What did Jesus mean when He said ‘church’?

Jesus didn’t speak much of the church in the Gospels but when He did, He said He would build it and it would have authority over the resistance of hell as well as the ability to self govern. Over the last couple of years or so, I have been asking the Lord what did He see when He said church. His answer has turned my understanding upside down… or should I say the right way up?

Having given three articles over to why I don’t want to go to church, I now want to take a more positive approach as to what church is and why I want to be totally involved. A contradiction? No, not really because there is church and then there is church. 😉

My journey has brought me to the place where I believe that when Jesus said church, He meant a community of God’s chosen people who meet together in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t sound too radical when you consider how long it has taken me to get to this point but the implications for the average believer are immense. When we look at how a church community functions, is structured and how the leadership is affected, the outcome is both radical and liberating.

“Upon this rock, I will build my church…” my understanding of this verse from Matthew 16 is that the rock in question is the God-given revelation of who Jesus is and it is on this understanding that our communities and gatherings are built. The question we need to ask is: what would a community built on this understanding look like? The answer is quite simply that it would look like Jesus.

The Bible tells us that Jesus has been given the Name that is above every name and that He is far above every power both in heaven and on earth. But what did Jesus do to be granted such honour by His Father? He humbled Himself on a scale that I believe is beyond our natural ability to fully understand. When we remember that Jesus was a part of the creation process, and add to that His power is such that He could throw the universe away in the same way we would discard a jacket, the depth of His humility starts to show. Jesus went from being God in heaven and took a place on the earth as a man. Did He arrive through a portal in time and space with all mankind prostrate before Him? No, He arrived in the same way we did. Was he born into wealth and royalty? Not at all. He arrived into a family without social significance, in an obscure community and grew up as a labourer. He demonstrated His leadership by cleaning dung off His disciples feet and was then found worthy of death for claiming to be God and died horribly. In all of this, Jesus demonstrated that the greatest among us is the servant of all, and He served a people (that’s us) who had made themselves His enemies with His very life. This is part of the understanding on which we (the church) are to be built.

If we add to this Jesus’ desire that we should not lord ourselves over one another, we start to get a picture of what our community should look like:

  • A people who genuinely put one another first.
  • A community where depth of service determines a person’s maturity and influence.
  • A family that is full of respect and where the senior members are seen to be so by the amount they give and not by the position or favour they command.

This is in very  stark contrast to many of our churches today. I was a senior pastor (please note senior) and I had leaders who were expected to obey me and they took my will into the wider church. You were expected to do what I said because I was the pastor, and you were expected to respect my position even if you didn’t respect me. Unbeknown to me, I was guilty of lording it over people, and I was in fact, to quote George Orwell, more equal than everyone else. This can be seen to a greater or lesser extent in churches around the world. Some leaders have special titles, special clothes, special rooms, extra money, they can be exempt from certain tasks, they can have people carry their Bibles for them, etc. etc. The thing is, as soon as our communities have a special class of persons whose positions afford them authority over the people, we are no longer being built on the revelation of Jesus but we are as the world.

For those of us who are called as leaders, are we showing our gifting by our service and lifestyle or by defending our positions? Equally, many believers want people to lord it over them (in church at least) rather than taking responsibility for their own gifts and callings and using them to build up the people around them. The idea of being a family of believers is too costly; they would far rather attend meetings put on by an organisation whose demands go no further than an external commitment to some beliefs, a financial contribution and an agreement not to rock the boat. Where do you stand?

Go well, my friends. 🙂


About Mark Neale

Husband to Sandra, dad, grandpa, Christian educator, and a John Maxwell Team Member.
This entry was posted in Viral Church and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What did Jesus mean when He said ‘church’?

  1. Dave Vaughan says:

    Great stuff Mark, ‘he that has been joined together with the Lord has become one Spirit together with Him.” I love ‘Oneness’ LOL

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