how starting a discussion about the relevance of church from scriptural standpoint is quickly drowning as the listener gears up to tell you why your brand of church is tending towards one of those extremes if it is not already there (as they see it). This is why I’m hoping that calling these things out at the outset, gives us an opening to really dial all the preconceptions back so we can see why church matters. My hope is that you will see that much of the reasoning we have for leaving the church is based on snap preconceptions and the misconceptions that result from them. By the end of this series I hope that your particular concern is addressed and you are encouraged to reconsider joining or getting more involved in a Bible believing and practicing church with a passion.

The church is a people, not a person, definitely not a place

The sooner we get to grips with this, the better off our thinking on the subject is. The preconception that “Jesus loves me” equals “I am the church” is one of the biggest falsehoods of our time. While it makes for a good soundbite while sharing the gospel and mobilizing people, it is patently false. Jesus definitely loves the individual and died  and rose for each individual’s personal salvation, but by no means was that the gospel in its fullness. The intent of the gospel message was a reconciling of “people” to God

(Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 2:9). Many people. From every tribe, language and nation (Revelation 5:9

). The work of salvation and the returning of Christ is focused around a people made ready and not a person and their private online PhD and hotline with Jesus.
The church matters because Jesus started the church, we didn’t. He did this when He commissioned His disciples to go into all the world and make more disciples with Holy Spirit leading the work

(Acts 1:4-8, Matthew 28:18-20). When church becomes about me and ‘my’ Jesus, I’ve already veered far from the purpose of salvation in this time period. It is about MANY being saved from sin and all that plagues our world, and you and I (together) have been given the charge to see them reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Seeing disciples made happens in the context of daily life and in community, the alternative is asceticism.  Before you say it, we all know how making isolated religious communities turn out.  So, rather than go there, can we agree that getting together with people from your immediate town or community regularly is a good idea? God could have asked us to run, hide away and be the best online Bible PhD that ever lived, but instead, He wants this gospel of Jesus to be on display right here in the darkness of our cities and communities (Philippians 2:15).

The Church: Disciples that make more disciples

Now, before we move further, let’s just clarify– the church as Jesus described it in very simple prototype terms, is a group of committed disciples of  Jesus making more new disciples by the indwelling and powerful work of the Holy Spirit. If our churches cannot use that simple statement to describe our condition, we are already messing with what “church” is. The word disciple (learner, follower, student, trainee) and the idea of making new ones is central to the mission.

Going to church, being the church, and getting over semantics

So, with the mission in mind, meeting regularly in a common place or building is helpful but by no means a necessary item. It so happens that one of the best coffee places in my town is called “The Commonplace” and whole lot of discipling and following of Jesus happens there with the smell of fresh roasted coffee around. Now, before you say “yeahhh…that’s my kinda church”, remember that we just established that you and your coffee-loving self are not the point of church. So, if the group of disciples that you roll with on a regular basis (read “home church”) happen to meet at a coffee shop during the week, great! The church is meeting! However, God made sure that you and your coffee buddies didn’t get to hold all of God’s manifold grace (

1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Romans 12:3-6, Ephesians 4:4-

7). He has dispersed this immeasurable grace among believers (with no one being an exception). So, guess what ?! If you believe in Jesus and have committed your life to His service, you have a grace gift that no-one else can supply to God’s church. We might be similar in gifting, but not the same. This is one of the good reasons why local churches meet. This, for most churches happens in one place regularly. I call it a church building. A building where the church meets. Don’t be afraid of buildings, they can be useful and necessary if alternative spaces cannot be found regularly. This is often a practical decision. When you don’t show up, something is actually missing in church whether they have a building or not.

Functioning locally, trans-locally, and globally

We need each person functioning and supplying the part of God’s grace which He has uniquely committed to them. This means the group of Jesus followers I call my “home church” needs what God has placed in me. I don’t get to “go to church”. My local church is missing something if I only show up to receive something. I come ready to be a life-giving expression of Jesus to my brothers and sisters. Something I have in my personal following of Jesus is meant for their growth as disciples of Christ.  When we grasp this, church means something totally different from what we’ve been used to. This is not even limited to my own “home church”. I often love to get together and have coffee buddies from other local churches, just so I get to receive from them and in turn bless another part of God’s big church that I might not get to see on a regular basis. So across my locality (trans-locally) other churches have gifts and expressions of the life of God that I can be thrilled about and cheer on. This must become a vital part of our understanding of church. If all we see as “church” is our brand, denomination, or pastor, we’re missing the big picture.  I also hope you see that being on the same team “The Church of Jesus” does not mean I become Mr Baskin-Robbins and decide to try all 31 flavors each week. I stay committed and accountable to one group/church, so I grow with intent and purpose (More in another post about reasons for this). But, with an attitude that sees  and values the church of Jesus as an ever-growing group of unique people all over the world, every encounter with His church in my town, on vacation, on mission trips, university life, etc… are all opportunities to  receive and bless.

We’ll cover more reasons for why the church matters  in the next post.


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Our Story

A QUICK HISTORY

Word of Grace Fellowship began as most churches in the New Testament did…in someone’s home. This was the early 70’s when a bunch of young couples and students heard the call of God to meet. Those days were wonderful times of worship and getting into God’s word together. As the Bible study grew, and after seeking the Lord together, a church was formed. In miraculous ways God helped the church find a place to meet regularly and then afford to buy their own place ( currently at the corner of 5th and Grant streets in Indiana, PA ).
 
Through the years, many things have changed. We’ve seen mountain tops, we’ve seen deep valleys, and through it all God has been faithful to lead and correct us on the way. He used several ministers to help this church grow to where it is today. The church was formerly called “The Way” and then “House of Yahweh” between 1976 and 2009. The church was relaunched as Word of Grace Fellowship in 2009 with a new eldership team which subsequently brought on a full-time pastor, Judah Thomas, in 2013.
 

WHAT WE CALL “CHURCH”

We think church is more than a building or the thing we do on Sunday. We’re a gathering of people who are committed to following and worshiping Jesus while helping each other grow deeper in our devotion to Jesus Christ every day. Jesus and His fame is at the center of what we do here at Word of Grace, so we meet regularly to be taught from the Bible, worship with songs, and pray together with the sole aim of celebrating Jesus and seeing Him glorified . Under that sole aim, we seek to see each person- young or old, educated or uneducated, rich or poor, extroverts or introverts- ALL being a part of what God is doing in our church family. We heed the call from scripture to ensure that church gatherings are not times to receive from just one or two people’s ministries. Church gatherings are times to see the family of God built up in love as each person supplies out of what God has uniquely placed in them. While there are typical elements like preaching or worship, we make room for God’s Spirit to use every person in our times of fellowship through encouragement, testimony, prayer, song, etc.. Our meetings are open to the whole family. We have a baby play area and nursery available for those who need it, and age appropriate activities for kids as well. In doing all these things, we seek to serve Indiana’s community as part of the wider church as the Bible portrays it; which meets across this county and the world.

OUR PASTORS

Our church is blessed to have a team of pastoral elders lead us. The whole team prior to 2013 served in a non-vocational capacity, until God brought us a vocational lead pastor in 2013.
  • Our Current Pastoral Elder Team:
    • Judah Thomas – Lead Elder/Pastor
    • Allen Affolter – Teaching Elder/Pastor
    • Dr. Robert Mencer – Teaching Elder/ Pastor
    • Harry Carnahan – Founding Elder/ Pastor
    • Frank Petrillo – Elder/ Pastor
    • Nevin Saylor – Elder/Pastor

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See the Lion and the Lamb

As we began considering the power and authority behind the proclamations of truth God has made in Jesus, I found that I have carried around some things that were in total opposition to  Jesus’ work. I had let a natural thinking (power), rationally get me to let go of heavenly promises that are mine by right. I walked around with little lies that I took on good authority simply because it reflected certain things about my current state. The kind of stuff in life that makes you go ” Well, that’s you right there, buddy!! Deal with it”

Jesus is our life. Apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15). This simple truth is proclaimed over our lives by the One with all the REAL power and authority in all creation. He is the life-giver and sustainer. Let’s consider just that and then turn over to Christ every part that we’ve been cheated into relegating to trash heap of lost causes. Do you see how sinister and quiet our enemy is in his scheming to have us let go of more and more of our birthright in God?

Jesus, the lamb of God, satisfied God the Father fully on our behalf. The only one with all power and authority is no longer our enemy (Romans 4-5). He is on our side. Jesus, The Lion of the tribe of Judah has risen with power and has disarmed every enemy (Revelation 5:5) ; He has been given the name above every other name. All of heaven’s power and authority is now backing the children of God by new birth (Your birthright kicks in here). The church of God who individually and collectively say ” Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is heaven (in my life, my family, my church, my community, the world)

I’m looking forward to taking more ground in the coming weeks.
God bless you,

Judah

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The Word is for your mouth

I have found this simple truth to be so transforming for my everyday life. There are days when I just don’t know what to make of my life and the situations surrounding me. Everything feels numb, and I’m definitely not in the mood to “get my praise on”. It’s in precisely moments like these when God calls me to worship. God’s word is always true- FACT! My life hurts sometimes-FACT! I always know exactly what’s going on- LIE! 

When life hits us with a 2X4, we have to be people who are quick to run to God  and find out what He sees and says about our lives rather than just letting our perspective on our life experiences do all the talking. I hope you realize I’m not saying that what we feel is irrelevant, but rather, there is a higher truth which trumps what I think I’m facing right now. The Word is a tool to be used in our mouths, not just something to be agreed with in theory or believed with a blanket “I believe in the Bible” ascent. God says something quite specific regarding our everyday lives. Let us receive that truth in our hearts and proceed to speak that word in our lives. This isn’t a mindless rattling of key verses. This is a heart response which receives God’s Word as final and respond with our “Amen” to what He says, facing the problem at hand with faith God supplies when we receive His word.

So church, let’s use God’s word in the very real life situations we see day after day. When we bring a humble heart to His word; anything our mouths speak as a result will be backed by faith in the One who spoke those words.
See you on Sunday!

Judah

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