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Transcript: The Purpose of the Local Church – Part 1

Transcript: The Purpose of the Local Church – Part 1
The Purpose of the Local Church – Part 1
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John: I’m John and normally I would have spent all week getting ready for tonight.  But since I punted the beginning of the series to Morgan, I spent the afternoon cleaning my garage.  And the series we are doing is The Purpose of the Church.  It would be a very good time right now to welcome my friend Philip [applause] who has been asking for this series for 3 years!  Alright?

A lot of people ask how we do our series, like what topics do we pick?  I try to keep an ear open to things that are troubling people, things that we want to talk about and also just things that come up in our conversations normally.  The idea of this series came from a question that keeps nagging a lot of people: which is, if we’re all part of the body of Christ, why do I need to be part of a Church?  Or if I meet in a group like this, or if I go to Chapel, or if I just hang out with a group of friends, why do I need to be part of a church, or do I?  We are actually here to analyze the question.  And for the first couple of weeks, I’m having Morgan step up to really tell us, “What is the purpose of the Church?” to make a Biblical case and to make a case for us as to why it is that we should even be part of a church?  And then we’re going to come back and spend some time analyzing whether the churches are actually meeting that goal right now.

So here’s what we’re going to do first to get your interaction tonight. I’m going to take about five minutes if I could.  I’m going to pass out some 3×5 cards, and I want you to write down any question that you have about church, the local church, going to church, what is church? why does church do this? — anything you want to ask — so we get an idea of what’s on your mind.  We already have an idea of the trajectory of this series, but we’ll bend it to go anywhere we need to, if there’s something on your mind.  So Morgan there are some 3×5 cards right there.  We’re just going to take about five minutes and give you just a moment to think through this before Morgan kicks it off, so lets start right there.

Confusion Over the Purpose of the Local Church

Morgan: Alright, so tonight, as John said we are going to go ahead and begin our series on The Purpose of the Church.  I wanted to begin by reading an article.  This introduces our series because the purpose of the Church is a difficult one, both for pastors, for lay people, for people who aren’t Christian.  It’s one that can bring confusion.  So this is an article that actually Ryan Delapp sent me through the Resurgence, which is kind of an online source, and Matt Chandler wrote this article.  He’s somewhat of an influential evangelical pastor, so he says — some background:

“So I was 28 when I became the pastor of Highland Village First Baptist Church, known as the Village Church.  I’d had a rough go early on in my church experience and at that time I was not fully out of my ‘disenchanted with the local church’ phase.  In all honesty, I wasn’t sure at the time that church membership was biblical.  Despite that, the spirit had made it all too clear that I was going to be pastoring this small church in the suburbs of Dallas.  That was one of the many ironies of my life in those days.  Highland Village First Baptist Church was a seeker sensitive church in the Willow Creek mould and had no formal membership process, although they were actively working on one and wanted the new pastor’s input.  I had a strong understanding of the church universal, but wasn’t well versed, and as I said, somewhat skeptical, about the church local.  We started growing quickly with young, and often times, disenchanted 20-somethings who usually had no church background or bad church backgrounds.  They liked The Village because we were different.  This always struck me as strange because we weren’t doing anything but preaching and singing.  In conversations with these men and women, I began to hear things like ‘the church is corrupt, it’s about money and a pastor’s ego’ or ‘I love Jesus, it’s the church I have a problem with.’  My favorite one was ‘when you organise the church it loses it’s power.’  Although something occasionally resonated in me with these comments — I, along with most of my generation, have authority and commitment issues — I found them confusing since they were being made to me by the people who were attending the church where I was the pastor.”

So I think these comments kind of show a good perspective where he’s even grappling with his own issues with the church, and then as a pastor he has to grapple with the issues that his local congregation is giving to him as the pastor.  So it’s a strange situation, like what is the purpose of the local church?

So, again to kind of add to why I believe there’s confusion, we can see: look how many different church books there are, and this is — let me just tell you, this is a very minimal amount: Simple Church, Organic Church, The Purpose Driven Church, Total Church, The Externally Focused Church, The Ministry of the Missional Church, The Emerging Church, Essential Church and House Church.  These are all book titles that are somewhat recently written about the church, okay?  So you can see — I mean we’re not going to go into all of these books or even try to — but you can see how there are so many different views and opinions, and what is the church supposed to do?

What Do You Think Constitutes a Church?

Morgan: As you know, here at Exodus, we are very interactive so I wanted us to begin, before we really start digging, with a couple of questions, and I want to hear back from you, okay?  So, in your opinion, what constitutes a church?  Yeah.

Heather: I think that’s a loaded question because there is “The” church and then there are “churches.”  [Laughter]

Morgan:  Okay, so she is trying to say there is a distinction between ‘the’ church universal — which would be all Christians worldwide, gathered — and then ‘the’ churches, the little “c”, the little local churches.  Good.  Okay, so we’re going to say — let me better define that: What constitutes a local church?

Heather:  A group of believers whose mission is to spread the gospel.

Morgan:  Okay, so a group of believers whose mission is to spread the gospel, alright, yep. Rae?

Rachel:  I’d say it almost needs to be a little bit more broad than spreading the gospel because there are a lot of churches that don’t think that way, so I would say in most basic form, a church is a group of people coming together to learn about their faith and involve their faith and possibly at some point to spread their faith and deepen their faith in a  fellowship with each other.

Morgan:  Okay, so a group of people wanting to develop their faith in relation to one another. Okay.

Andrew:  Kind of to bounce of that, it has to have some sort of leadership so you’re looking at a pastor or elders, deacons or whatever, having some hierarchy of echelon of power.

Morgan:  So can there be house churches?

Andrew:  Yeah, but that also have to have some sort of hierarchy of power.

Morgan:  Okay, so there’s still — even if you have a legitimate house church, according to Andrew, you still have to have leadership and some sort of hierarchy.  Cormack?

Cormack:  I’d say that there has to be some kind of leadership or facilitation.  I don’t think there should be a hierarchy.  I think it should be more of a facilitator or something.

Morgan:  So leadership is still important, but it doesn’t have to be hierarchical, it could even be a group of leaders.  Ok.  Phil?

Philip:  I wouldn’t say I necessarily agree with this is how churches should be, but I think what constitutes a church, at least a normal definition of it, it would be more even broad than a group of believers trying to do this or do that — like trying to spread the gospel, or trying to learn about our faith — because I feel like some churches genuinely don’t care about some of those things.  Some churches care about people learning more of their faith, and that’s like one of the reasons why people get together.  So I think  — and some churches just care about getting new believers, and some churches just like — being cynical — care about numbers, or some churches like just care about worship, or …   and so I feel I would more define a church as a group of believers with a common purpose, whatever that can be totally different.  So I feel like it’s very different depending on the church.

Morgan:  So, you’re saying in order to be more inclusive, if you have too narrow of a definition, you’re going to end up excluding some.  Because some are going to have some strengths over here, some over…..okay, Jolene.

Jolene:  I think that a church should be a place where a group of people goes to worship God.  It should be about God.  I mean, people may disagree with me about this, I understand the whole missional outreach thing, and I understand, you know, the calling, but I think generally speaking to go to a church you should be there to worship God, not for yourself, not for your own gain, but so that God can be praised, and then in turn you be filled because you’re being obedient, and you’re worshipping, and that’s all He wants.

Heather:  I agree with Jolene, and because of that we need to define worship though, which isn’t just singing, or just congregating, but often teaching each others, often involves reaching out to others, often involves being mission-minded…

Is Exodus a Church?

Morgan:  Good.  Alright now here’s a bigger one.  So is Exodus a church?  Why or why not?  Yeah?

Cormack:  I think it is because it’s a group of believers that are gathered here for the purpose of worshipping God.

Morgan:  Okay, and so … you talked about leadership, so you’re willing to say since there is some form of leadership in this group and because it’s a gathering, you’re willing to say Exodus is a church.  Okay.

Philip: Well, I don’t know if I necessarily disagree, but at least the points of elders and deacons need to be brought up.  Like, I mean biblical, definitions of churches, you have necessity of elders and deacons.  Exodus doesn’t.  I mean, John’s technically an elder of NewSong, but like I — yeah.

Morgan: Okay, Jolene?

Jolene:  I kind of feel like we do have that though, in a certain aspect regard.  We have leaders here.  We have people who — like you, for example, John for example — there are certain people who are in the leadership role here.  Maybe it’s not defined clearly, like “Hi, I am usher No. 1.,” but you’re still like a leader, and you’re still the leader, you know?

Morgan:  Okay, does everyone think this is a church?  I don’t know.  I didn’t know I was like part of the leadership of a church, I mean, I didn’t know!  I mean, I work for NewSong, but you know.  Yeah, Monique.

Monique: It is kind of a trick question because it really depends on the way you look at it.  I kind of, in my larger, broader hippie sense, do kind of feel like church is just a group of believers that are in community with each other, that meet regularly.  And that’s to say like, Exodus does have a lot of that.  We do have cheques and balances with what goes on here, I think, and there is structure.  But if we’re really talking about society today, just the way that countries grew and formed and all of that, like as things get bigger. it gets more complicated, and there’s more rules and there’s more structure, and the bigger a church is the more structure it’s going to have.  And that’s good and bad, more power in a good way than the bad way, as well,  You can reach more people the bigger you are, the more means that you have.  And so if we’re really talking about classic structure church, then no, Exodus isn’t a church.  We don’t own our own building, we don’t have like a main pastor — well, you know what I mean, like a main, paid pastor, whatever.  You know, John works his butt off for us every week without compensation, but — I mean, I don’t know, to me in some ways that’s more church because it’s coming from someone’s heart and it’s still affecting people.  Everyone here’s lives I think are transformed in some way, and we take that to somebody else.  And if that’s not church, I don’t know what is.

Morgan:  Okay, here’s a question that kind of comes up, and we’ll keep going with this question too but: Is there a difference between a ministry at a church and a church, you know, as itself.  Because at least, John and I would consider, John as an elder at the church, I work on staff at NewSong.  We would personally probably prefer to say, this is not a separate entity.  So we’re certainly part of this local body NewSong, but we at least would not see ourselves as the pastors of a church on Sunday nights here.  Yeah, Rae?

Rachel:  I would say the way that I differentiate Exodus from my traditional view of a local church is, to me, a local church is something grown deep with roots in people who’ve been going there for ages, and families — you have a wide sector of ages and people from all different walks of life.  And this is kind of a small sector of the population, which is not to say that it can’t be church -‘like,’ but I think that, in terms of what local church, I don’t know, there are people who come here for a while, but I see a local church as something really like, like a family.

Morgan:  So is time necessary?  Because how could you have like a church plant if time were…

Rachel:   Well, I don’t know if we’d be a group that would be like that though, do you see what I mean?  Are people going to start bringing their families here, as people start to have kids, or are kids going to be part of it, is there going to be a kid’s sector of Exodus?

Morgan:  Who knows.  We’ve got Christine in the background, I mean we’ve already got the 2 year olds.  Tiffany.

Tiffany: I feel like, in my experience, I feel like the a lot of churches — what I would consider a church — it’s a group of people that they have a defined set of theology or statements that they believe in … yeah, something like that.  And so I think, with this question, Exodus, I wouldn’t consider Exodus a church because I don’t think we have a universal like — or even in this group, a statement of beliefs that we all believe, and choose to believe.  We might all of us have something different that we, you know, think.  So I think I would consider, to answer this question, I would consider Exodus more of a ministry which is part of NewSong, which is a church.

Morgan: Okay, Tiffany?

Tiffany S.:  To me, if we were to look at the perspective of St. Paul in Ephesians, we are a church.  We are believers who get together because we love God, and want to grown together in our relationship with Him.  So, you know,  as far as — I don’t know, it’s far reaching, but as far as I define a church, I believe that we are a church.

Morgan:  Okay, but are you saying — so are you saying, any time believers gather, that is a church?  Is that kind of the claim you are making, or not?

Tiffany S:  I don’t know if we should go down to the whole house church thing, but I kind of consider the way that we facilitate things, especially on Wednesday nights, kind of like a house church in a sense.

Morgan:  Okay, we’re going to do one more, a couple more comments on this because we want to move forward, but I mean, we’re tying to hit at some values.  We do have to define “What is a church?”  You know, what makes it up? What should make it up, is what we’re trying to get to.

Monique:  That’s why I think it’s important to kinda, and we kinda have differentiated between church of the people and church the place.  And I kinda think that, even with my reservations that I have about institutions, because every institution is flawed — church as an institution, the place, community church as Rachel would say, has it’s issues — I kinda think it’s like the movie Day Without A Mexican [laughter], like I think if they were just gone, we’d all realise and it would honestly really negatively impact us for real — negatively impact the world.  Because as far as a church being deeply rooted in a community, that is important, because kids sometimes need a place to go, and families need a place where they can gather in a bigger church where community can, sort of, connect and, I don’t know, just make different impacts with each other, and in local community.  And, you know, there’s different situations going on in different cities and whatever, so whatever the need is there, the church should be infused in that local community and try to meet those needs.  That’s important, but as far as Exodus not being considered a church, maybe it’s not a community church, maybe it’s not one of these big building or whatever, but I disagree that we don’t have a set state of beliefs, whatever.  We all meet here because we do have a common belief.  And I guarantee you, at least on my end, if Exodus somehow was no longer part of NewSong, and John wanted to continue ministry or whatever, I would be there, and I would go there, and so on that level…

Morgan: Okay, so we’ve got the church plant, we’ve got our first member there!  [Laughter]

Monique:  It is, it’s so, it is like a church.  It’s church as far as the people, the believers, and what we’re doing.  It’s just not a community center.

Morgan:  Alright.  Andrew and then Phil, and then we’re going to move.

Andrew:  I think when you look at back into Acts when the church was being built and Paul was planting churches and preaching to large gatherings of people that would come back and do group activities. They’d do worship stuff, they’d the one guy standing up and speaking to the masses, and then you had small house churches, which to me would be a ministry like this is, where it’s not necessarily where you’re getting large mass of people being spoken to by one person, but it’s a community growing from what they heard on that past Sunday or Saturday, or whatever, getting that and saying, “Okay, let’s apply this to our daily life.  How do we live this out?  What does that look like? How do you, you know, struggle through it as a group in a smaller ministry setting?  Whereas the big church, you can’t do that because you have so many people, so many different age group.

Morgan:  Alright, Phil?

Philip:  Well, I just think it’s interesting, I was thinking about the idea of like even the question that we have to look, well, is Exodus a church as we define it now? Or Exodus the church that we think it — as churches should be?  I think just like, I was thinking about that because it’s very different.  Because I think Exodus doesn’t fit into this, in my opinion, a church as we define it now, but only for a few little reasons to be honest:  the fact that we are technically a ministry of another church, that wouldn’t make sense to call us a church in that sense.  But if we are looking at “is Exodus a church?” in like what it should be, I have no idea.  Because I have no idea of what a church should be, you know, I think that’s a difficult one.

Morgan:  Yeah, that’s good.  Okay.  This has been a good discussion.  A lot — I’ve heard a lot of things that we’re going to come back to, like should a set of beliefs constitute what a church is?  Should the church be defined by what it does, because I’m hearing that a lot from people saying, this is what it should do, this is what it should do.

The Relationship of the Local Church to the Universal Church 

Morgan: So we’re going to try to get to the bottom of this, but tonight we’re going to briefly talk about what we’re not discussing in this series.  Which is, we’re not discussing the universal church, okay, because we’ve done that in the book of  Ephesians.  And yet, we also need to lay somewhat of a ground work because the local churches — the little “C’s” — should be doing, and they should reflect what scripture speaks about as the universal church, right?  The universal church is all believers, everywhere, at any given time throughout the world who are worshipping Christ.  That’s the church, right? But there are numerous passages in scripture that tell us, okay, they speak about this universal church, and then the local churches are supposed to then live out that vision.  Okay?

So, the first thing is: it’s an enduring church.  Jesus said this very clearly to Peter: Jesus replied, after Simon gives his confession, right?  Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Simon says, “You are the Christ/”  And Jesus answers, “Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my father in heaven; and I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”  (Matthew 16:17-18)

So one of the reasons we have such a difficulty with the local church, I think, is we see some of its issues, right?  We see that we shall fall short — and later in the series, we’re going to look at like, “Hey, are churches really even doing the things they are supposed to be doing,” and a lot of our frustrations come out of that.  We see this like  — you know sometimes people are hypocritical and they push people out of the church, right?  And that freaks us out, and then we say, you know, we don’t want to do this.  But Jesus has ensured that the church will move on.  So despite it’s flaws, the flaws that have always been there throughout history — one thing we are not going to do in this series is glorify the early church; and there are some wonderful things that the early church has to teach us — but people who think there weren’t issues in the early church are just wrong.  And if you look at the history and you look at — they were battling Gnosticism, they were battling whether you had to be Jewish before you could have faith in Jesus — I mean there were significant, dysfunctional issues that were, you know, kind of even thought out — and even, we see some of the difficulties in scripture, like Acts 15, they come together to make a decision because believers are having really serious arguments and even saying “you’re not a Christian,” and “Well, you are” and “You’re not,” you know?  I mean, they’re having issues, okay?  So the early church had issues, we’ve always had issues in the church.  And yet 2000 years later, the church exists and Jesus has promised it always will.

Another metaphor in the Bible is the Body of Christ: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all it’s parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jews or Greeks — slave or free — and we were all given one Spirit to drink.”  This is 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.  So this is a metaphor that Paul uses, okay? And we have another one.  We spoke about this passage before when we went through the book of Ephesians:   “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:22-27)

Paul uses this metaphor of the body to describe the church.  Jesus is the head, the church as a whole is a body.  There’s also the language of even seeing it as the bride of Christ, right?  Even in that analogy of husbands and wives, like this idea that Jesus is the husband and the church is the wife, or the bride.

Finally, another aspect: the people where god’s spirit dwells, this is the church.  In Acts 2, as Andrew kind of mentioned, the Acts church: “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were being done by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes, and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, raising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

Okay, nothing in there talks about the Holy Spirit, but where does this fall in the book of Acts?  Can anyone tell you what the major act right before this passage that occurs in the book of Acts?

Participant:  The pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Morgan:  Good, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and so many commentators refer to this passage as — these are the evidences that that Holy Spirit is clearly dwelling in the church and some of these things happened flowing from that.  Because the Holy Spirit is flowing, they’re breaking bread, they’re praying, there are miracles happening, they are selling things and sharing, they are learning.  These are all acts because the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon them.  This is then how they interact, okay?  So even though this passage in itself does not speak about the dwelling of the Spirit, this is a clear fruit of that activity.  And so the church is a place where God’s Spirit dwells, right?  And there are other passages that refer to us being the temple of the Holy Spirit, right?  And the “us” is anyone who is in Christ; the Spirit dwells in that person.  Okay?

Now — so this is what we are not discussing, is the overall church.  But this does lay some ground work, and next week we will come back to these passages and a lot more to get some specifics about the local churches.  But I wanted to even just briefly point to the evidences of the local church, because most of our problems are not with the church universal.  Most people understand that there is this church filled up with all believers — good, we’re okay.  But what’s the point of the local church  — and that is the focus of this series.

And some people want to somehow get rid of the local church, right?  Sometimes in our skepticism or our anger or just the lack of, maybe even bad background, as that opening introduction talked about, we want to give up on the local church.  But there’s a big problem with that: the evidence is really wide.  All of Paul’s letters are written to local churches with specific instructions, right?  We have to look biblically speaking that there are clearly churches beginning to be formed, churches can only be formed and take shape in a local form.  There’s no other way to do it.  How could there not be a church in a local place, you know?  Like we are all people who are bounded by time and physicality and geography.  So the church universal can only express itself in a localized form.  Okay?  We looked at Acts 2 42:47, [Acts] 4:32-35 is very similar.  Here’s another reminder that the right of Hebrews encourages them with:  “And let us consider how me way spur one another on towards love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another all the more as you see the day approaching.”  (Hebrews 10:24-25)  Right?  There’s this encouragement to keep meeting.

A few others that you can read on your own if you want to look in depth — because we’d have to go through the entire passage to get some of the specifics — but 1 Timothy 3 talks about kind of — I think Phil and Andrew both pointed this out, like, overseers, deacons, some sort of structure.  At this time, this is one of the latest letters of Paul, church structure is forming.  Paul even gives instructions for, “Hey, if you’re going to be a deacon, you know, if you’re going to appoint a deacon, this is what you need to look for.  If you’re going to appoint a bishop, this is what, these are the qualifications that you need to look for.  Revelation chapters 2-4 are all passages addressed and referring to specific churches throughout Asia Minor.  Acts 6, the church — and it’s again starting to take shape because they begin to have a criteria for which widows receive aid and which ones do not, right? — so again, you start to begin to see a formality in scripture.  So Acts church seems like, “Hey, they just hang out in people’s houses and everything’s great, and they break bread, and do all this stuff, and there’s nobody thinking through structure.”  Well, that changes pretty quickly.  Acts 15, the church gathered to decide a specific course of action to a major problem in the community.  Yeah?

Philip: I had a question.  It’s a little bit backwards.   So when we were talking about the local church, I was just thinking of the idea like, that being restricted by geography, like physicality and being certain places.  But its just an interesting idea and I’m not sure how that fits with like even our current society and technology, like that you don’t need to be local.  You can do anything through Skype, get a video pastor, they even have churches that have like off-campus sites.  And so it’s an interesting idea, you could have a church made up of 100 people from a 100 different countries.

Morgan:  Yeah, that’s actually a great point, I mean there’s a fascinating one, if you’ve looked at — what is it, the Second Life, if you guys have heard of that, you know, an online game, a great example.  They have churches on the Second Life, and literally 1000 people come to church on Sunday mornings with their little Second Life person.  Now, so you may — it’s very important, because you know, even 30 years ago, that would be like absurd to even think of trying to somehow have a church.  And then we can even look at that case and say, “Well, what are the defining characters of a church, and would we really consider that a church or not?”  Some people are going to say, “Yes, absolutely,” and some people are going to say, “No, this just doesn’t cut it.”  So it’s a great push back.  We’re still obviously defined by —  I mean you’re still sitting in a chair at home on a computer.  I mean there’s still a locality, even in that.  But it’s still an interesting question, do you have to be in person with others — you know, actually physically next to them, like we are here, in order to have a church or not.  That’s a good question.  That’s something maybe we need to try to find out.

A great quote to kind of transition us to the end for tonight.  The local church is a given, and Richard Niebuhr says this:  “The local Church implies the universal, but the universal no less implies the local; without localization, without becoming concrete in a specific occasion, it does not exist.” Okay?

Where We’re Going Next

So we’ve got to figure out — this is why I’m just kind of trying to make the case — set out a little bit of a foundation for the universal church, set a foundation for — we have to understand the local church, and the local church needs to be a reflection of the values and the principles and the picture that we get from Scripture of the church universal, okay.  And so next week, we’re going to dig into some of those things, and we’re going to throw up some stuff like, maybe even possible beliefs, maybe actions, various Scriptures that we’re going to wrestle with and try to get to say, “Okay, what should constitute a church?”  You know, like “Is this in or is this out?”  You know, like does everyone in here think, like Tiffany said, “There probably needs to be some common belief, because if not then I don’t know if we can really call that a church.” We’ve heard the words “leadership,” and maybe there are some different perspectives on leadership, but is leadership necessary to having a church, and if so, how much? and questions like that.  So I’m going to come back to that.  I’m going to go ahead and pray for us and ask the worship team to come back.  And get ready to think about that and this week, be thinking about what you think is a local church, what should constitute it?  Okay?  Go deeper with that because that will really help our discussion next week as we get into that.

Gracious God, we do thank you and we praise you for your greatness.  God, we thank you that you have chosen the local church to make yourself known into the world.  We are at times confounded, at times excited and hopeful, at times just purely confused as to what the purposes of the local church are, Lord.  So we ask that you would guide us as we think this week, and as we pray.  God, we ask that you would guide us next week in our discussion that will be more particular.  We thank you and pray this in your great name.  Amen.