What Is the Church, Anyways?

by Chris Brooks

I just stepped off of the stage at Bethel University where I had the opportunity to preach a message entitled “All In.” In the message, I wove the narrative of my life together. My goal was to show that God has been very present with me since I converted to Christianity 30 years ago. Because of my current understanding of my relationship with Him, I am “all in.”

As I looked out at the faces in the crowd I saw several very interesting things:

* I saw the face of my wife and my son, who graciously came to support me.

* I saw several men and women with disabilities.

* I saw all races, multiple ethnicities, and strong representation from both genders.

* I saw multiple generations, all worshipping our God together in community.

Basically, I saw the Church. Before you slay the messenger, hear me out.

It could be argued that Bethel University’s community is not a Church. Some would argue that the Christian (and/or secular) university campus is a place that was never intended for worship or preaching, but only for education. Some might say that a campus like Bethel is far too “liberal” of an environment to be considered Christian, much less a church. Others would argue that a campus like Wheaton is too legalistic…you get the point. Someone will always find something to criticize.

The problem with all of this is that we tend to choose who is ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the definition of being a Christian based upon our own theology, personal bias, upbringing, or other criteria. When we do this, we very narrowly define what the Church is. There used to be a time in this nation’s short history when blacks were considered ‘savages’ and even ‘animals’ in some circles, which denied the imago Dei in us. Clearly, something goes very wrong when we begin to set up imaginary rules and regulations.

The Church is the global body of believers who claim Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. There is a big difference between accepting Jesus as Savior (saying a prayer, possibly repenting, maybe even reluctantly getting into a life group), and naming Him as Lord.

Lordship requires submission to His authority in a way that a confession of salvation does not. These days, to be saved is often seen as the finish line instead of the starting pistol. The moment of repentance that leads to salvation is supposed to be the entry into a lifelong journey of sanctification (a.k.a. regeneration). It seems that we in the American Church have failed to properly communicate this difference. We count salvations and baptisms meticulously, while neglecting any serious rigor around spiritual growth metrics.

So what is the Church, anyways? It is all of us who have said “yes” to Jesus as Savior and are on the journey of sanctification, wherever we may be on that journey. If we could just give each other some grace, then we could change the world!


The son of a Jamaican mother and an American father, Chris Brooks is an ordained pastor whose passions are biblical justice and the well-being of children, youth, and families. He has served within the church, the Willow Creek Association, and World Vision, and taught Urban Studies on the faculty of a Christian University. He currently serves as the CEO of Issachar Advisors, a consulting company that focuses on church sustainability. Chris has been married to Bobbi for over 20 years. They have four beautiful children, and live in the Twin Cities.