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Preaching Articles



It’s difficult to stand in defense of the church when there are so many examples of dysfunctional churches around us. But sometimes, as preachers, we need to remind our own congregations that the Church is vitally important. We were designed for community, but also something beyond mere community — we were designed for the church.

Many people will object, and nearly everyone has gruesome tales of hypocrites, self-righteous blowhards and sexual predators. I get it. Some parts of the North American church are desperately sick, and in many cases the church hinders the spiritual growth of believers. But before we allow our people to have coffee and croissants at Starbucks and call it church, I’d like to suggest that God has given us a few clues about what He thinks makes up a church. The bottom line is this: Church is God’s idea, and we ignore it at our peril.

These points could be the start of a series, or they could be rolled into one powerful message. Perhaps you have other observations, but here is one man’s list of at least six vital parts of a real church:

1. The church meets together regularly

Sunday morning isn’t the only possibility, although the earliest followers of Jesus celebrated his resurrection by naming the first day of the week "The Lord's Day." Acts 2:42–47 suggests they met together far more than North Americans might find comfortable. In a variety of settings, for a multitude of reasons, followers of Jesus meet together regularly and share their lives together. This much is sure: a regularly scheduled, habitual gathering is a mark of the church.

2. The church has a defined structure

Structure is built into God’s order of creation. Single-celled organisms reveal astonishing complexity of function; in the human body there is individualized function. Without the structure of a skeleton, the body cannot stand. These physical realities point toward spiritual truth. Amazingly, the scripture seems to endorse a variety of church structures, but every New Testament church had a recognizable structure. We can disagree on what that structure may look like, but it’s not possible to read Acts or the Epistles without recognizing its importance.

3. The church provides authority

Authority! Just mention the word and people tense up. Abuses abound, guilt is common currency and many churches in North American differ little from the business down the street. Yet we all must personally come to terms with passages like “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” (Hebrews 13:17) Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus could be considered all about authority! Nearly everyone has a horror story about abuse of authority in the church. Here’s my take: Authority without compassion and relationship makes a sham of God’s Kingdom, but compassion and relationship without authority miss God’s Kingdom entirely. That will preach!

4. The church is a proving ground for love and forgiveness

“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12–14) These words are impossible to live out in isolation. I believe the Father designed families and churches as the venues for love and forgiveness. How can we live out these words apart from our families, or the church — which is the family of God?

5. The church equips God’s people

Christian maturity requires a nurturing family atmosphere. Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the development of Christian character thrive in a healthy community. Entertainment apart from equipping is antithetical to God’s plan for the church — there are plenty of churches that amount to nothing more than TV shows. But fellowship and community without equipping also falls short of the mark. If there's no equipping going on, it's not fully the church. Jesus is into lab, not lecture. And it's not recess, either.

6. The church provides a unique corporate witness

There have been exceptional individuals throughout history. Saints and geniuses appear larger than life and because they are are so exceptional, they are easily dismissed as individuals, even freaks. But who could dismiss an entire community of faith? “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” said Jesus in John 13: 34. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The early church would either get you healed or care for you until you died. Widows, orphans and outcasts of the first century knew there was a refuge called “the church.”

Perhaps you're like me: you can imagine some people will listen to you preach on the importance of the church and think, "Of course he says that. It's what he does for a living." Don't let imagined criticism keep you from boldly pointing to what our people need. Jesus paid the price for each individual, but the church is his gift to the world.



Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

Talk about it...

Dennis Cocks

commented on Apr 29, 2013

It is so very sad that in our day many think the church is unimportant. Church attendance and membership is at an all time low. Many think they can still be right with God and not belong to a local assembley of believers. As the author points out, this is impossible. You cannot have a good relationship with God if you neglect the assembling of yourselves together (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Jason Barnes

commented on Apr 29, 2013

I don't really think that people are not willing to gather, I think it has more so to do with how and where the gather is. First of all we tend to ha e people think that they are going to church or coming to church when really every believer is apart of the Church already. I think that the gatherings lack intimacy especially inside the walls of a building. Jesus said to GO which means to be on the move, be active. Not sit in a pew. That may had worked for a season which was the 2nd century where persecution was at a all-time high. We need to gather in uncommon places, bars, tattoo shops, parks, homes,etc. Service has become a attraction rather than participation from everyone. It forces those to not seek a relationship with Him or others. Too many congregations concentrate to holding on to traditions and by-laws and less about developing relationships that will draw people closer and closer. Service has become outdated and continually losing people between ages 18-29.

Pastor Herbert W. Roshell

commented on Apr 29, 2013

Dennis I totally agree! Most people look at the church as a business and not a place of refuge. Like going to burger king and getting a burger and was disappointed with the service or the food and said "I'm never going to eat there again". The church is like going to the doctor office and knowing (something wrong) and I may need to go back many times before they fine out what wrong and how to treat my problem. True healing never happen over night. It may take some months or even years, but by faith and growing in the word you CAN overcome the things of this world. I liked and enjoyed reading this article and didn't know if ALL the points hit the heart... but will cause one to think and study. As a Pastor, I have had those moments, when I wasn't so "?as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." My human side would sometime get in the way and I wasn't so compassionate! Thank God and real servants of God, I have grown in that area...thanks be to God. I have some awesome loving and caring members, that are faithful through it all. They have been by my side, doing the ups and downs. God bless you and keep them coming! Pastor Roshell

Justin Scales

commented on Apr 29, 2013

I personally think Church is very important and vital, but here in America we refuse to be obedient to the Spirit of God. The Church is the body of Christ that is suppose to be a living spiritual organism that takes instructions from the head itself Jesus Christ. We have turned away from sound doctrine, but at the same time expect people to come to church when we don't offer divine truth. The church has to look like Jesus Christ. Luke 6:46 "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, but don't do as I say." Those are the words from Jesus himself. Until church becomes a living sacrifice as Jesus was nothing is going to change. We must deny ourselves pick up our cross in walk. God is a Holy God and we need to be more obedient as leaders to his word, and not compromise. Get the demons and false doctrine out of the churches and then Church can grow in the authority and power of Christ, but until then nothing is going to change. Churches in America need spiritual cleansing, we need to not talk about it but we actually need to take on the heart of Jesus. If Jesus can humble himself to wash his disciples feet, then what do you think he expects us to do for people that come into the four walls of the church. We must do the same.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Apr 29, 2013

@Jason, while Jesus certainly told us to go, He most certainly also told us to assemble! Are you suggesting that the Bible is out of date for today? Are you suggesting that because people don't want to obey God in our day, or that because some churches have become something God did not intend them to be we should just give up doing what God has called us to do? While all true born again believers are a part of the universal church, God still calls us to assemble together as a local body of believers. And He doesn't date that command!

Justin Scales

commented on Apr 29, 2013

Like to share one more thing. God demonstrates coming together and gathering with other believers in the old testament. The passover is the biggest demonstration of what God intends us to be in unity. We worship God as a community of believers. What prevents that is this worldly view of individuality that creeps in. When we come together we are suppose to put aside differences are individual views to see through the lens of the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts for example when the spirit fell on them in verse 2:44 "and all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46. They worshipped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's supper with great joy and generosity." Can you imagine if we come together in the Spirit of God every time we meet in the spirit we would be what God intended us to be. It is only by the Power of God people will be attracted to God. when they experience Jesus through the Holy Spirit they would want to come to church more to be transformed and want to change for the sake of Christ.

Steven Leapley

commented on Apr 29, 2013

@ Dennis: I didnt read that at all in Jason's response. What I read was a truth to life realization that reinforces this article. Yes, church is important, yes, we should gather, and yes we should not forsake the fellowship with other believers, but what has happened is that the younger generation does not like the sit down stand up kneel once pray twice...doxology...one song and out service. SO what we must be open to is to broaden our horizons and move into thinking that church does not necessarily need to be done Sunday morning in a huge building between 8-10 (so we can be home by kick off ). Once element of the universal (not universalist) church is that where ever we are we should be fellowshipping..not just on Sunday morning.... (Sorry Jason if that was wrong, please correct me).. That is what I saw

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Apr 29, 2013

The first sentence though starts with an ambiguity ?. The only reference to 'The Lord's Day' is found in Revelation 1:10 . It is important to be as accurate as possible with the word of God , our Bible . When it says that John was in the spirit on the Lord's day , it may instead refer to John being present in vision at The day of the Lord . Granted , there may be dysfunctional churches and dysfunctional Christians , but accuracy in doctrine may be important too .

Dennis Cocks

commented on Apr 29, 2013

@Steven, you are correct to say that we as believers are the church and we should be fellowshipping not only in the "church building." But that does not negate the FACT that we are to gather to hear the Word of God preached and do other things together as a local gathered assembly that cannot be done by ourselves. When do you suggest this be done? God gave the structure for the church as we meet together whether Sunday, Wednesday, or any other day we meet. And just because our young people don't care for the way God structure's the church doesn't mean we should change what God commands we must do to accommodate them. There have always been and always will be people who want to do things their way instead of God's way.

Elisabeth Titrud

commented on Apr 29, 2013

The only authority of church and our meeting together is God. He left us His living word to lead us,teach and exhort. His word transcends time, culture and politics. Church is important because God said it is. Christ left His example of attending church, having church out in the open and even in homes. We have issues because of our fallen nature and lack of spiritual discipline. As an example, I was not happy with a sermon and began to complain. The Lord reminded me His word does not go out void! Guess what, the following Sunday I listened and asked God to renew my mind so I could receive His message with His joy and peace. It was interesting that the message touched my heart not because it was delivered well but because He lead me and I disciplined my spirit to hear what His Holy Spirit was teaching me. We can blame all sorts of things for the condition of the North American church but, ultimately it is an unwillingness to discipline our spirit to walk with His Holy Spirit!

Bruce M Humbert

commented on Apr 29, 2013

To Point #3 . . . Relationships without rules result in reprobation.

Bill Williams

commented on Apr 29, 2013

@Michael, great post, and thank you for pointing that out. That's always been a pet peeve of mine, that the phrase "the Lord's day" is often assumed to mean Sunday, when it only appears that one time in Revelation 1 and nothing in the context supports such an assumption!

Rudolph Bescherer Jr

commented on Apr 29, 2013

There are many reasons why church attendance is falling, and many in my age bracket (mid-30s) are notably absent from pews. What I see as the greatest problem is a disconnect from what is preached from the pulpit (salvation by God's grace through faith) and what is done among the pews (the one-upmanship of "my good works are better than yours"). Going to church to "be right" with God is the wrong reason. One has been made right by God through His grace alone. Going to church is a proper way to express our praise and show acceptance of His grace, and to spiritually nurture our brothers and sisters in Christ. If one does not leave church with an infectious spirit of love then the church has failed to ignite the purifying spiritual fire within us.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Apr 29, 2013

In response to when we are to meet, look at 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the CHURCHES of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come." Jesus of course, rose on the first day of the week. So why do some seem to think it is wrong for us to meet on Sunday? Again, when else should we meet? If we met on Fridays people would say, "that church does not necessarily need to be done onFriday evening in a huge building between 8-10." Some people will never be happy no matter what!

Ronald Smith

commented on Apr 29, 2013

The ingredients of the church present, should be determined by the final product of the church destined - ...Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He may sanctify her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27)

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Apr 29, 2013

Ronald says 'Christ loved the Church and gave himself for ' her ' . Justin 4 says the Church is 'the body of Christ ' . There is a difference between the words 'her' and 'it' . Which is correct ?. I think the passage Eph 5:26-27 is saying that men ought to to love their wives as their own bodies , just as Christ loved the church as his own body ?., If so , then 'it' seems more probable ?. There may be a good discussion why the church today may be the body of Christ and not 'the bride of Christ at obt you tube .

John Sybenga

commented on Apr 29, 2013

While this sermon contains some valid points, it overlooks the tragic fact that many of the established branches of the church have Satan in their pulpits, with deacons and elders being appointed contrary to scriptural instruction. True Christians are being ostracised because of their unwillingness to compromise the truth, so the only alternative is to follow the example of the early church and meet together for worship away from established church organizations.

John Sybenga

commented on Apr 29, 2013

While this sermon contains some valid points, it overlooks the tragic fact that many of the established branches of the church have Satan in their pulpits, with deacons and elders being appointed contrary to scriptural instruction. True Christians are being ostracised because of their unwillingness to compromise the truth, so the only alternative is to follow the example of the early church and meet together for worship away from established church organizations.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Apr 29, 2013

@John Sybenga, Yep, let's just retreat and let Satan take over the church! Let's not fight back, let's just not bother with church anymore! Sounds like what Jesus would have us do...NOT! Jesus said the the gates of hell will not prevail against the church! I for one will fight for the church in His power!

John Sybenga

commented on Apr 29, 2013

Sadly the point I made previously was totally missed. It is not a case of handing over the church to Satan. As Christians and members of the body of Christ, we are apart from the world. It has nothing to do with being part of a denominational structure. The latter was originally established to further the work of the body of Christ, but it is no longer doing just that. Instead Christians are being kicked out because they will not conform to non-scriptural teaching and practices.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Apr 29, 2013

@John Sybenga, believe me, I understand what you are saying about Satan being in many pulpits and running many churches and Christians being ostracised because of their unwillingness to compromise the truth, and Christians being kicked out because they will not conform to non-scriptural teaching and practices. I get what you are saying. America is in the shape it is in because of the shape the church is in. But I don't agree with what you say we should do. There are still strong, God fearing churches that will not compromise! I do agree that many denominations are corrupt, but the church isn't a denomination. Churches should be autonomous and independent. We are to follow Christ's commands and meet as a CHURCH. With Pastors, elders, teachers, deacons, etc. That is what God commands we do. That is the structure for the true church of Jesus Christ. You cannot meet in a home without the structure God commands and call it "church." By not meeting as a church, you are doing what you say others are doing, "conform(ing) to non-scriptural teaching and practices." God established the church! If I have misunderstood you, please respond by explaining what I missed. Thanks!

Rudolph Bescherer Jr

commented on Apr 29, 2013

@John Sybenga, if you can please explain Mark 9:38-41 and Galations 5:22-26 in the light of your comments I would be most appreciative. I have seen imperfect mortals and sinners in pulpits, and I have heard messages delivered from pulpits that lacked God's grace, but I have never seen Satan in a pulpit.

John E Miller

commented on Apr 30, 2013

John Sybenga I understood what you were saying and I agree with it. In Scotland today we have openly practising homosexual ministers, men and women. They are "ordained" by the Church of Scotland. In the Scottish Episcopal Church homosexuality is formally approved. In the Church of England there are openly homosexual "priests" (note the inverted commas) and bishops. The Church of Rome, while admittedly an organisation that preaches "another gospel" is riddled with homosexuality while protesting forcefully against it. As Christians we abhor this iniquity, but it is foolish to deny its existence. What is its source? SATAN. The true church, Christ's body here on earth will be preserved until He takes it from the earth. In a coming day she will share in His glory and be revealed as His Bride. Glory to His Name!

Michael Hasselbring

commented on May 14, 2013

Thanks Ray! I'll be using these 6 points to do a six part series. Starting this week off with: "Couch or Pew, which ones for you?" (This is my first sermon title that rhymed, ever...)

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