October 20, 2020

Richard Halverson’s Vision

By Chaplain Mike

“Think of it this way. The program of our church is everything all the members are doing between Sundays. The church keeps house, goes to school, teaches, practices law, medicine and dentistry, runs business and industry, farms, works on construction jobs, researches in many fields, sits on school boards, city councils, county councils, state legislatures and congress. Between Sundays the church is involved in everything productive and constructive that is happening in our community. And it does so as a witness to Christ, to the glory of God, in His love and in the power of the Holy Spirit, sensitive to its accountability to Christ.

“And what of the church work which is done in and for the church organization? Its purpose is to equip each member to do the work for the church Monday through Saturday. All the programs within the church are for the purpose of enabling the church to do the work of ministry between Sundays when she is invisible as a congregation.”

• Richard Halverson, How I Changed My Thinking about the Church, p.106f


  1. I agree with the intent, but not the path. I would say “The church’s organization purpose is to assist each member as they are transformed into the image of Christ.” A side effect of this transformation is that the members would be doing the work of Christ Monday-Saturday.

  2. Ask this question: will this purpose statement still be valid in eternity?
    If not, then does it accurately reflect the purpose of the church?

    • Does what we do Monday through Saturday not matter in eternity? If I faithfully perform my daily vocations as a husband, father, employee, etc. without sharing the “Four Spiritual Laws” and dropping Chick tracts all over the office, have I made any eternal difference? I think think this sacred-secular dualism is a big part of the problem.

      • Exactly.

      • I think Derek L.’s comment (and Mike’s response) above addresses my concerns more specifically. I was not advoacting for dualism, but was sensing some ontological lightness regarding the church, as if it existed for the sake of weekday ministry – – but it is possible I was missing the context of Halverson’s comments.

  3. I like this. Being the church, rather than going to church, or doing church.

  4. It’s not a bad quote, though. His point is that the church is the people, and they are out there living their lives. So the church is doing whatever those people are doing, right or wrong.

    • Perhaps a better means of understanding this is our “being” and Christ’s “doing”. To do otherwise is fight up and down the seven mountains.

  5. Pretty decent idea and well stated. The issue perhaps is that the vast majority of people associate the concept of “church” with a place and a time. My father didn’t ever say “It’s time to go to the Sunday morning worship event”, instead he said “It’s time to go to church.”

    Given that paradigm and constant reinforcement, and regardless of how many times someone says “church is not a building, it’s the people”, it’s difficult I think for most to associate church outside of those limits of place and time and what occurs there.

  6. Sounds a lot like Luther’s doctrine of vocation. As Gustaf Wingren described it, the same doctrine that Gene Veith keeps drumming at his blog, Cranach. Any of those men get a mention in Halverson’s book?

  7. That quote is key to the entire mega-church critique. Halverson sees an institution/service that exists to support believers in their daily lives as Jesus’ flock. Today’s average model is for believers to drain resources away from their lives in order to support an institution/service. Total reversal.

  8. Steve Newell says

    I believe that we need to start with the underlying question: What is the Church? The Church is a the body of Christian made up those who have been saved by grace. The Church is not a human organization but a divinely created gathering of the saints. The Church’s primary responsibility is to proclaim Law & Gospel, to administer the sacraments and to equip the members of the body for life in Christ and in service to others (see Acts 2:42)

    There are many activities that the local gathering of the saints engage when can be good and right, but they are secondary to the functions. These include the caring for the poor, sick and weak.

    • Is proclaiming the gospel and caring for the poor, sick and weak really two separate activities? Is a gospel proclaimed that doesn’t lead to caring for the poor, sick and weak really the gospel? I don’t know…I wonder if we aren’t making false distinctions when we start categorizing outgrowths of the gospel as “secondary activities.” Is the gospel words? (1 Thess. 1:5 says the gospel is more than words).

      • “Is a gospel proclaimed that doesn’t lead to caring for the poor, sick and weak really the gospel?”

        It’s a whole ‘nuther gospel, one of many.

      • Steve Newell says

        What is the Gospel? It is the forgiveness of sin in Christ!. It is our response to the Grace and Mercy that God has shown us that lead to acts of kindness for our neighbor.

        The Gospel is what Christ has done and we proclaim this.

        • It is that…but the gospel of forgiveness of sins is incomplete if it doesn’t also include the new heart (regeneration) purified for the sake of good works, isn’t it? (eph 2:9-10)

          Titus 2:14 has TWO reasons Christ died…to “redeem us from every lawless deed” AND to “PURIFY for Himself a people, ZEALOUS for GOOD WORKS.”

          Obviously it’s not just a matter of guilt tripping people into doing more stuff, but it’s a proclamation that the Holy Spirit is now transforming the new heart more and more into His likeness and our lives are going to change.

          That’s a more biblical, full gospel than just preaching the forgiveness of sin Where saved FROM, but we’re also saved FOR. The gospel must contain both.

    • Dan Crawford says

      I’ve been reading Mere Churchianity the past several days, and I believe Michael (and I) would feel more comfortable if the church were defined as sinners saved by grace whose primary responsbility is the acceptance of the Divine Gift of forgiveness and the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

    • I think that a series of posts defining the purpose of the church would be a great idea. For me, the church exists to worship God, and everything else flows out of that. For example: To quote John Piper from many years ago. “Mission exists because worship doesn’t.”

      • Hey Michael: Help me understand what the Piper quote means. I can’t see how it fits with your prior sentence, but it is still earyly in the morning here in my office.

    • David Cornwell says

      “The Church is not a human organization but a divinely created gathering of the saints.”

      I’ve had to stop to think about this. I partly agree, but I think the Church is a very human organization which is a divinely created gathering of the saints. Our humanity is important and cannot be left out even with its imperfections and mistakes. Maybe this is just semantics

  9. This is wonderful, spot-on.


    The opposite extreme of big-program “spiritual gift” churchianity is the current evangelical pragmatism, where the gospel is replaced with ten-step self-help principles to a better life, a better marriage, better parenting, better finances, a successful manager (e.g. Jesus, Inc.). A biblical doctrine of vocation needs to find a way to avoid this pitfall. One can follow “biblical” principles to financial success and still make unethical decisions. A recent Christianity Today article revealed that many “Christian” financial experts have stated that ethics should not cloud ones financial investments. ( http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/september/2.36.html ). The prevailing zeitgeist which American Evangelicalism has bought into is not liberalism but the extremely self-centered hyper-conservatism of Ayn Rand, which “suggests the only thing that matters is your own satisfaction” (William F. Buckley).

    The difference is the end-goal: do I work for the promotion and satisfaction of my ego, or for the glory of God and love for my neighbor?

    • I have to agree with David Wells’ assessment: “At the very moment when the modern world is mangling those whom it blesses, disordering their inner lives even as it smothers them in plenty, and rubbing its own nerves raw in its bumbling efforts to address its most painful and destructive problems -at this very moment, evangelicalism has bought cultural acceptability by emptying itself of serious thought, serious theology, serious worship, and serious practice in the larger culture. And most evangelicals appear to be completely oblivious to this sellout or at least unconvinced that the deal was a bad one.”

      • one more Mike says

        This quote touched a nerve with me, so I googled David Wells and read the reviews of “No place for truth or whatever happened to evangelical theology” and though I’ve vowed not to buy any more books, except textbooks, until my own book is completed, I may make an exception for that one.

        Thanks Stuart.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Back when all the John Galt Celebrity Impersonators were coming out of the woodwork after the 2008 election (some even quoting Atlas Shrugged chapter-and-verse), I used to joke about “The Gospel According to Ayn Rand.”

      Looks like it’s no joke. Either that or the difference between Reality and Fiction is Fiction has to make sense.

      Long after her death, Ayn Rand continues her one-eighty allergic reaction towards Lenin, and it looks like a LOT of Christians forgot to use their epipens. (Of course they’re Bible-Believing Christians, they’re against Evolution and Homosexuals. What does it matter if they Bless the congregation with the Sign of the Dollar and lead them in the Creed of Galt’s Gulch?)

  10. I like the Halverson quote a lot. I think it’s quite accurate. But I also think there’s something unsaid that supports and backs it up: the transformation of a person into someone who reflects the image of Jesus Christ in whatever they do. This will, ideally, ensure that whatever we do has a Christlike quality to it and reveal the fruits of His spirit.

    I have to think that the Halverson quote assumes this transformation, but I also think that the church today is in great need of an emphasis on our transformation as people crucified and raised with Christ as the source and starting point for all we do.

    • You are right, John, Halverson does emphasize that. Here, he is focusing on the next level. What does this person who is being transformed DO? In contrast to the “Get ’em saved and get ’em busy” mentality of a program mindset, he says the church should set them free to live their lives as Christians where God has placed them and given them a calling in the human community.

      • Get ’em saved and get ’em busy…..what a great description.

      • Thanks CM. That’s very good to know and helpful. In addition to the “get ’em saved and get ’em busy” mentality, what I have seen on occasion is brothers in Christ striving and hoping to make some huge spiritual splash in some very public way, even as their home life, marraiges, and even basic biblical understanding and discernment need some real attention. There’s a genuine desire to serve, but it’s sometimes misguided by the emphasis on the spectacular and the extraordinary as the only really worthwhile spiritual service.

    • John,
      What do you mean the church is in great need of an emphasis on our transformation as people crucified and raised with Christ?
      I guess to me this last paragraph of yours sounds like legalism slipping in the back door. Looking to see that transformation occur somehow in the outward lives of the Christians.
      Contrast that with Paul in 1 Cor. 6. Here he is writing a letter to a congregation of sinners, and is there another kind? But these people were probably guilty of doing half that laundry list the night before that letter reached them, and he says but such were some of you, but you were washed…
      Paul assumes the transformation, despite the evidence in their lives, he doesn’t question their salvation doesn’t question their transformation, but then goes on to admonish them in a way that doesn’t jeopordize their salvation, or make it dependent upon them showing fruit. Profound.

      • What I mean is the furtherest thing from legalism. What I mean is the opposite of what Dallas Willard calls the “sin management” approach. And I certainly do not envision anyone waiting around to guage someone else’s level of transformation based on their outward life or works. What I am talking about is the need to emphasize transformation as the starting point for all else. We get a new identity in Christ and all we do flows from that.

        The contrast you see with I Cor 6 just isnt’ there in my mind or in what I intended to say.

  11. I’m reminded of an (American) football game. There is the half-time locker room talk by the coach. And then there are all the plays made (or not) on the field.

    “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 1 Tim. 4:7-9 (ESV)