Last night on the patio the TOPic was "why church?" Why would God create the church? Why do we need to go to church? What's the purpose of church in general, and church in specific?
Ultimately it comes down to this: The Church is the Body of Christ. Jesus is the head, and we are each members of the body (and on a more macro level, we can consider congregations individual parts of a bigger body, and even denominations as individual parts of the whole Body, Church with a capital-C). We talked about what part of the body we see ourselves as--hands reaching out, shoulders carrying the weight, eyes seeing in new ways, legs moving us forward, digestive system taking things in and processing them into nourishment we can use.
The Body of Christ has a mission: to do God's work. As the Book of Order puts it, that work is:
the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
the maintenance of divine worship;
the preservation of the truth;
the promotion of social righteousness;
the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.
It's interesting to notice what is not the purpose of the church. Notice that Scripture and the Book of Order both leave out things that we often think are required to be a church. Nothing about how we have our programs, whether we have sunday school or not, what kind of songs we sing, or what kind of building we meet in. It's not even about giving our kids a strong moral foundation (which, for the record, can also be had outside the church), or about getting our needs met, or having any power in the culture or political system. It's all about being a community, serving the community, and worshipping only The One God made known in Jesus Christ. In other words, it's about living as if we are in the Kingdom of God here and now--because we are--so that others may know God's love.
The only way a body grows is by being nourished and by exercising--so we are nourished by Word and Sacrament, by gathering together and worshipping in myriad ways (not just in the sanctuary!), and we exercise by reaching out, serving others, and practicing our faith every day (not just on Sunday). It's important that we nourish the Body with good things, not with empty calories, and it's important that we exercise so the muscles don't atrophy.
The big question of the night was: who is the reproductive system in the Body of Christ? We decided that all of us need to have this role. It's every person's task to invite others into the community, to welcome everyone, to share good news (not the bad news that gets ratings). So really every individual member of the body has two roles: we may be the heart or the foot or the hands, but we are also to work on growing and reproducing--or, what Jesus called "Making disciples."
What part of the body are you?