What should a church do?
Look at your church’s calendar and you will learn something of its mission. But how do you know it’s the mission Jesus gave?
In The Life of the Church, Joe Thorn explains the mission of the church and the three rhythms for fulfilling it. The result is a simple, memorable model for church life and ministry, grounded in Scripture and aligned with historic practices.
Useful for training in membership class, discipleship groups, and elder boards—and even for devotional reading—The Life of the Church is at once theological, practical, and experiential. Readers will not simply be informed, but led to a deeper conviction about their role in the body of Christ. Pastors will be equipped to refocus their ministries, and Christians to fulfill their purpose: be and make disciples.
If you wonder what it means to be saved into a body of believers, why the various parts of a worship service matter, and how to engage in the world as a citizen of heaven, then The Life of the Church is for you. It answers this critical question: “Why does the church exist, and how does it shape my life?”
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About the Author
JOE THORN is the founding and Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL. He is the author of Note to Self: the Discipline of Preaching to Yourself and Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God, and has contributed articles to Tabletalk Magazine, the ESV Men's Devotion Bible, The ESV Story Bible, and The Mission of God Study Bible.
Read an Excerpt
The Life of the Church
The Table, Pulpit, And Square
By Joe Thorn, Kevin P. Emmert
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2017 Joe Thorn
All rights reserved.
OUR NEED FOR COMMUNITY
Human beings have been created by God to live in community. When God made Adam, He said, "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18). This statement reflects man's need not only for a woman, but also for intimate relationships that cannot be found among other creatures.
People are not just hungry for community; they require it to truly live. This is not the result of some weakness found in humanity, but rather reflects the divine mark left upon every soul. We need community because we are made in the image of God, who has forever existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has always known the love and harmony of communion within Himself. As people who bear His image, we are relational beings who need others like us with whom we can live life. And for Christians this is especially true. We need the love and harmony of the communion of saints. Without it, we will grow weak, and God's image will not shine as brightly in us as He intended.
SAVED TO COMMUNITY
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
(1 PETER 2:9-10)
When God saves sinners, He forgives their transgressions, cleanses them from all unrighteousness, and declares them to be righteous in Jesus Christ. Salvation includes receiving a new identity, heart, and spirit (Ezek. 36:26). But our redemption in Jesus Christ is not merely a rescue of the individual; it is a deliverance of a people from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of light, from friendship with the world into the family of God. We are saved by grace through faith into union with Christ and communion with His people (see 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4). We are saved into the communion of the saints, where we find life and spiritual growth.
SANCTIFIED IN COMMUNITY
God promises to sanctify His people. This promise was prophesied in the Old Testament and realized in the New. God works in the soul of every Christian to grow them in faith and godliness. This inner transformation is the work of the Spirit through the ministry of the Word (see John 17:17; 2 Thess. 2:13). Just as we cannot be saved apart from the activity of the Spirit and the Word, neither can we experience spiritual growth apart from the Spirit and the Word. The work of the Spirit and the ministry of the Word are found and flourish in the church, and they are frequently intensely experienced in our personal relationships with other believers.
The community of faith is what forms and reforms the Christian. Believers are formed by the ongoing instruction of the Word and fellowship of believers in the church and are reformed by brothers and sisters who hold one another accountable through loving correction, reproof, and rebuke. Such accountability is effective only in a community where a common faith gives birth to mutual love.
SERVING IN COMMUNITY
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
(1 THESS. 5:9-11)
The environment of our smaller gatherings and friendships in the church is where we can fulfill God's call on our lives. The people of God must meet together in smaller numbers to carry out the will of God in each other's lives.
For instance, if we gather together only on the Lord's Day for corporate worship, how can we possibly carry out the "one another" passages that pepper the New Testament? Apart from the environment of the table, it is impossible to truly
"love one another with brotherly affection" (Rom. 12:10);
"outdo one another in showing honor" (Rom. 12:10);
"live in harmony with one another" (Rom. 12:16);
"welcome one another as Christ welcomed you" (Rom. 15:7);
"instruct one another" (Rom. 15:14);
"have the same care for one another" (1 Cor. 12:25);
"with all humility and gentleness, with patience, [bear] with one another in love" (Eph. 4:2);
"be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32);
"[submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:2l);
"stir up one another toward love and good works" (Heb. 10:24);
"[encourage] one another" (Heb. 10:25);
and "confess your sins to one another and pray for one another" (James 5:16).
We can do some of this only in part on Sunday mornings, but we can do it fully as we dwell in the environment of the table.
We need community because we were created for it. This means without community we cannot experience life as God intended. As God said, it is not good for anyone to be alone. Isolation is a consequence of the fall and a major reason many Christians flounder in the faith. It is only as we learn to live life together by faith that we can begin to understand the value of the church and experience the Christian life in its fullness.
Specific programs that help facilitate the ministry of service and meeting people's needs are good. But even more important to the life of the church is that we be people who are naturally caring for one another in ways that require sacrifice and thus result in bringing relief to those who need it. When one member or family of the church is served by others in tangible ways out of a sense of love from others, the environment of the table yields fruit. For this to happen, relationships are necessary. However, building a culture that helps these relationships to grow and remain strong requires the context of smaller gatherings and groups.CHAPTER 2
Church members have long practiced gathering together in smaller groups. Today, these gatherings are called "home groups," "community groups," "missional communities," or simply "small groups," among other names. Though they often have different emphases, the necessary component to healthy small groups is the fostering of a gospel-rich community where believers are cared for and challenged by one another.
The Puritans modeled this well in what they called "holy conference." Holy conference amounted to a kind of small group. These groups were not a time for Christians just to socialize. Nor was it a time simply to study the Bible together. Those who attended conference did both, to be sure. But their time together was devoted to something even deeper. These Christians intended on applying the truths of Scripture to each individual's life.
In conference, church members regularly engaged one another in discussions on biblical texts as it related to the spiritual state of their souls. This required honesty, transparency, and trust from each individual, which is difficult to practice today in our individualistic society but can nevertheless thrive in the environment of the table. These Christians used Scripture passages related to their pastors' previous sermon, their own notes on those sermons, or from their own private Bible reading.
These smaller gatherings provided the context in which exhortation and encouragement happened naturally. Yes, these gatherings were more "inward" than "outward" in that they focused on those members gathered together and their relationship with God. God calls all believers to gospel-centered fellowship, and this is what readies us for better service to one another and those outside of the church.
Theologian Joanne Jung summarizes the benefits of conference: "The profitability of conference was clear: enhanced biblical understanding, the warming of the soul, and even a greater desire for the Word." Like the Sunday gatherings, these were groups of mixed company, not divided by age or sex. Jung explains,
Evidence shows that the advantages of gathering in small groups to discuss biblical passages as they relate to life experiences were extensive and were not limited to any one particular group of people. There was no gender, literacy, or class distinction. In conference there would be no discrimination.
This is different from age or gender segregated Sunday School instruction — which no doubt can be a helpful component of disciple-making — in that these small groups were more intimate, relational, and participatory, making the most of the "communion of the saints."
"Communion of saints" is not a phrase we use much today, outside of reciting The Apostles' Creed, which says, "I believe in ... the communion of saints." But our salvation and sanctification are experienced in such communion. The Heidelberg Catechism unpacks this in question 55:
Q. What do you understand by the communion of saints?
A. First, that believers, all and everyone, as members of Christ have communion with him and share in all his treasures and gifts. Second, that everyone is duty-bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the benefit and well-being of the other members.
Smaller groups, whatever we call them, must prioritize Scripture, persevere in prayer, and aim at strengthening each other's faith and Christian friendship. Whether in weekly small groups or occasional seminars, the church should offer biblical and theological instruction in this environment, which allows for questions and answers.
From organized small groups to the ongoing friendships that mark the whole of our lives, the essential aspect of this environment is the building of Christian community, which in turn helps to build healthy churches.
Believers ought to read the Word and pray together, but we should also work and play together. I am always thrilled when I see the people in formal community groups from our church go to the movies, a sporting event, or a restaurant together — when they fellowship together without an agenda or a plan, when spending time together is natural and rewarding. These interactions, too, are critical for building godly community.CHAPTER 3
Hospitality is often treated as an issue of manners. We believe we should be hospitable because it is the polite thing to do. Worse than that, many of us claim to be introverts and give ourselves a pass on the practice. But according to Scripture, hospitality is not a matter of manners; it is about mission. Scripture calls all Christians to this practice: "Show hospitality to one another without grumbling" (l Peter 4:9).
TREATING OUTSIDERS LIKE INSIDERS
The biblical concept of hospitality leads us to treat outsiders like insiders because we, who once were outsiders ourselves, have been welcomed into God's kingdom and made to be insiders. The call to treat outsiders like insiders spans both Testaments in Scripture, making it both a privilege and a responsibility.
For example, in Leviticus 19:34, God commanded Israel to "treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." Israel knew what it was like to be a stranger, unknown and unwelcome, and then to find God's grace, which brought them near to Him. They learned a profound truth in their salvation: God welcomes outsiders.
God wants His people to extend the same sort of welcoming to others. As members of Christ's body, we are called to "contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality" (Rom. 12:13) and to do so "without grumbling" (1 Peter 4:9). But like Israel, our calling to hospitality is not a response to social needs and expectations, but rather an outpouring of what we have experienced in Jesus Christ. God called us to Himself when we were strangers to His promises, and He made us, who were not His people, a people for His own possession (1 Peter 2:9–10). In the gospel, Jesus welcomes not the perfect or the free, but the broken and the burdened. As He has accepted each of us, so we must accept others into our lives.
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE CHURCH
This is first a call to draw near to one another inside the church on the basis of our common faith, salvation, and Lord. Building friendships can be difficult for many Christians. Some people feel awkward reaching out to others they do not know, and some groups of friends can quickly become cliques as a result of the comfort and familiarity found within.
Healthy churches create an invitational culture where the people go far beyond warm welcomes at Sunday services to a genuine embrace of outsiders and newcomers into both the life of the church and their own personal lives.
The gospel calls us to be hospitable not only to those in the community of faith, but also to those still of the world. We see this in Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan:
Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he jell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise."
When Jesus is asked "Who is my neighbor?" he turns the tables on the one asking the question and essentially says, "Those around you, even those unlike you or whom you may not like. They are your neighbors. And your role as their neighbor is to practice hospitality."
Hospitality is not simply inviting guests to your house, but welcoming people into your life, often at great cost to your own comfort, time, and plans. In sum, hospitality is service to, interest in, and compassion for others.
A CULTURE OF INVITATION AND INVESTMENT
In one sense, biblical hospitality calls the believer to invite others into his or her life, but in another sense it calls the Christian to step into the lives of others — for their good. The Christian in the world is an ambassador of Jesus Christ, sent to bear witness to our resurrected Lord in both word and deed. This calling to bear witness is powerfully felt relationally when we follow the lead of Jesus in seeking out others to serve.
Hospitality is essential to the environment of the table because it is the beginning of all gospel relationships, and often the beginning of the gospel taking root in the lives of those who are strangers to God.
Hospitality is the result of and is shaped by one's own faith and it is worked out in their own circle of influence or opportunity. Your church is one such circle. You know those who are your friends, those with whom you regularly speak and spend time. You sit with them at Sunday services and notice when they are missing. But in that same church are others you have yet to notice or welcome into your life. Hospitality can change that.
This is too often thought of exclusively as bringing non-Christians or people unknown into our lives, but it should also be the common practice of believers to know one another and share their lives together.
Your church, your job, your gym, your school, and many other places are different circles of opportunity and influence where you are expected by God to bless others with the grace of hospitality. The table is an environment that has more of an inward emphasis. Outreach is one necessary aspect to it. But in the end, the goal of this environment is to build and strengthen Christian community.
The table is a necessary environment of church life.
Excerpted from The Life of the Church by Joe Thorn, Kevin P. Emmert. Copyright © 2017 Joe Thorn. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 The Table
Chapter 1 Our Need for Community 19
Chapter 2 Smaller Groups 25
Chapter 3 Hospitality 29
Part 2 The
Chapter 4 Corporate Worship 37
Chapter 5 The Word in Worship 47
Chapter 6 Worshiping in Spirit and Truth 61
Chapter 7 Liturgy 71
Part 3 The Square
Chapter 8 The Church in the World 77
Chapter 9 Participation 81
Chapter 10 Restoration 87
Chapter 11 Conversation 93
Chapter 12 Multiplication 99