What The Church Does.
What The Church Does.
“We aren’t given freedom to change this message, or even worse, make it about us. We preach Jesus, week in and week out.”
Pastor Noel Jesse Heikkinen
The Church must be faithful to unchanging biblical doctrine; must be faithful to minister in the context of a continually changing culture; exists for the redemption of lost people. Using the gifts and talents God gave them; should be actively involved in planting new churches.
Take a second to answer this question in your head: “What does the church do?” Based on your answer to that question, I may be able to tell you a lot about your church experience or theological convictions. If your answer was “preach,” “study the Bible,” “pray,” or that very churchy word, “fellowship,” it’s quite possible you have been part of an “inward church.” If, instead, you answered with “take care of the poor,” “go on mission trips,” or something like that, you have likely been part of an “outward church.”
So which is it? Well, it’s both…and neither…and something else.
It’s both in the sense that all churches should be involved in inward and outward activities.
We are to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10), “instruct one another” (Romans 15:4), and “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:4). We are to “admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16), “pray for each other” (James 5:16), and “not [neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25). Heck, we are told four times to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; and 1 Thessalonians 5:26).
But the Church isn’t merely focused inward! We are called to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9) and to “go and bear fruit” (John 15:16). A Psalmist tells God’s people to “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4). Jesus’ half brother challenged “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” (James 1:27).
The Church has a lot on its plate! We are inward and outward focused people, giving to and caring for whomever needs it physically, emotionally, and most of all spiritually.
It’s neither in the sense that the inward and outward are not the end goal of the Church’s mission. Rather, the end goal is glorifying God in all that we do. If this is not the end goal, then the Church becomes a glorified country club, complete with members, dues, and initiation rites or a social service organization that helps those with temporary physical needs but never deals with their eternal needs.
It’s something else in the sense that both the inward and the outward are all wrapped around the same thing that gives God all the glory: proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus. That’s why we say our mission at Riverview is “to proclaim the liberating power of the Gospel as we grow, serve, and go.” See that “as we” in there? It means that the growing, the serving, and the going are all about the proclamation of the Gospel.
It’s what we (the Church) do. So how does this play out? Obviously (as we have seen in the previous paragraphs), there is no way we can cover all that the Church does, but here are a few things we believe are core to our mission.
We believe that the Church must be faithful to unchanging Biblical doctrine and must be faithful to minister in the context of a continually changing culture
We like to say we are “doctrinally conservative and culturally fluid.” That simply means the message we proclaim is the same old message that has been proclaimed for the last two thousand years of Church history and at the same time, in every way morally possible, we proclaim this unchanging message in a way our culture can understand.
When you read through the Gospel accounts, you see that Jesus did this all the time. He talked about seeds (to describe the Kingdom of Heaven), stuffing a camel through the eye of a needle (to describe how hard it is for a rich person be saved), sons, fathers, thieves, pennies, lamps, dogs, snakes and on and on and on. Jesus grabbed imagery from the world around Him and connected it to the message He wanted to communicate. The Apostle Paul quoted pagan Greek philosophers (who were talking about Zeus) to make his case for God as the creator of all things. Both Jesus and Paul challenged and rebuked anything that went counter to the Gospel message (often religious people) and mercifully extended their arms of grace to those who were steeped in sin and needed to be saved.
John Stott, one of my favorite old dead guys to read, says the job of a pastor is to be a bridge between two worlds, bringing culture and the Scriptures together. Someone once said “we are to preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.” As we seek to do this very tricky thing, we do so understanding that every week there are two kinds of people sitting in our chairs and pews: those who profess to follow Jesus and those who don’t. And we do so understanding they both need the same thing: the Gospel.
During our Weekend Services, we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus every week. It doesn’t matter if we are preaching through the story of Noah and his Ark or if it is Easter morning and we are talking about the empty tomb. Jesus is, and must be, the hero of every single story. The Bible is the eternal, unchanging message of God to His people and it is all about Jesus. We aren’t given freedom to change that message, or even worse, make it about us. We don’t preach moralism (get better), fatalism (life sucks and then you die), or triumphalism (you are the greatest!). We preach Jesus, week in and week out.
This proclamation doesn’t just happen in our preaching (which, admittedly and appropriately is the center of our ministry). It happens in our music (you’ll notice a lot of songs about Jesus), in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Jesus is that Lord), in baptism (declaring Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection), and in our interactions with one another before and after the services (physically representing the unity we have in Jesus).
It also doesn’t just happen during our services, it happens when the Church leaves our services and goes into the world on mission. As each of us grows, serves, and goes, we carry the Gospel message with us. That leads us to our next conviction.
We believe the Church exists for the redemption of lost people.
Let’s be honest, no one likes to be called “lost,” but “lost” is a very biblical term. In fact, Jesus described His own mission this way: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
What does it mean to be lost? It’s like that day many parents have faced when they are shopping with a small child and they turn around and that child is gone. Their heart drops and they go into a panic, quickly looking up and down the aisles, calling the child’s name. In John 15, Jesus describes God this way in three stories in a row. He is looking for the lost.
Often, when my kids were lost in a store or somewhere else, they had no idea they were lost. They were just happily walking down the aisles, looking at shiny stuff. That’s exactly how we are. This world has lots of shiny stuff to keep us distracted from our lostness. The mission of the Church is to tell those who are lost that they are lost and then to point them to the one who is looking for them: Jesus.
Why doesn’t he just write that in the clouds or something? Because He has a different plan: the Church.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We are a people on the move for Jesus. We go into our community, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and schools and we do it in the name of Jesus. We aren’t just HVAC repairmen, we are missionaries who happen to install HVAC systems. We are proclaimers of the Gospel of Jesus who make their livings in the context of being teachers and students and social workers and law enforcement officers. We are people who go and we go with a purpose. We go in order to make disciples (that means followers) of Jesus. These disciples are added to our numbers and taught about Jesus.
We believe the Church has a mission to train people who respond to the Gospel to go into the culture as missionaries with the Gospel, using the gifts and talents God gave them.
Recently, when I was shopping for a used car, the salesman tried to share the Gospel with my wife and I (he didn’t know I was a pastor). It was obvious he had been trained on how to share the Gospel and the opportunity presented itself.
Often, people think about the church as the place where a pastor or other “professional Christians” do ministry stuff. The Bible, on the other hand, gives the ministry stuff to a different group of people.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
See that? The leadership in the church has the job of training all the other Christians in the church to do the ministry stuff. I was asked by a reporter recently how Riverview got so much done in our church and community with so few staff and such a small budget. I pointed to the nearly 1000 people who volunteer in some capacity in any given month. And that’s just the people I know about, I’m sure there are more! Every single Christian has a vital role to play and we are each given talents and abilities that help define our unique role.
There is a man at Riv who vacuums at one of our venues once or twice a week and he is one of the few people who consistently shows up earlier than I do. He does it as a cheerful volunteer. I was at a car dealership recently and met a sales manager who has been coming to Riv because a guy who works with him has told him about Jesus and invited him to come. These stories just scratch the surface of what the Riv family is doing in this city and around the world for Jesus.
We believe the Church should be actively involved in planting new churches.
Study after study have shown that new churches have a greater ability to reach new people for Christ than existing churches. I’m sure there’s lots of reasons for that, but the bottom line here matters: we need more churches. The world needs them, Michigan needs them, and the Greater Lansing Area needs them.
At Riv, we are so serious about planting churches that two of our pastors serve as national leaders for two different church planting networks. We plant churches, give 10% of our budget to financially support church planters, and send people to join church plants.
What does the Church do? A lot. But we do it all for the glory of God and fame of Jesus.
…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31