What is the Church? (Part 2)

by Erin Bird

Even though I was under 5 foot tall and weighed a whopping 75 pounds sopping wet, I went out for football in 7th grade. My size kept me on the sidelines, only getting to play the “B” game during the 10 minute half-time of the “A” game.

And yet I felt like a winner. Why? Because our “A” team went undefeated. I was at every practice. I cheered my teammates from the sideline at every game. And so even though I saw very limited action, I felt I was a part of our undefeated season.

A Part of Something Bigger

I think all of us long to be a part of something that is “winning.” Whether its just being a fan for a sports team, being a member of a club with a welcoming culture, or working for a company that has a lot of momentum, we want to be part of something that is bigger than “just me”.

And yet, when it comes to our faith in Jesus and involvement in church, often times we make it a private, personal thing. We don’t take about spiritual things, or we only think about spiritual matters for an hour on Sunday mornings.

But that misses the mark of how God sees His Church.

We are in part 2 of our series “What is the Church?” where we are looking at Riverwood’s definition of Church. Here’s our definition again:

The Church is the redeemed people of God living on mission together under the headship of Jesus to live out the implications of the Gospel.

Last week, we saw that the Church is the redeemed people of God. That means this week we are going to look at the second phrase: “living on mission together.”

Three Words

This phrase has three key words:

1. Living

If you follow Jesus, your beliefs aren’t to be just something you think about. Your belief in Jesus is to be lived out.

This is why you might hear some Jesus-followers say, “You don’t go to church. You ARE the Church! So BE the church!” And being part of God’s Church means you live out your faith in Jesus.

2. Mission

But what is it we live out as the redeemed people of God? We live out the mission of God. And what is God’s mission? Redeeming broken and imperfect world through the gospel.

I live in the “church world.” I follow various pastors on Twitter. I read books aimed at pastors. And so I often hear church experts talk about how a church needs to have a clearly defined mission.

But one time I heard a different sentiment about mission: “God’s Church doesn’t have a mission. God’s mission has a Church!” I love that! If you follow Jesus, then you are part of God’s Church, which means you are to be fulfilling this mission of inviting the spiritually disconnected to find and follow Jesus through the gospel.

3. Together

This last word is incredibly important. While we need to live out our faith, accomplishing the mission of God, it was never intended to be done individually. To use a sports analogy, church is not to be a golf team where each player does their own thing. Rather its more like a football team that works together to try to win the game. Each player has their own role, but they work together simultaneously to accomplish their goals.

This is why…

  • Riverwood is aiming to have an elder team by this fall.
  • our Kids Creek team is inviting people to help in our new preschool class.
  • we even invite people to do simple things like greet or usher on Sundays.

If you are part of the Riverwood family, I want to see you involved in some aspect of Riverwood, so you can have the joy of living on mission with your church family, accomplishing the goal God has given us to invite the spiritually disconnected (which includes you and me!) to find and follow Jesus.

What is the Church? (Part 1)

By Erin Bird

In 2008, Waverly, Iowa experienced a 500-year flood. Over 90 homes were lost, as were several buildings. Two of those buildings belonged to churches: St. Mary’s Catholic Church and Peace United Church of Christ. Yet no one today says, “those churches were destroyed,” because each church family built new facilities. Their old buildings may have been eliminated by the flood, but each church lived on.

Why am I talking about the buildings of Peace and St. Mary’s? Because their story helps demonstrate that the Church is not a building; the Church is people.

Church Defined

This coming Sunday is our last of seven Sundays at Shell Rock Elementary School. The following week (April 22) will be our first in Droste Hall at the Bremer County Fairgrounds. As you know, this brings a welcome change: no more set-up and tear-down every Sunday morning (for now!). 😁

However, there is also a risk with this change. 😳 Setting up every week in rented facilities has reminded us that the Church is not a building. But now that we (sort of) will have our “own” building, we can potentially make the same mistake that churches all around the the world make: treat church as an institution rather than a movement.

That’s why, as I said last week, I want to take a few weeks here in the News & Notes to look at Riverwood’s definition of church to help us avoid slipping in our understanding of God’s design for His Church.

So here is our definition:

The Church is the redeemed people of God living on mission together under the headship of Jesus to live out the implications of the Gospel.

This week we are going to look at the first phrase: “the redeemed people of God.”

Wait, What is the Church?

As stated above, we often think of church as a building. We tend to talk about the structure that a church family uses, as if THAT is the church. But the church is not a building – it is a people.

However, it‘s not just any group of people. For example, I am part of the Exchange Club in Waverly, and even though we open our meetings in prayer, no one would claim it is a church. Why not? Because the focus of the Exchange Club’s meetings is not worshipping God.

The Church is “the redeemed people of God,” and their common ground is that they have been given grace and faith to choose to follow Jesus and allow Him to transform them into something new. This changes everything about the identity of those who are part of the Church. Those in the Church know it is about who they are in Jesus, not what they do or where they meet. This also means the Church doesn’t just have one “set of clothes.” The Church can be a house church, a mega-church, a small church, an urban church, a country church, or any other such “church” because they gather in the name of Jesus.

Additionally, while the Church is the redeemed people of God, it does not mean a church can’t welcome in those who don’t follow Jesus yet. Just the opposite! Those who have been redeemed because of the gospel should be the first to warmly welcome those who don’t know Christ because WE once were separated from God as well.

So no matter where Riverwood has our Sunday worship gatherings, whether it is in Shell Rock Elementary where we will set up one last time this Sunday or in Droste Hall where we will walk out on April 22 leaving everything up after we are done, we are the Church first and foremost because we are the redeemed people of God and God is working in us collectively as a church family.

Glad to be part of the redeemed people of God with you! Go and be the Church sharing the gospel and inviting others to follow Jesus. May the Lord lead your footsteps with grace and truth.

What is the Church?

by Erin Bird

If you made it to our Easter Worship Gathering last Sunday, thanks for coming! What a great morning that was. 😊

And to those who served, whether in

  • Kids Creek,
  • set-up,
  • bringing food,
  • leading music,
  • or helping us tear-down…

THANK YOU!!! I felt myself driving away from Shell Rock Elementary full of love and pride for each and every person who served so selflessly on a holiday. Thank you so much for helping us create environments where anyone who comes on a Sunday can hear about the love of God seen through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Moving Ahead

In case you don’t know, Riverwood is moving our Sunday Worship Gatherings to the Bremer County Fairgrounds beginning April 22. And another move means more change! I’m so proud of how amazing my church family has “gone with the flow” after each of our previous moves: Civic Center to the WAVP to Shell Rock (and all of the one-time spots as well). But this move to the Droste building brings a new-to-us change: NOT HAVING TO SET-UP AND TEAR-DOWN EACH WEEK! (Ok, I guess I’m a little excited.)

While this is a very welcome change, it has made me realize one aspect of our identity as a church family is ending (at least for now). And this “identity change” potentially puts us at risk of forgetting who and what the church is.

So to remind myself (and anyone who reads this) of who God is calling us to be as Riverwood Church, I want to take a few weeks here on the blog to work through Riverwood’s definition of church. Because the definition of church shouldn’t change due to the type of building we meet in on Sundays or whether we set-up and tear-down or just walk in and flip on the lights.

If you’ve gone through Riverwood 101, you’ve heard our definition of church. But let me share it so we all are on the same page:

The Church is the redeemed people of God living on mission together under the headship of Jesus to live out the implications of the Gospel.

As the elders of Riverwood, Jeff and I want to take four-weeks to walk you through this definition. Our prayer is that this short series on “what is the Church” will help you gain a better perspective of the Church and Riverwood’s identity as a local expression of God’s global church.

So be ready to join us next Thursday right here on the blog as we look at the first phrase, “the redeemed people of God.”

Redefining Our Competitors

by Erin Bird

I sat down with the insurance agent to finalize our car & home owners insurance – and his words shocked me.

LeAnn and I had only been married for a handful of years. We were back in the U.S. after serving two school years at a missionary children’s school in Venezuela – and I was looking for a job. The agent asked what field I was hoping to work in, and I told him I was applying to be a worship pastor in a church.

And the agent said, “Man, that’s a tough business! I mean, there’s a church on every corner!”

In my attempt to be Iowa nice, I sort of nodded my head in agreement, but inside I was completely disagreeing with the agent’s words. Because I knew the competition of a church was not other churches.

Not Competitors but Teammates

We are in a series here on the blog about The Riverwood Way. This week we come to “…is not to compete, but to complete.”

Too often, churches (meaning their leaders and attenders) will become territorial. They see a city or a neighborhood as being “theirs.” So another church, whether new like Riverwood or growing like a megachurch, can be seen as a threat.

I sure felt this when I moved to Waverly. I was told there were already enough churches. I was ignored by some pastors when I contacted to meet with them (to basically tell them I wasn’t here to take their people!). I was treated by some as if I was encroaching on their territory. In other words, they viewed me and Riverwood as competition.

But I wasn’t in Waverly to compete. (If well over 5000 people were part of no church, I knew another church was needed to help put a dent in that number.) So rather than compete with area churches, I felt like God had brought us here to complete the mission that God has given every church. And what is that mission?

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The mission Jesus has given to every one of His followers – and by extension to the Church – is to invite people to find Him and follow Him. We all have the same mission!

And yet, existing churches (and their leaders) get bothered by the arrival of new churches, while many new churches (and their leaders) swoop into town acting like all the existing churches are clueless and wasting real estate, money, and people’s time.

But if Jesus is right (which He is!), then these churches aren’t to be in competition with one another. Rather, they need to realize they are teammates.

Rather than a church position itself as better than other churches with better music, or better preaching, or better kids programming, what if the church simply saw their music or preaching or kids programming as different? And if the church can’t help a particular person follow Jesus, what if they helped them find a church family that CAN help them find and follow Jesus?

This is why we partner with Vineyard on the Food Bank each month. This attitude drives us to be part of the community wide VBS. It’s why we gave our old stage to Crosspoint Church to use in their kids ministry. Because ultimately it isn’t about Riverwood proving it is the best church in town, but rather just one of the churches God is using to invite the spiritually disconnected to find and follow Jesus.

Therefore, if you consider Riverwood your home church, will you help us live this Way out in daily life? Here’s one way you can do this: When you talk about other churches, try to speak of them like they are teammates rather than competitors to be beat. Because I truly believe God will bless the church that doesn’t think they alone are His answer to the needs of that community, but a part of a broader Body of Christ that exists to help people find and follow Jesus.

Like Riverwood on Facebook