It seems to me that every congregation answers this question in one of three ways.
First of all, there is the ingrown, traditionalist church that believes it exists primarily for the sake of its members. These churches see discipleship as their primary goal. These are the kind of churches where you hear things like "But we've always done it this way." The kind of church where the pastor works for the members and not for God. The kind of church where the lay-leaders are a bunch of good ol' boys rather than biblically qualified elders and deacons. These unbiblical emphases usually mean that these churches fail to do the very thing they most want to do: build up believers. They fail in discipleship precisely because they are so focused on discipleship.
Second, and largely in response to the first model, there are outward focused churches that believe they exist primarily for the sake of the lost or unchurched. These "seeker-sensitive" churches make evangelism their primary (or only) mission. These churches tend to be full of shallow, immature believers and false converts. In an effort not to offend unbelievers, they shave the rough edges off of the Christian faith, diluting the saving power of God's Word. Ironically, they fail at evangelism because they are too focused on evangelism.
These two models may seem very different, but they actually fail at the same point: they both fail to realize that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is a means to an end and not an end in and of itself. While the church's mission includes both evangelism and discipleship, neither is its ultimate priority. Worship is. Both of the first two models are man-centered. The only difference is that one is focused on the church (redeemed man) while the other is focused on the world (lost man). The problem is this: the church doesn't exist for man.
Which leads us to the third model: the God-centered church. These are churches that realize that they exist for God's glory. They recognize Christ's lordship over his church. They make worship their ultimate priority and carry out their mission as a means to that end. Therefore, the church that puts worship first is also the church that gets discipleship and evangelism right.
So, Why does the church exist?
It does not exist for man (whether lost man or saved man). No, the church exists for God. For God and his glory alone.
Soli Deo gloria.
- Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper
- Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
- What Is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert
- Worship: The Ultimate Priority by John MacArthur
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