Why Are We Here?

Bethel-Battle Lake engaging the community of Battle Lake during its 2023 Wenonga Days celebration.
If someone were to hear the name of your church, would they know about you or would they know you? Better yet, would they know Jesus as Savior King? We should reflect on these questions because over the years, especially in the Western culture, the “church” has shifted from its roots and become less missional and more inward focused. Inward focus happens when church becomes “about us” or “what we like.” In our consumer-driven culture, it’s quite easy to slide unknowingly into an attitude that evaluates church life based on our personal comfort levels and preferences. We like our church because we like the worship music/style, or we like the pastor, or we like the kids’ programs, or for a host of other reasons that all center on what we like. The problem is not so much that we like our church, the problem is that we have lost its identity and roots.

Jesus’ idea for his Church was far more about mission. In fact, in his Church, he brings us together to fulfill his purposes in worship of God, loving each other, and impacting the world around us. Jesus’ missional focus would have us “like” our church because of the shared commitment and purpose we find in being a part of something eternal.

Inward-focused churches choose comfort rather than driving purpose. The driving purpose is that we are the Church, and we have what the world needs. The gospel of grace through Jesus is the driving purpose in our existence as Christ’s bride—his Church. It was the driving force behind the first-century Church. They weren’t comfortable in a building because the building couldn’t contain the mission of Jesus. We need to go back to our roots.

First and foremost, we are outward focused as Christ’s Church because he taught us to be so. In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. In John 13:34-35, he commands us to love one another as he has loved us, so that the world will know we are his disciples. These verses make it clear that loving our neighbor is not optional; it is the DNA of the Church. The Church of the Lutheran Brethren is a “disciple-making movement.” The fabric by which this is revealed in many churches is simply by going out and being the Church.

What does this look like? I have always found this illustration helpful in joining Jesus in his mission as his Church: If Sunday morning worship is inward focused, it is like a bank. You come in with your deposit slip (your attendance record for worship) and leave with your receipt of grace. It becomes a transactional life, Sunday after Sunday.

But what if Sunday worship was mission focused? What would that look like? It would be like a gas station. You come in Sunday with your gauge on empty and get fueled up with the gospel of grace through Word and Sacrament. The needle on your fuel gauge goes from empty to full and you are now ready to go back out into your world to burn the fuel of Jesus. As the week goes on from Sunday, we burn the fuel of Jesus until the tank is on empty and the light comes on. Then, we pull back into the station on Sunday morning to refuel.

I love this view of church. Each of us is a vehicle of God’s grace and each of us is shaped differently. Some have dents, scrapes, and rust. Some are polished and a newer model. But regardless of condition or shape, we all are driven by the head of the Church—Jesus. We are all powered and fueled by the same gospel. That’s getting back to our roots as his Church.

All we need to do is look to Jesus and his life. What did he do? He served, he ate food with others, he listened to stories and shared stories. Jesus lived with and loved those he encountered. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can start with something as simple as getting to know your neighbors, offering to help them with a task, or inviting them over for a meal. It means being intentional about building relationships with people around us and looking for opportunities to share the love of Christ with them.

It is being the vehicle of grace to those living around you: at home, at the grocery store, at your workplace, and at school. Anywhere you go, you are with Jesus on mission to share the fuel of the gospel of grace, to love as Jesus loves, and to be his Church in his expanding kingdom.

OK, OK. But practically, what does this look like? In Battle Lake we are seeing God move as we burn his gospel fuel! Every time the local school has parent-teacher conferences, Bethel–Battle Lake provides the teachers and staff with a meal throughout the evening. We’re thanking them for their investment in our children and in the community. It is simple, yes, but it is sharing the love of Christ in a tangible way. The principal came up to me one day and said, “Nick, I just want to say how much we appreciate Bethel’s care for our teachers. It is nice to know we are cared for without strings attached.” This is joining Jesus in his mission.

Another example of burning that fuel with an outward focus: One Sunday, a new couple came to our church. I asked them, “Hey, how’d you hear about us and what brought you here today?” They responded, “Who hasn’t heard about Bethel in Battle Lake! We are here because we want what everyone else has!” As I talked with them some more, it was apparent that the gospel fuel was being shared (burned, we could say) by vehicles (people) of Bethel–Battle Lake. This couple was receiving the love and grace of God in their everyday lives and wanted to share that too.
Church of the Lutheran Brethren, that’s why we are here. That’s why you are where you are! We are God’s fuel station in our communities to share the fuel of the gospel and watch Jesus transform lives and expand his kingdom.

We are many vehicles, but we are Jesus’ many vehicles. He is behind the wheel; his fuel is our driving purpose. We are called to get back to our roots and GO! That is why we are here. Praise Jesus!

Rev. Nick Laven is Campus Pastor of Bethel-Battle Lake. Bethel is one church in two locations, Battle Lake and Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

No Comments