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I am a pastor and lead a church. I know I am biased, but my bias doesn’t come simply from me wanting people to support my ministry. I went into ministry because I believed in the importance of the local church. It is Jesus’ primary way of building his kingdom (Matt 16:18). But the value of the local church has been lost by so many. One of the best lines I’ve heard was someone saying they don’t go to traditional church; instead they hang at the pool and listen to the local Christian radio station. Some will find that appalling, some will be confused and say, “Why doesn’t that work?” But since it was actually mentioned I want to talk about it. Let me give you a few reasons why hanging at the pool is not the church.

1. The Church is to focus on the Word of God.

In the early church they met together and were devoted to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42), to the public reading of the word (1 Tim 4:13), and were told to use the word to train in Godliness (2 Tim 3:16). Jesus said those who love him will obey his word (John 14:21). All of that means they took time to look at his word! Songs about the word are encouraging but should not be confused with the actual word. Historically, a defining mark of the true church is the right preaching of the word. If you don’t have the word it’s hard to claim to be a church!

2. The church is a gathering of people coming together to make Jesus known.

It is a body with different members (1 Cor 12:12) and each person contributes in a unique way to build up the body. They are to serve one another. That is on Sunday, but also on the other days of the week. It is people actively serving others and not being passively entertained by their favorite music. If you don’t have members to serve, you are not a body of believers, and if you are not serving others, you are not doing what the church is called to do.

3. The church is on a mission.

The church is called to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). They are intentionally seeking to save the lost. They are going to those in need. They believe the importance of hearing God’s word and want to bring others along. Who are you trying to disciple? Who did you invite to the pool? A church without a desire to reach others is like a pool without water. There should be a longing for others to know Jesus and not rest contentedly by yourself. And if you have lost that desire, the way to regain it is to hear the Word of God and get around people who have that desire. 

4. The church is to take seriously those who are a part of it and hold them accountable to following Jesus. (Matt 18:15)

Those who give into sin need to be dealt with. Some sheep may need to be helped up out of the mud and brushed off, and some may need to be removed from the fold. Everything from grievous sin to chronic apathy needs to be addressed. You may even have to deal with people showing up to the pool eating all your chips and not bringing anything on their own! If you are not dealing with sin issues and exhorting one another to pursue God, then you are not a church! It’s hard work, but it’s what Jesus called his people to do. 

5. The church has leadership (1 Tim 3:1-10).

Who in your group is going to take the responsibility to teach the word, lead in addressing issues with others, and make sure those who sin are corrected and possibly removed from the pool? Groups need leaders to work, and leading the church is hard work. Someone will need to do it, and the gathering of people will need to support the leadership and make sure that person meets the biblical qualification. That means you will need a process for determining leadership and hearing differences. Anything with multiple members and leadership requires organization. The church is an organization with a mission and not an individual on a break from the mission. 

This may sound like a lot of work, and if it does, then you are seeing the difference between a church and an afternoon at the pool. Sitting poolside with the radio on and a drink in hand may be a great way to relax, but it’s a terrible definition for a church.