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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What is the Church?

by Nelson Roth
In 1979, I was called by a church to serve as its lead pastor.  Prior to that, for seven years, I was a youth director at two churches, so I was really excited about my new leadership role.  As my family, Pam and our three children, and I packed to move from Florida to Illinois - I was eager to build the church I’d been called to pastor.

During the first several years, I enthusiastically focused on methods and programs I had either experienced myself or had seen in other places.  Looking back, I know that my motives were genuine and that I had the best intentions in mind; however, I see now that my leadership focus was based on what I understood about the church at that time.
This is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.  Or is it?  This is the building that the church meets in, this one has a steeple, open the doors and see the church!

In the early 80’s, I began to make a significant shift about what the church was and how to do church.  All along, I knew the church was people, but what needed to change was practicing what I knew. 

I was overemphasizing the church as the place where spiritual things happen, rather than it being people who were a family and the Body of Christ.  Before the shift, the focus was on going to church.  We attended church and attempted to get others to do the same in order to grow our numbers.  The church was a place to go to and a place to attend.  It’s where the ministry happened. 

I remember that the shift was easier to do mentally, but putting it into practice - the church as people who were on mission came harder.  New thinking required - instead of seeing the church as a fortress, the church must become a force getting out into and influencing its community.  If a church is only focused on what happens within the church building, it will be imbalanced.  The church must also be outward focused.

What is the picture that comes to your mind when you hear the word church?

How different is the truth you know about church and how you practice it?

Here is how God began to work in my life about this shift.  As I studied the Word, I challenged myself with several questions that helped me get beyond my preconceived ideas - Why do I believe what I believe?  Why do I do what I do?  And, what does God say about the church in His Word?

The first time Jesus spoke the word ‘Church’ was in Matthew 16:18, when He said, "I will build my Church.”  The Greek word for church is ekklesia - ‘called out ones’ or ‘assembly’.  It’s a gathering of any group of people.  Over 100 times in the New Testament, the word ekklesia is used referring to an assembly of believers and in these cases the English translation for the word is church.  The church is an organism not an organization.  It’s you and it’s me who are converted and redeemed becoming part of a living organism, a body with personality which is alive, both locally and worldwide. The church is people!

If the church is people how is your church doing?

Is your church thought of more as a place, or a group of people?

From the picture above, what is the correct way to say the church finger rhyme?

Click to post your comment.

Thanks for the comments from Grant, Chris, Erik, Rick, and Horace on last week’s introductory blog article titled, The Church.  Click to see their comments and my response to each one.

RM’s vision - to equip leaders to minister relevantly in churches that will be healthy and thriving.

Relevant Ministry Inc.
Training future leaders - Building healthy ministries - Serving on the Gulf Coast


  1. I have felt this way for a long time that "church" is not a place but people who are committed to Our Lord and Saviour and "out there" or in "our homes" living the faith, doing what we were asked to do, help the orphans, the widows, the poor, the disadvantaged, stand up for "Christian" values, live the faith. Keep going Pastor Roth,you are an inspiration, making us think and rethink our priorities. Blessings to you and Pam, Peace, and Love, Ena and Mike Canada

  2. Great to hear from you Ena and Mike, your comment that church is not a place is on target. What challenges have you encountered to get outside the church walls in order to be 'out there'? -Nelson

  3. The Revelation I got about this Changed My Life. I always thought Church was were you went. Now Knowing that I am the Church as a person has completely changed my Outlook on everything. Mostly my relationships to God and to Others. I Definately can say that I have a stronger relationship with God and Others because of it.

  4. Hey, so, another older blog entry here. I'm super excited about this move in the church towards "outwards" thinking. Great blog.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jason. I'm glad you found these 'older' blog articles. Appreciate your comments. Though they were written a year ago, they won't get old. -Nelson


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