“Here is the church; here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people.”

Even in preschool, there are attempts to explain ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, through such means as this unknown author’s rhyme. The rhyme’s hand motions use interlocked fingers enclosed within the palms while the index fingers exposed are pointing upward to encapsulate the church building. As the palms open and turn upward, they reveal the heart of the church — the people of God. The wriggling fingers, then employed, emulate different ages and sizes of people who comprise the living church.

Focusing on the structure where God’s people gather, however, has skewed the church’s ultimate purpose. Donald Marsh’s and Richard Avery’s song provides a simplistic yet profound definition:

I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together.
All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together.

The song’s verse gives us a clearer picture:

The church is not a building,
The church is not a steeple,
The church is not a resting place,
The church is a people.

The church

The church is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27) and often referred to as the people of God gathered and scattered. The church gathered is where the Word of God is proclaimed and where people of all ages are encouraged and instructed in God’s will and way (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In Ephesians 4:1-16, the Apostle Paul gives a beautiful description of the church as a unified body.

The church gathered is where Christians join in worship and adoration of God through prayer, scripture, song, teaching and the celebration of the sacraments of communion and baptism. As we invite and celebrate the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, we as God’s people find encouragement to live out his call on our lives in the community.

The church is also called to be scattered — a holy people engaging in the marketplace, neighborhood and community to bring Christ’s hope into every facet of society.

The church is an active organism — a collection of Christ-followers gathering to experience foundation, family, formation and to be sent.


The church’s foundation is through the Trinity — God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe Jesus Christ, the Son, established the church, as is recorded in Matthew 16:16-18.

The church doesn’t belong to us: it’s “God’s and God in Christ working in and through us.”[1]  God provides a “renewed empowering Presence” through the Holy Spirit.[2] As each person grows in one’s relationship with Christ, the evidence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life is evidenced by the fruit, the guidance and the gifts of the Spirit.

Through the instruction of the Word of God, believers learn about God, how to worship, honor and live in obedience to him. The Bible is more than just a book that conveys information; rather it is a revelation that transforms. The Bible is: “God’s saving sovereignty let loose through Jesus and the Spirit and aimed at healing and renewal of all creation.”[3] The Bible is more than just a devotional book or motivational reading. It reminds us that the Creator God speaks to his creation with words. It is through these words that our minds are transformed and renewed. It reveals a God who demonstrates his love for humankind and his desire for their redemption through the death and resurrection of his Son and offers this incredible gift of redemption to all who will receive it.[4]

Believers join in celebrating the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper.[5]


How remarkable that the Sovereign God, Creator of the universe, chooses to have fellowship with each of us and instructs us to fellowship with each other! When we gather with other believers, we experience the sweet fellowship of like-minded believers, encouragement to trust God for all things and a community to walk together through the day-to-day joys and trials.[6]

Through salvation, individuals become God’s children, and through fellowship with other believers, individuals experience God’s family. As Christ’s body, we serve others and our communities through the gifts and means God has provided to each member. As Christ’s body, we encourage and support each other.[7]


The church helps believers in their spiritual formation. Various gatherings of believers — worship, Bible study, discipleship groups — give spiritual instruction and formation opportunities. Formation doesn’t end after a worship gathering or Bible study: Christ-followers should continually seek God daily through the Word and prayer. Formation should result in living out God’s calling so others will be drawn to him through us. We’re formed to be sent.


The body of Christ is sent or scattered into the world.[8] In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus explains what he expects of his disciples. Mature disciples of Christ become missionaries (sent-ones) and disciple-makers, intentionally living to help others meet Jesus and become Christ-followers. As the Holy Spirit equips,[9] we’re sent to impact families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, communities and beyond to draw people to Christ.

The Christian church includes the entire body of believers who’ve devoted their lives to Christ and are called to reach the world with the message of the gospel — a message of love, hope and redemption. Through the church, believers live in community and can grow in relationship with Christ and others through fellowship, nurture and worship.

The church’s primary responsibilities are to worship God, evangelize the lost and disciple believers. Through the preaching of “the pure Word of God,” properly administering “the sacraments according to Christ’s instructions,” and living “in obedience to all that Christ commands,” the church is equipped to fulfill these responsibilities.[10]

The church must seek out the lost, befriend the unfriendly, bring hope to the hopeless, find justice for the oppressed, and in the process, demonstrate how the church is the body of Christ. Using our spiritual gifts, natural talents, God-provisions and resources, we need to work together to reach others in our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, at home and worldwide. 

Rev. Belinda Selfridge serves as district administrator for the Tri-State District, local outreach pastor at First Wesleyan-Bartlesville and adjunct professor at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Belinda is pursuing a doctorate of ministry in spiritual formation at Wesley Seminary.


Questions for reflection and conversation

  • The church is an active organism — a collection of believers gathering to experience foundation, family, formation, and to be sent into the world to share. In the context of your own church body how do you see these experiences playing out?
  • Many times, we may be tempted to view the church as belonging to us, but in truth the church belongs to God, which means we belong to God. How do you comport yourself in such a way that people know that you are part of God’s church?
  • Fellowship is an important aspect of the church. Fellowship does not have to happen within the church building but can happen as a group of gathered believers in any setting. In what ways does your church “be the church” outside of the church building?
  • The church’s primary responsibilities are to worship God, evangelize the lost and disciple believers. This is our job as the church whether we have been sent out on our own or with others. What are some practical ways that you are the church wherever you go?


All Scripture referenced, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

“The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church 2022” used by the permission of Wesleyan Publishing House: Fishers, Indiana.


[1] Mark H. Mann, “Putting Christ in His Place: Ecclesiology and Christology in the Nazarene Tradition,” In Essential Church: A Wesleyan Ecclesiology, edited by Diane Leclerc and Mark A. Maddix, 48-61 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2014), 54.

[2] Randy L. Maddox, “Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology” (Kingswood Books, 1994), 119.

[3] Nicholas Thomas Wright, “Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today” (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 29.

[4] Belinda Selfridge, “My Theology of Scripture” (2017).

[5] “The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church” (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2016), 241.

[6] Colossians 3:12-17; Romans 12:15; Galatians 6:2.

[7] Mark H.Mann, “Putting Christ in His Place: Ecclesiology and Christology in the Nazarene Tradition,” In Essential Church: A Wesleyan Ecclesiology, edited by Diane Leclerc and Mark A. Maddix, 48-61 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2014), 53.

[8] Veli-Matti Karkkainen, “Introduction to Ecclesiology: Historical, Global, and Interreligious Perspectives,” 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021), 76.

[9] Moltmann Jürgen, “The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology” (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993).

[10] “The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church” (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2016), 240.