Since becoming a pastor, one area of theology God has put upon my heart is the nature and function of the church. The church is a great blessing from God. It is called the body of Christ, a God-ordained institution where individual Christians come together to form a Christ-centered Gospel community. The Christian church was established by Jesus upon the profession of Peter that affirmed Jesus as the Christ (the prophesied Anointed One), the divine Son of God, Savior, and Lord (Matt 16:15-18). The word “church” means the “called out” ones, those whom God calls unto salvation in Jesus Christ to be in the local assembly, congregation, or community of Christians. Those who are in the church of Jesus Christ make the same profession as Peter, and that is what binds them together. Christians are not called to live their life alone but are called to remain in constant fellowship with God and with one another (1 John 1:1-7).
The blueprint for the church is given in the New Testament where it is pictured as a community of the redeemed who come together primarily to exalt God (John 4:24; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 1:3-14; Col 3:16), to edify believers (2 Cor 3:18; Eph 4:12-16; Col 1:28), and to evangelize the lost (Matt 28:18-20; 2 Cor 5:11-21). Our church has developed these same directives under the headings of celebrating God, cultivating believers, caring for one another, and communicating Christ. Acts 2:40-47 is a wonderful picture of what the very first Christian church did: they believed Jesus was Savior and Lord, repented of their sins, and were baptized; they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (now the Word of God in the New Testament), they prayed, fellowshipped, and shared communion; they shared their possessions with those who had need; they opened up their homes and lives to each other; and they praised God, worshipping together, while having an impact on everyone in the community. This was the work of God as it says He was the one who added to their number those who were being saved.
One of the most endearing and profound pictures of the church is that it is the spiritual family of God (1 Tim 5:1-2). God is the Father who loves and who saves through His Son Jesus Christ (Matt 6:9; John 3:16; 1 Cor 8:6). Jesus said this bond of spiritual family unity is even stronger than that of biological families (Matt 12:50). Everyone is an adopted child into the Family of God, with the Holy Spirit working in us so that we cry out to our Father in heaven (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:4-7). Christians, whether older or younger, are united to form a spiritual family that is passionate about fulfilling the will of God and participating in the ministries of the church, again being the worship of God, the edification of brothers and sisters, and the discipleship of the lost.
With only a brief glimpse into our culture and society around us, we can tell that families are broken, hurting, fractured, and disintegrating. Families suffer from parents who are absent, abusive, or uncaring. These observations may be bleak, but I speak as someone who grew up as a teenager mostly with one parent who was constantly working to make ends meet. These are the realities of our time. So, speaking from personal experience and from a heart informed by the biblical picture of the family of God, our church has a tremendous opportunity to help struggling families and especially to reach out to and to invest in the youth.
Christian fellowship means adoption into the family of God. Therefore my ministry goal is not just to facilitate a separate small group with the youth one day a week, but to connect them with the wider body of the church. Sometimes it is easy to get sidetracked into thinking greater attendance or general moral improvement means success, while instead, success means the youth are engaged and maturing members of the corporate church family. It is a constant theme in my teaching that God’s love has not only saved people as individuals but has united them to Christ and to every other Christian in the bond of a loving family. Youth events, retreats, and activities are geared toward fostering this mindset with the involvement of older, more mature believers connecting with the younger generation (Titus 2:1-8).
Reflecting on the family of God in the church and how it can impact the youth warms my heart. The challenge to grow and to build this family means it takes prayer, initiative, and intentionality to act as an impassioned congregation of believers who want to draw in and draw closer to others and bond like a family. What spiritual parent or mentor or leader can we honor and thank today? What youth can we invest in as family? What brother can we reach out to? What sister can we serve? These questions are the ones we should be asking and acting on as they arise from the profound truth that the church is to be the close and loving family of God in Jesus Christ.
- Pastor Spencer Carpenter