What is Our [Congregational] Purpose?

A friend and congregant asked, in a group setting with core people in our community discussing the near future, what is our purpose exactly?

In the conversation just prior, it had been brought up by another friend that we exist to “reach the Jewish community.” This translates into: “we exist to proclaim the message of Yeshua and be a community for Yeshua where people in the Jewish community can discover him and become followers.”

It might surprise you to hear that I did not think this was an adequate description of our purpose. What is the purpose of a Messianic or Judeo-Christian congregation? Closely related to this is the question: what is the purpose of a synagogue or church?

Classically speaking, we might find in the Jewish tradition the purpose of a synagogue through a name that describes what a synagogue actually is: a beit tefillah, house of prayer (closely related to beit avodah, house of worship).

And in the Christian tradition we might find a clue in the Greek word much used in the New Testament, koinonia, usually translated fellowship (community, community of sharing).

People could name all sorts of central purposes that vie for attention as “the” purpose of a congregation: prayer, worship, community, outreach (evangelism), community service, etc.

I think it is a great mistake, and a common one, for people to think the purpose of a church or Messianic congregation is evangelism or outreach. It is an inadequate purpose. It is human-centered or anthropocentric. Our purpose should be theocentric or God-centered.

My answer, when asked, was that our purpose is to worship Yeshua.

Aha! some of you will say. You’ve been infected with the notion that we should worship Yeshua and not God!

Well, let me explore that. The purpose of a synagogue, it seems to me, is the worship of God, the God of Israel, the God of the ancestors, the God of the covenant, of Torah, of the Exodus.

So, if I said that our blended Messianic Jewish and Judeo-Christian community had as its purpose the worship of God, it would seem to be adequate. We might make this our purpose and assume that Yeshua is very importantly included within the larger purpose. In worshipping God we will venerate Yeshua as the Way to God.

But I will ultimately find this to be inadequate also, for several reasons. Let me illustrate why.

Suppose that shortly after the Exodus a couple of Israelite theologians discussed the purpose of the Community of Israel. Suppose one of them suggested, “Our purpose is to worship the Creator.”

Would the other Israelite theologian not be correct to say, “Wait a minute! We worship the God of the Exodus who chose us in him and made us a people!”?

You see, as we move through history, our understanding of God increases with his successive acts of revelation.

The latest act of God’s revelation, we believe, is revealing his Presence in the most powerful way imaginable, through the descent to earth of the Shechinah (the Presence) or the Glory (kavod) or Word (Memra, Dibbur, Logos), who is Yeshua. “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,” says Hebrews 1.

So, most specifically, our purpose is the worship, veneration, adherence to, attachment to, service of Yeshua, the Radiance of the Father, through whom we are worshipping God and by whom we are brought near to God in all his fulness.

The purpose of “reaching the Jewish community” or, in other communities of faith, “reaching such-and-such people” with a message is too low a purpose. Those who make some kind of pragmatic goal their purpose will, predictably and necessarily, hit a low ceiling, cater to the lower if not lowest common denominator, and find that their message is not very authentic or inspiring. Their purpose essentially, is sales-growth-income.

But those who make the worship of Yeshua their central purpose and then discover what that means will focus on being-serving-worshipping-ascending in nearness to the Direct Being of God, the Ein Sof, the Father, the Fire at the Center of the Cloud.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Judeo-Christian, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Mysticism. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What is Our [Congregational] Purpose?

  1. James says:

    It might surprise you to hear that I did not think this was an adequate description of our purpose. What is the purpose of a Messianic or Judeo-Christian congregation? Closely related to this is the question: what is the purpose of a synagogue or church?

    Actually, it doesn’t surprise me at all. Most people in mainstream (non-Messianic) Judaism aren’t going to touch any MJ congregation with a ten foot pole named Stretch Polaski (as small joke, there).

    However, that doesn’t mean, based on Matthew 28:18-20, that we have no obligation for outreach at all. My wee congregation seems to attract those who are disaffected from the traditional church. We try to provide an atmosphere that seeks brotherhood with the church as well as rejecting some of the more “exotic” teachings that you’ll find in many OL congregations. In fact, we had a young man visit our congregation last Shabbat who might fit into that category and, with God’s help, hopefully we can show him that seeking the truth of the Messiah isn’t found in any radical theologies, but in the simple faith and trust in the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world.

    Just my humble opinion, anyway. Your mileage may vary.

  2. “My answer, when asked, was that our purpose is to worship Yeshua.”

    This is good and perhaps would describe a “blended” community, as you called it, but would this really be enough to adequately describe a purpose of a Messianic JEWISH synagogue vs. that of any church down the street?

    “It is an inadequate purpose. It is human-centered or anthropocentric. Our purpose should be theocentric or God-centered.”

    That may be, but I think that our purpose as community should be two fold – to love G-d AND our fellow man. After all, these are the two greatest commandments per Yeshua himself and they are tightly connected (in fact, alike):

    “Yeshua replied: “‘Love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Torah and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    So, as a Messianic Jewish community we are to worship and serve G-d though the Mediator of the New Covenant Yeshua the Messiah as Jews and we are to serve people with everything that entails, including (but not exclusive to) the proclamation of the Good News to Israel and the nations.

  3. Gene:

    Great points and here is my reply: just as in Hebrew and Judaism “worship” means also “service,” so “to worship Yeshua” means not, as in some pop-Christianity definition of worship, “singing and praying,” but rather “glorifying and serving according to his instruction.”

    Therefore, “worship of Yeshua” means loving people in the spirit and power of Yeshua according to his instruction and loving God in and through Yeshua and the Union with God he provides.

    Derek

  4. benicho says:

    “The purpose of “reaching the Jewish community” or, in other communities of faith, “reaching such-and-such people” with a message is too low a purpose.”

    I always thought that outreach (evangelism) was something we should do. Didn’t Yeshua come for that reason, an outreach to the lost sheep of Israel? Where would the gentiles be without evangelism? You know, go out and spread the good news, etc.

    Maybe you’re right, the purpose of the church or synagogue is to be a place of study and worship while evangelism is done on a personal level. hmmm…

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