What is the Primary function of the church? Depending on the type of church asked you will get a different answer. Some would say it is all about salvation. Other people believe that the goal is to advance the work of the Holy Spirit. And still others believe it is all about a list of rules, sacraments, and ordinances that people need to keep. Each of these answers is a very important part of the church; however, the basic purpose of every church needs to be Spiritual Development.
Through my ministry, I have discovered that there are five different levels of spiritual development active in the world. People of each level fill our churches and it is our responsibility to help each person continue developing his or her relationship with Christ. It doing so, the church equips the body and builds a stronger church.
The first spiritual level is the Potential Christian. Every person in the world has the potential to become a fully committed Christian believer. At this level, some believe in God but are not willing to commit. This also includes other religions and spiritualists, as well as atheists and agnostics. Every person is a Potential Christian.
Paul speaks of this potentiality in Roman’s 1:20 when he says that no one is without excuse because for God revealed Himself through his handiwork. Such inherent spirituality has been manifested in the many religions throughout time, especially the indigenous religions of the aboriginal populations throughout the world. Each major society has formed religions and served some form of deity. Part of human nature is to seek out a spiritual connection with the divine. This basic spiritual desire makes every person a Potential Christian.
The second level on the hierarchy is that of a Professing Christian, when the person makes a conscious decision to accept Jesus Christ in his or her life. This happens in many different ways: going to the altar in a church service, repenting at home, etc. A person who accepts Jesus into his or her life is said to be a Professing Christian.
This is the first step towards spiritual maturity, and the church’s goal is to move Professing Christians from the level of simply accepting Christ into a deeper relationship with Christ. Typically, one of two things happens to a new believer depending on the person’s connection with the body of Christ. If the individual does not have a true commitment over time he or she will walk away. However, if he or she has made a true heart commitment the Professing Christian will continue in the desire for spiritual growth.
Beyond the Professing Christian is the Passive Christian, which is the most pivotal part of the Christian walk. As a new Christian, he or she is prompted to attend church get involved in other activities like Sunday school, but has yet to discover that a Christian relationship is much deeper than just going to church. A committed Christian has a visible relationship with Christ both inside and outside the church. He or she may be active at church but acts outside the church are minimal.
As the Passive Christian grows he or she should begin to understand the need for a deeper relationship with Christ. Nevertheless, if the individual is not careful he or she can easily lose sight on the goal of being a disciple and becoming self-absorbed can lose focus on God. When focus moves to personal comfort, Passive Christians avoid change at all cost even when change is the only way to ensure the health of the church.
A Passive Christian who is not mentored will become stagnant. He or she will only serve in the church as an attempt for self commendation, and will become easily frustrated if things do not go the way he or she wants. To avoid such problem a Passive Christian needs to be trained and mentored, offering accountability. This helps to develop a stronger relationship with Christ.
Unlike the Passive Christian who gets comfortable sitting in the pew, the Practicing Christian begins to take on the life of a Christian. He or she gets involved in discipleship and begins to grow deeper in his or her relationship with Christ. Not only does this person work in the church but now his or her relationship with Christ becomes evident in the world.
Sadly, though the motives of a Practicing Christian are good, he or she quickly discovers that it is very difficult to attain such a style of living. Due to temptation and the fallen world in which we live, he or she may continue struggling with the past. These struggles can easily lead to guilt and frustration. To avoid this guilt it is important for Practicing Christians to be aware that only through the strength of God can they continue to build their relationship with Christ. He or she needs to be reassured that salvation is not base on our effort, but through grace by faith.
However, he or she may have to set up safeguards to avoid temptation. The types of safeguards are dependent upon the Christian and his or her vices, and differ from one person to another. It is also important that the Practicing Christian understands that safeguards are not a demonstration of holiness, rather a way to avoid temptation. It is a process of maturation, and can be slow for some and rapid for others. Nevertheless, with discipleship he or she will continue to grow.
The final level is that of a Perfecting Christian. Not the English understanding of flawless perfection, but the Greek understanding of completion. It refers to the process of continuous adjustments that ultimately bring the Christian into the full Christ mindedness that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 2:16. A Christian adjusts him or herself through the spiritual growth process and with each step developing a deeper relationship with Christ.
Unlike the Practicing Christian who continues to consciously avoid temptation the Perfecting Christian has moved beyond simply making an effort to avoid temptation, rather it is becoming a second nature. Church discipleship helps to perfect the saints by teaching individuals how to develop a Christ-like way of thinking. When one adapts his or her way of thinking the person puts aside the old human nature.
The church’s continued discipleship, mentoring, and accountability helps the Potential Christian develop through the stages of spiritual development to a Perfecting Christian. Whether it is the initial evangelism and outreach that leads a person from the Potential level to the Professing level or the continued mentorship that moves the Passive Christian from his or her comfort zone into the lifestyle of a Practicing Christian, the purpose of the church is for continued spiritual development. The church is never finished with discipleship. Even advanced Christians need continued help and improvement. As he or she grows the overall church will grow spiritually and numerically. This primary function of the church the perfects the saints and equips them to work for Christ.