by Rev. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister          –          July 1, 2019

What Is Our Purpose?

What is the purpose of a church in our modern American context? This might sound like an overly simple questions, but it is actually quite challenging. Throughout the ages, the concept of church has adopted any number of meaningful roles in society. Churches have been patrons of the arts, places of sanctuary amid violence and oppression, islands of education and learning, anointers of kings and governments, proclaimers of truth and salvation, and providers of food, shelter, and medicine for the masses. In different times and places churches have redefined who and what they are based upon their immediate context and their understanding of God’s call. In our modern context, and perhaps during these historical times as well, churches have fit into three different archetypes: social clubs, missions, and monasteries. Now, each of these archetypes is a construct, and as such is an oversimplification of reality. But they provide a framework out of which we can discuss the various roles churches embrace in the wider culture. Let’s explore each of these items in turn.

A Social Club

One criticism commonly cast toward churches is that they are “nothing but a social club.” Although this term is intended as an insult, there is no denying the importance of interpersonal relationships and personal support within the church. The apostle Paul, in writing to many of the early churches in the decades following Christ’s resurrection, talks extensively of what it means to be a church. He speaks of the need to support, guide, and love one another across our differences within the “body of Christ”. He challenges churches to be places that support their most vulnerable members, nurture those new to the faith, respect the different gifts each person offers, and share personal blessings and sorrows among the group.

Recently, our church council, along with other members, met to answer the question, “Why do you attend BCCUCC?” Among the dozens of reasons shared by those present, the number one most repeated word was community. Community was mentioned twice as often as any other word, including words such as God, Jesus, and faith. While churches are called to be more than a “social club,” we are in essence a social group built, at least in part, upon mutual caring, concern, respect, nurture, and love.

A Mission

What is a mission? A mission, as I define it, is a group or organization that comes together for the purpose of accomplishing one clearly focused task which is generally outward focused. I would argue Habitat for Humanity is a mission. It has one focus “[to] help families build and improve places to call home.”1 That is the sole reason they exist. Loaves and Fishes RI, an organization we know a little bit about, is also a mission. They state, “With kindness and compassion, we serve food and provide clothing to our neighbors in need, while honoring their dignity.”2 See how their purpose is externally focused and based solely upon one clearly defined task.

Interestingly, while Paul (mentioned above) spends a significant amount of his time defining and upholding what it means to be a community, Jesus spends the predominate amount of his time focusing on mission: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. Go and make disciples. Go and do likewise. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Heal the sick.

It is clear in reading the Gospels that for Jesus, following him means action. It means mission. It means seeking out and caring for others, not just those within your own group, but outside your circle of comfort. To Jesus, being a disciple means having a mission.

A Monastery

A monastery is a place to pursue one’s spiritual depths; to deepen one’s relationship with the divine in a way that cannot be experienced in the broader world or society. In a monastery, one sets oneself aside to commune intimately and personally with God. Although monasteries are communities, their main focus is not on the interpersonal relationships between the participants, but rather between the individuals and God.

A protestant was recently speaking with a friend of hers who attends a Roman Catholic church. When she mentioned her disappointment that her protestant church had not reached out to her in concern following a prolonged absence, her Roman Catholic friend responded, “Oh, I wouldn’t want that! I don’t want the church calling me when I’ve missed worship. That’s too intrusive!.” For this Roman Catholic friend, her church serves more as a monastery than a supportive community. For her, church is the place she goes to experience and connect with God, not a place for personal and emotional support or friendship. As a monastery, churches are like the mountaintops Jesus would visit in order to get away from the chaos of his ministry and reconnect with the One in whom he found his true power.

So, Which Are We?

As much as I set up these archetypes as separate and distinct, I would argue that no church is any one of these to the complete exclusion of the others. All churches are a combination of all three of these. All churches build community, exercise mission, and act as monasteries. However, most churches also don’t maintain these items in equal measure. Each church places its own emphasis on each of these archetypes based upon their understanding of God’s call. And more so, even though two churches may both place their emphasis on one archetype, the manifestation of it and the depth to which they embrace it, will be unique to each individual church. Depending upon on how much of an investment the leaders and members are willing to make toward that goal.

How would you define BCCUCC’s balance of these archetypes? 40% community, 35% mission, and 25% monastery? Would you rate us more like 30%, 40%, 30%? Or do you see things entirely different than that? Regardless of where you see our emphasis, where would YOU prefer us to place the emphasis? Should these three roles always be placed in equal measure, or do you see one role (community, or perhaps mission or monastery) as more important than the others? This is an interesting exercise in recognizing how diverse of a community we may be. Do we all see the church the same? Do we all want the same thing from our church? However, more than just an interesting exercise, it is extremely helpful in defining our common purpose, the purpose of BCCUCC. Is our role primarily to support our membership? Is it to serve the broader community in some way? Is it to connect people with God? Or a combination of the three?

If you have an opinion, take a moment and share it below (in our NEW comments section!!)