Every pastor and church leader knows how easy it is to fall into the trap of programming, event planning, and filling in a calendar. It all seems like good stuff—and much of it is—but if we’ve failed to build true community in our churches, something’s missing.
The Bible describes the church as the family of God (1 Thessalonians 4:10; 1 Peter 2:17), so when we gather together, it ought to feel like family: warm, inviting, and familiar. We are to be united by identity, purpose, and culture.
I know what you’re thinking. That seems like a tall order. The church around the globe is diverse, and these days so is the local church. How then can we be unified and experience true community?
The truth is, if we’re taking our identity, purpose, and culture cues from the world, we can never be united. God’s Word tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
In Christ, we have a new identity.
In Christ, we have a new purpose.
In Christ, we have a new culture.
As we come together around this new way of living, we will find that we have more in common than we ever thought possible. Not only that, we’ll begin to recognize the people down the pew and across the world as members of our own family, not by flesh and blood, but by something that runs much deeper: the Spirit of Christ.
Our new identity
When we come to faith in Jesus, we receive a brand-new identity. We are no longer mere sinners struggling under the weight of this world. We are saved, redeemed, and made new. Yes, we still struggle with sin, but through the grace of God, we no longer stand condemned, and we can have victory over our temptations.
We become God’s children, Jesus’ disciples, and the heirs of the kingdom of heaven. That’s a lot to carry with us, but if we were to sum it all up, our new identity is simply this: we are to be servants of Jesus and shine His light to the world around us.
For churches, this has very practical implications. We need to be Jesus people. Everything we do ought to help us become more like Jesus, point others to Jesus, and make much of Jesus.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with topical sermons, and there’s certainly nothing amiss when we study the Old Testament. But we should do everything through the Jesus lens.
- When studying an Old Testament passage, ask, “How does this point us to Jesus?” and “How did Jesus view these scriptures?”
- When focusing on a topic like marriage, finances, or career, make sure Jesus is the point of it all. A happy marriage or debt-free living isn’t worth a thing if Jesus isn’t at the center.
And this Jesus-centric way of doing things shouldn’t just be about Sunday mornings. Jesus must permeate everything we do. Every program, event, and calendar item must pass the Jesus test:
- Is this making us more like Jesus?
- Is this bringing glory to His name?
- Will people crave more of Jesus when we’re done?
All this serves to connect our new identity in Christ with your identity as a church. Not only will this help the people in your pews grow into the people God made them to be, it will also help them grow in community as they discover that despite all their differences, their identity is the same.
Our new purpose
Before Jesus returned to heaven, He gave His followers marching orders: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20).
It’s been about two thousand years, and He hasn’t rescinded this directive. We have a job to do. It’s our purpose, and it’s what we are supposed to be about.
Anyone who’s ever served in the military or even a startup company knows that people become united around a common goal. And yet, in local churches, we tend to leave the missionary work to missionaries. We focus instead on “practical” topics, but nothing is more practical than evangelism. It’s what Jesus told us we should be all about.
Is evangelism part of your church programming? Is it part of discipleship in your community? If not, you may need to rethink some things. Here are a few ideas:
- Create the expectation of evangelism. Part of being a disciple of Jesus is making more disciples. Otherwise, we’re a dead-end street.
- Offer training for evangelism and one-on-one discipleship for every age group in your church. Then be sure to provide opportunities to put that training to work.
- When planning your calendar, be sure to think about the lost. Are their easy entry points for people who don’t yet know Jesus? Are you providing opportunities for the members of your church to invite their neighbors and friends?
- From the pulpit, be sure to speak to believers and non-believers alike. Not only will that serve as an invitation to the seekers watching, but it will also model an evangelistic heart for believers who want to obey the Great Commission.
As we equip each other, pray for one another, and see our communities as mission fields, we will find we’ve become united in purpose.
Our new culture
Finally, as Christians we have received a new culture that’s out of this world—quite literally. “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13).
In fact, we are more than citizens of the kingdom; we are its ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). What does an ambassador do? He lives in a foreign land and advocates for the ways of his homeland. We are to be a part of answering Jesus’ prayer to make God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
What is heaven like? There is no suffering or violence. There is neither grief nor pain. Justice flows down to all, and poverty is non-existent. Love and truth walk hand in hand, and God is worshiped without ceasing. So, as we live in a foreign land here on earth, we are to be people who, quite literally, seek to change the world.
This change should be reflected in our churches first and foremost. So, as matters for practical consideration:
- Do you pray for the sick?
- Do you advocate for justice in your community and in our nation?
- Do you love others well?
These things may look different, depending on your context, but they aren’t optional either. If the culture in your church becomes like that of heaven, you’ll find people just can’t get enough—and it will unite everyone, no matter where they started out.
Over to you
What can you do to help the members of your church see their new identity, purpose, and culture? Keep your eyes on Jesus, and let these truths be the air you breathe.