Don't Make The Gospel An Addition To Your Church
Recently I wandered through a church that closed down. The building was old and worn down, it’s newness wore off after decades of ministry. They sold their building to another ministry, and that group had begun removing leftover junk and preparing it for a new life. Stripped of it’s possession and people, the church was uncomfortably bare.
The original building was quite small, but had been added on to over the years as time and need made it necessary. The classrooms on the left were a step down from the sanctuary, and the fellowship hall in the back had been added after that. Each addition had it’s own construction style, and when you looked close you could obviously see where the original building had been added to. You’ve undoubtedly seen a building or home like this. More space is needed so an addition is made to the back or the side, or even up top. When you look closely it’s easy to see that one part is new or older, or tacked on the back. A window is covered up or a doorway closed off. It’s not unusual for these additions to pull apart after years, causing problems with roofs or floors. When everything isn’t united, cracks will eventually show.
In the same way you can visit many churches and see that programs and ministries have been added onto them over the years. In this case the additions are not physical, but values, ideas, or programs tacked onto the sides of the main work of the church. This is unavoidable in many ways of course. Last spring almost every church suddenly developed an online ministry. You could tell at first that things were thrown together to get this off the ground. Over time things got better I hope as we learned how to move online. But when you look at kid’s ministry, evangelism, or outreach in many churches you can tell that these are just an add on to the rest of the church. Sometimes they get added in a way that shows their value, and other times they just feel tacked on to a Sunday morning.
What does this look like in practice? Every church I know would say prayer is important, but many treat it like an addition to church and the christian life. The pastor only gives obligatory references to it, or they might have a place for prayer requests in the back. There is often a prayer meeting just because they feel like it’s something they can do, but prayer is more often used for transitions in the service than the lifeblood of the church.
Contrast this with a church that really values prayer as the lifeblood of the church. You can tell when you are in a church if prayer is just something they do or if it’s what they are. The values of the church are clear by what they promote, attend, and give money towards. The real values of the church might be comfort, fellowship, ease, familiarity, or any number of things. The identity of the church might be found in their denominational name, the songs they sing, or the style of dress in the church. And over time those added on values creep farther and farther away from the original foundations of the church.
Churches do this with all types of ministries. It could be a bus ministry, youth ministry, after school program, outreach, prayer, evangelism, or anything else. You can quickly tell when something feels added onto a church, like when you walk through a building that has additions built on. The right things might be said from the pulpit, but when those additions push against the core values of the church they are always first to go.
Sadly, many churches even turn the foundational parts of the gospel into additions for the church. Even the glorious message of the grace of Christ becomes a tacky addition to a church’s programs and services. What should be the focus of every church, the gospel of Jesus Christ, becomes nothing more than a poorly built addition to the kids, youth, or adult ministries. You see this when churches teach morality to the kids but not the gospel, when youth groups are just a place to hang out and have fun, or when church is seen as another place to make business sales and meet new people.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not addition to the ministries of your church, it is the ministry of your church. Every biblical church must have the message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the central part of all it does. When it becomes an addition to the church it’s far to easy to take off and remove. But when the gospel becomes the standard of foundation of your church, the thing that everything else is built on, then that church will stand firm no matter what happens.
We must make sure that the gospel is always at the center of everything we do. To make it an addition is to cheapen the most valuable thing in the world. Christ did not give us His glorious riches in Christ Jesus so that we could make it an addition to our social clubs. Make sure in your church and your life that we don’t let the cross of Christ become merely ornamental in our churches. Keep the gospel center, and then build everything else around it.