Over the years my answer to this question has flipped flopped many times. Sometimes I am sure the church exists for those outside the church, the yet-to-be Christians. Sometimes I am sure the church exists for those inside the church, the all-ready-Christians.
The reason this debate continues in my head is because it has profound implication for my philosophy of ministry, the purpose of church and the way I teach Scripture.
The reasons for both answers are really simple.
If church exists for the yet-to-be Christians:
- The environment needs to be non-threatening.
- The teaching needs to be accessible, easily digestible and highly applicable.
- The structure needs to be simple to engage with.
- The motif centers more on grace than law.
- The reason for church is about introductions to the faith.
- The tolerance for immaturity is high.
- The hope for involvement is low.
- The inside church culture is almost seamless with the outside church culture.
- The approach is spoon feeding.
- The greatest sin is to be distasteful.
- The vocabulary is common and ordinary.
- The expectation is on the mechanism or institution to make converts and disciples.
If the church exists for the already Christians:
- The environment is not as important has the information.
- The teaching is challenging, comprehensive and direct.
- The structure is true to Scripture.
- The motif centers more on truth than relevance.
- The reason for church is about equipping the faithful.
- The tolerance for immaturity is low.
- The hope for involvement is high.
- The inside church culture does not need to match the outside church culture.
- The approach expects self initiation.
- The greatest sin is “easybelieveism.”
- The vocabulary is theological and biblical.
- The expectation is on the people to make converts and disciples.
However, I think for the last 15 years of ministry I have been advocating for the answer wrong (not matter if I was for the insider or the outsider.)
Q: Who does the church exist for?
A: Everyone who needs Jesus.