What is a church?

By Madi McGraw
In Got Questions
Back to Blog

We are a family, part of a body, a flock of sheep.

Growing up in the Bible Belt, these are all phrases that I heard people use in reference to the church, but what I personally struggled with was the purpose and role of the church in my own life. While I was told that I was part of the body, I felt like people didn’t really know me. And on top of that, I hoped I was a good body part—like a pretty set of eyes or useful hands and not something lame like a pinky toe. And a flock of sheep?! What am I supposed to do with that—I know I live in Texas, but I am not a farmer.

As I grew up, I found that the only motivation I had to go to church was to see my friends. And before long, I walked through a season where it just felt like my Sundays could be better spent elsewhere. I embraced the idea that I was a customer of the church who didn’t need to go if they weren’t offering a product I wanted. Tragically, this mindset affects more than just me.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we judge a church based on several factors such as the teaching, music, and programming. We have been at the table in the conversation before:

Service was long today. I didn’t like those songs. The worship center was too hot. They made me scoot in and I didn’t like that seat.

As opposed to focusing on the church being a collection of followers of God coming together, we are apt to evaluate the church more as a club of perks, conveniences, and privileges.

Being guilty of this mindset, I began to consider my relationship with the church and with the Lord. Before long, my relationship with the Lord grew and I began to understand that I wasn’t to be a consumer and the church wasn’t a club. It wasn’t just a space for me to experience worship, listen to a sermon, get fancy coffee, or try out my new favorite outfit.

“So, what is church?” I began to ask.

As God drew me toward a small church unlike any I had attended before, my eyes and heart opened to the idea that the Church is a group of people: a family, a body, a flock of sheep.

Church is a family.

In 1 Timothy 3:14-15, Paul the Apostle is writing to Timothy with instructions for the church and he says, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

See the word household in there? It literally means family. The Lord is our Father, and we enter into this family, not by birth, not by what we give, and certainly not by just showing up on Sundays. Those who believe Jesus died on the cross for our sins (Romans 5:8) are redeemed and adopted (Galatians 4:4-7) into the family with God as our heavenly father. It is by no effort of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9)—only by the grace and love God shows for us.

Church is a body.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:

"For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body.

If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body."

The metaphor here is that Jesus is the head and we all play a significant role with different purposes. Just like my nose helps me smell and my eyes help me see, all body parts have significance. When God's people come together, they form a complete body. Without one another’s gifts and talents, we are not complete. Every part of the body is useful—even that lame little pinky toe. (Side note: Your pinky toe plays an important role in keeping you balanced when you move. It’s vital to making the body complete!)

What part of the body are you? Perhaps your role in the Church, the Body, is to lead a Formation group, rock babies on Sundays, sing in the choir, serve on the hospitality team, or use your technical skills to assist with worship. As a part of the body, we get a front row seat to the transforming work God is doing through His church.

The church is a flock of sheep.

First Peter 5, says,

"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you…"

He’s saying to the elders, “You are a shepherd.” Guess what that makes us? Sheep! While I don’t know a lot about sheep, I know they are prone to wander. (I know this because I have watched funny YouTube videos about it. #technology — Am I right?) Because of this, sheep need constant care and attention and correction. And just like sheep, we too need accountability and direction from the Church. I’m the first to admit that I don’t enjoy being told I’ve wandered away from God’s truth, but discipline, guidance, and correction are rooted in Biblical truth.

When I have been wrong and in turn encouraged by someone to choose truth, my first response is sometimes one of rebellion that believes that she is correcting me because she doesn’t love me. However, I have learned to be thankful that people in the church have lovingly helped me see where I have been prone to wander. Just last week, a friend on staff was, with love, guiding and challenging my thinking, and while it was good for our friendship, it taught me great humility. And, I hope she knows, that I would do the same for her, because I love her.

The church is an embassy.

The last metaphor that I've only recently began to explore is that the church is an embassy. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul the Apostle says:

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

I LOVE this metaphor. It’s my favorite. As someone who is fascinated by how the social media world has introduced us to new vocabulary and the idea of an influencer being a full-time job, I tell you that that’s exactly what the Church is. An influencer on behalf of Christ. Ambassadors for Christ. As disciples on mission, we represent the King of Kings with his message, serving at his pleasure. We are ambassadors for Christ equipped for every good work (Ephesians 2:10), and God is making his appeal to this dark, fallen and broken world through us.

You are the church.

So, what makes up a church?

You.

Me.

As a family, we are committed to one another. As the body, we all have an important part to play. As a flock of sheep and shepherds, we commit to loving one another in truth. And as ambassadors, we are sent out to bring the light of God’s love to a broken world.

Do you have questions?

Anything from faith to family to relationships or the world. We'd like to answer them.

We'd like to answer them

We Recommend Reading Next: