[Thirdly] a church is not a business. Or (for that matter) a not-for-profit organisation. Or even a national religious institution.
Now I need to clarify what I mean here, because as Ithaca Presbyterian Church, we have an Australian Business Number, and we pay wages and own property much like a typical business does. The Australian government treats us like a not-for-profit organisation for tax purposes. And we are part of a denomination – the Presbyterian Church of Australia, which for all intents and purposes, is a national religious institution. But let me be clear here, that’s not what the church fundamentally is. We organise ourselves and operate in many ways like a business or a not-for-profit or an institution, but they are merely structures we have put in place to effectively and efficiently do the work that Christ has given us to do; they are not intrinsic to what the church is. The church is not a business, the church is a fellowship of Christians.
Now having said all that, here’s the problem that is often encountered in churches: it’s when people treat the church as a business and with a consumeristic attitude. There’s a transactional mentality about it. It’s a mentality that says, “I’ll come to church and give the church some money (maybe), and I expect to receive some goods in return – a nice service, a sermon that doesn’t bore me to tears, free childcare for my kids, people who I like who love to listen me talk about my week, and good coffee after church. And if I don’t receive any of those goods which I have paid for in my small offering and in my blessed presence, I’m going to leave and find a better church that gives me what I want.”
That sort of attitude unfortunately kills a church. You get enough people in a church thinking and acting like that, the church quickly dies.
The NT picture of the church instead is a fellowship of Christians who think and act, not like consumers, but like family. All throughout the NT, the apostles addressed their fellow Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, like family.
One of my friends, Mikey Tai, a fellow Pressie pastor out in Sunnybank, posted this picture on Instagram over Christmas. The visible part of the caption reads, 2017-2019. And as I was looking at this, do you know what I automatically thought? This can’t be Mikey’s church, because in 2 years, nobody has changed. They’re the same people. So this must be his family.
Isn’t that sad? Churches these days are so transient it is not normal to expect that in 2 years time, everyone will still be around. But it’s not meant to be like that. A church is meant to be like family.
In a family, you’re not necessarily best friends with everyone, but you push past your differences, you put up with the things that irk you, you sort out your issues, and you forgive and you ask for forgiveness, because you love your family and they love you, because you are connected to them by blood.
And as a church, we are meant to be like that. In fact, we’re meant to be closer than that. We’re connected together by the blood of Jesus, and we are brothers and sisters in him. And so we’re meant to love each other deeply.
That’s why Peter says in 1 Peter 1:22-23,
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.
And so before you decide to become a member of this church, you need to ask yourself: are you willing to treat this church as your spiritual family, and not consumeristically, as if it’s a business?
So that’s the third thing a church is not; it isn’t a business. It’s a fellowship of Christians partnered together [SLIDE] who think and act like family [SLIDE] – in other words, they love each other deeply.
Now, so far, we haven’t yet arrived at what a church actually is. What we’ve got so far could describe a local community club, like a Rotary Club or a Meals on Wheels. But a church is so much more than that, which is why fourthly…