Christians fuel the fire of many misconceptions about the church. Everywhere I go, I hear one of the misconceptions about the church found in this post.
They are pervasive. They are prevalent. They can be destructive.
Living in such a way that doesn’t endorse these misconceptions about the church is much more difficult than you might think. My wife and I began trying to speak correctly about the church and I have to admit that we have had to jump through some verbal hoops in order to do so. (Think: “We are going to the building where the church meets today” rather than “We are going to church.”)
Take a look a the list below and pick at least one that you would like to work on. If we are honest, very few people ever speak 100% correctly about the church. I pray this post motivates you to shift not only how you speak about the church but also how you serve Him as the church.
10 Misconceptions About The Church
1) Church is a building
This one trips up just about everyone. The English language struggles to come up with an effective way to speak about the building where the church meets. Many people speak about the church by saying “We are going TO church at…” or “over there is our church” as if the building housed or embodied all that God’s Word teaches us about the church.
I don’t mean to criticize those who do this because, as I mentioned, the English language has put us at a disadvantage. It is awkward to say “We are going to the building where the church meets.” But many churches today are effectively using the terms campus, warehouse, and others to describe the location where the church meets (i.e. “Our church meets at the East Campus” or “Where is your church? Our church meets at the Regal Cinema…”).
Try challenging your staff or your family or your congregation to speak about the church as the gathering of people and not a building. It is difficult but can be done. In full disclosure, it has been very difficult for my wife and I to model this for our kids. A few days ago, however, one of our (toddler age) children said the following in the car on our way to dinner: “Daddy, is today the day we go to the school to meet with the church.” We were blown away. It’s working.
(Note: I was rightly challenged recently on this misconception. God’s people, throughout the Old Testament, refer to the land of Israel as being inextricably connected to their identity as followers of Him. Although their faith does have a connection to a location as many of our faith’s do as well, I would still hold that the church isn’t a building or any location in particular but rather the gathering of God’s people for worship, teaching, service, etc.)
2) Church is an event
“What time does church start?” “We have church on Sunday”
Phrases like these frustrate me not because I like to be picky about the words people use. They frustrate me because they reinforce an event centered understanding of church that allows us to “check out of” church. The thinking goes a little like this: If I “attend” church on Sunday, then I have met with the church for the week and am now “officially off the hook.”
Yes, I wrote that.
I know many people think/feel it. It’s reality and we need to be honest about it. I hate the notion of going to church to get my Christian conscience off my shoulder. But it is a reality for many believers (and used to be for me too).
Talking about church as an event frees us to attend occasionally rather than integrating our faith into all of our life experiences. Be careful in the way you speak about church events and make sure you don’t portray church as a weekly event but as a gathering of God’s people on a loving mission, for worship, and to help one another grow.
3) Church is an ideology
Ever heard someone say: “Christians are just a bunch of bigots who like to judge other people and push their ideology down our throats”?
This type of thinking cultivates an environment that looks at the church as an ideological system rather than a gathering of God’s people.
The more damaging part of the ecclesiological error or misconception about the church is that when we see church as something that we “ascribe to,” we find ourselves off the hook from living a life on mission. Let’s not portray church as a group of ideas that people have to believe. Rather, let’s understand the church as a group of people unified around their belief in a set of ideas (Scripture, theology, etc) that have motivated them to humbly serve/love their world.
4) Church is where we get our needs met
I’ll admit that I’ve said it. I’ve heard this next statement 1000 times.
“I want a church where I can get fed.”
On one hand, I agree with this statement in that we should be growing in Christlikeness as a result of being part of the church. But we should not prioritize the acquisition of more information over every other part of our faith.
If you notice the way I wrote this misconception about the church, it has two fatal flaws. The church isn’t where we go for anything. We ARE the body of Christ and we are part of the body of Christ.
The other flaw is that the Church isn’t a location where we go to get our spiritual hunger pangs satisfied for the week. The Church is a gathering of those who follow Jesus on mission to set aside their wants/needs in order to sacrificially serve and show love to a hurting world (see Philippians 2:5-11).The Church isn't a location. We are the Church. Click To Tweet
5) Church is only one day a week
As I mentioned in one of the previous misconceptions about the church, the church is not only NOT an event. The church is also not something that happens on only one day a week (it isn’t something that “happens as an event” at all, it is a gathering/group/assembly of those who follow Jesus).
Those who follow Jesus may not gather with the entire church more than one time a week but they should gather with other believers in fellowship, on mission, and for mutual growth and instruction on a more regular basis. In fact, the church should be modeled in the home as parents live out their faith with their children, as husbands love their wives and vice versa, and as children worship their Savior with their parents.The church should be 'on mission', not 'moving on' after a weekly event. Click To Tweet
6) Church is a place for perfect people
I have read about many people who have decided they didn’t want to be Christian anymore because of the actions of Christians. There exists an idea in our society that church is a place for perfect people. This idea needs to go.
To be fair, Christians have probably done more to push this idea than anyone else. Christians have lived a facade of faith that masked their sinful struggles. Non-Christians cried, “Hypocrites!” and they did so with good reason. It is time that Christians focus more on repentance and admission of fault than on demanding others hold their views.
I hear Christians who seem to want to argue with anyone who disagrees with them. Why do we need to win the battle? Why are societal shifts so shocking to us? Do we really expect that the non-believing world will conform their lives to our wishes, desires, or beliefs. Seems doubtful to me. (Note: This is not meant to argue against sharing one’s faith. It’s meant to encourage us to share our faith in agreeable ways.) I believe there is a place for apologetics but it likely will have its greatest effectiveness where our conversations have their greatest effectiveness; when someone wants to hear what we have to say!There exists an idea in our society that church is a place for perfect people. This idea needs to go. Click To Tweet
7) Church is where I earn God’s love
Yes or No? We go to church each week in order to earn God’s love and win His approval, right? NO, NO, NO.
As Christians, we have been blessed by a perfect Savior who chose to die for us so that we might live. We do not earn our salvation on the basis of what we have done nor what we do on a weekly basis but on the basis of what he has already done (i.e.. It is finished).
Your so-called “church attendance” has no bearing on whether or not God will “let you into heaven.” It is true that you still need to hear the Gospel message and that as a Christian you need to be connected to other Christians in order to grow, but the act of meeting with the church does not contribute to your salvation in any way.
8) Church is where we connect with God
Not only do we not earn God’s love at church, church is not an exclusive place that we go to in order to connect with God. If it has become that for us then we have shifted our faith to a weekly event rather than a daily walk.
Be careful that you never seduce yourself into the misconception about the church that you must be in a certain spot in order to have an experience with God. If you do, it will leave your faith malnourished and yearning for the next Sunday in order to get the weekly spiritual fix.
9) Church ministry is only for a select few
Only pastors can serve God. They are the only ones qualified to truly know how to teach a bible study, oversee a baptism, preach a sermon, etc. Right? WRONG.
We are part of the priesthood of believers and have the opportunity to serve our God in ministry in many, if not all, of the same ways that a pastor can. Pastors may often get additional training at seminary or some other program in order to lead the church but this should never lead us to think that they are the only ones capable of serving God. The reality is that seminary doesn’t make someone a pastor any more than owning a Bible makes them a Christian. It is more about their heart and how they respond to their seminary training (for pastors) and how they respond to the words of Scripture (lay Christians).
What if we could get to a point where we could bridge the lay/clergy divide in a way that unleashed the potential of the church to serve our world? What if pastors focused less on doing all the ministry and more on training other people to serve in meaningful ways that utilized their gifts in ministry? We would likely have far fewer “Leaderless Churches” than we have today.
We would find pastors focused on discipleship, leadership development, and helping Christians to live on mission as they used their gifts.
10) Church is optional
Church is not optional. Before anyone thinks I’m trying to get overly preachy on this one, my belief in how essential the church is for their growth comes from the pages of Scripture and from a heart to create loving communities of believers who serve Him.
I’ll never forget the story I heard about Martin Luther who, when asked whether Christians needed to be part of a church, stopped and told a story. He shared about a man who took a coal out of the fire and set it on the mantel. As the people watched the coal slowly burn out, he put the coal back in the fire and they saw it light back up again. His illustration was meant to challenge the idea that we can maintain a vibrant Christian faith without others in our lives.
Church isn’t an optional activity that we may or may not want to include (it isn’t an activity at all). It is a regular opportunity to come together with other believers in corporate worship. It is a church to be challenged by other believers as we grow in Christlikeness together. It is a chance for the church to come together to hear God’s Word taught.
Church is essential. Being the church is essential. Church isn’t optional.
We are the church.