Church Metaphors

A friend and I were chatting about ministry, telling stories, and generally encouraging each other. He mentioned a conversation he’d had with another Christian some years back. My friend had mentioned the church is “like a hospital.” Now the other gentleman responded back, ‘Well, if so, then we shouldn’t let the patients run it!’

This was an interesting conversation at several levels. One of those is the level of metaphor. The Christian church is legitimately compared to several things. Biblically, the church is compared to family, to the human body, to a special priesthood, and others. So comparing the church to something else is not a bad thing to do and is an activity amply supported by the Bible itself. In my time, I have heard the comparison of the church to a hospital (as my friend said), to a rescue station, to a war college, and several others – all depending on the point the speaker was trying to make.

I confess that I am annoyed when these comparisons are made.  Usually, whatever metaphor the speaker uses, well, that is THE metaphor for the church. The only one. The controlling idea. The Purpose for the Christian church. And this metaphor - which ever one is chosen - is Very Firmly Insisted. It is The One, True, and Only vision for the church.

People – and Christians are not immune from this – can be pretty silly.

I believe the church is All of those things. The church has many purposes and those purposes cannot be captured in a single metaphor.

Why do I say this? Is it because I’m just a mushy, ‘all points are valid’ kinda guy?


I say this because this is the Biblical view. Just as I mentioned above, the Bible itself makes several metaphorical descriptions of the church: body, people, priesthood, family, bride, and so forth. Here’s just a few:  http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2011/05/16/new-testament-metaphors-for-the-church/

So … is the church a “hospital?” Yes, somewhat. Is the church a ‘rescue station?’ Sure, that, too. Is the church a ‘war college?’ Ah … seems a bit belligerent, but there are some reasonable notions in that comparison. And so forth.

It seems reasonable to me to avoid pigeon-holing the church into one, narrow, single comparison. We do the church a great injustice by treating the church in such a two-dimensional way. Even worse, when we choose to ignore the other metaphors, we are also choosing to ignore the other tasks the church is to do which are contained in those other metaphors.

There’s a word for not doing what God wants us to do. It’s a short word; begins with “s.”

By the way, the story I started with continued. After the gentleman suggested that a hospital should not be run by the patients, my friend responded, “Well, actually we’re all patients.”

And that is another story …