A classic definition of the church that has existed for most of its history is that the church is the continuing presence of Jesus in the world, called and blessed by God to be a blessing to one another and to the world. The church is not a voluntary society of like-minded individuals that have come together for their own interests and happiness. Instead, the church is a group of people who have been called by God and joined to Christ with the Spirit's direction and enabling.
Here are some important implications of this definition:
1. It is God who makes a person a member of the church, and not my individual choice.
2. People often leave a particular church because they see it as a voluntary society which is not meeting their interests and making them happy.
3. The church exists to further God's glory and interests, not mine.
4. Jesus wants his church to continue his ministry and presence outside the church walls and programs.
5. The gospel is the good news of God's hospitality (literally "love of strangers") toward us.
6. The church is made up of called and redeemed people who are to be a community of hospitality, extending grace because we have first received it from Jesus.
The list could go on and on, but the point is that the church exists not for me, nor to promote itself. The church is to have an outward focus of extending forgiveness and reconciliation in the world. The questions to ask, then, are "how can we be a blessing to others?" and, "what does it mean to be the presence of Jesus?" Not, "what's in it for me?"
What do college students learn from church? That it is a voluntary society, or those called by God for his kingdom? Here is an opportunity to become part of the Spirit's work in the world, and to locate the center of our lives in Christ. May it be so.