21st Century Discipleship Resources

Session 9: Part of the family

What is the church? Where do I fit in?


Q) Talk about churches you have been to, what you liked about them and what made you uncomfortable.

Defining ‘church’

The biblical understanding of ‘the church’ is that it is the community of those who have responded in faith to God’s promise of salvation in Jesus. It can refer to the worldwide community; all believers, past present and future; or local congregations of believers.

In Acts 2:42-47 we see the first church in Jerusalem at work.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who 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, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. NIV

Q) What would such a church look like in our society today?

Pictures of the church used in the Bible

The people of God

Read 1 Peter 2:9-10.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. NIV

We are a community, under the rule of a king.

Q) What are the implications of acknowledging God as the ruler of our lives – individually and corporately?

Q) How does the concept of being God’s people affect our relationship with Christians in other churches?

A body whose head is Jesus

Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free —and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. NIV

A body needs all its parts, however insignificant, in order to function effectively!

Q) Think about a Sunday service that you have been to recently. Which parts of that church community helped to make it happen?

Ephesians 4:15-16 adds the idea that our commitment and love for Jesus and for one another are the joints and ligaments that give strength to the body and hold it together.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. NIV

A spiritual building

Look at Ephesians 2:19-22.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. NIV

We are part of a household of faith, built on a deep spiritual heritage, with Jesus as the cornerstone.

1 Peter 2:5 describes us as the living stones that make up this building.

you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. NIV

Q) What do you miss by remaining a loose stone, and not becoming part of this building?

What churches do

Coming together

Q) There is usually a time each week, generally on a Sunday, when the church gathers together for a worship service. Jot down what you think a worship service should involve:

How does this compare with the practice of the early church as found in Ephesians 5:18b-20?

be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. NIV

Q) Many churches also encourage people to meet together in smaller groups during the week. What do you think are the benefits of this?

Doing God’s work – the ‘mission’ of the church

The final instructions a person gives are especially important. Read Matthew 28:18-20.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. NIV

Q) How can the church carry out this commission?


Q) What helps us to feel that we belong to a church community?

Joining a church can be a daunting prospect. Getting involved in a house group plays a key part in helping individuals to feel settled and accepted. This is why we encourage you to get involved in such a group after you finish this course.

The church needs to be welcoming to individuals, and in return each person should show some kind of commitment to their local church. This includes attending regularly. Does anything prevent you from doing this?

Baptism is a public way of expressing commitment; declaring some kind of formal membership of a church also shows that you mean business. We shall look more closely at both these issues in the next study.

Playing your part

Think again about the picture of the ‘body’ in 1 Corinthians 12:27 and verses 12-20. You too can be a working member of this body, however new you feel.

Q) In what ways do you think you can start to serve in the body of Christ?

Think about the natural talents which you already have. You will also receive spiritual gifts that God can use. Consider the things you feel passionate about, and pray that God will to show you how you can serve him in these areas.

The challenge

Q) Can you function as a Christian without belonging to a local church?

Q) In what ways would a solitary Christian miss out?

Your choice (home study option)

Think about what you are going to do next. If you need to find a local church, how are you going to set about this? If you already belong to a church, how are you going to become more involved?