The following is a section from a paper I wrote this summer for a youth ministry course.
Craig Van Gelder offers a robustly theological explanation for the nature of the church that gives a glimpse of how exactly God is present through this group of human beings:
In this view, the Spirit-created church lives as the very body of Christ in the world. Its existence declares that the full power of God’s redemptive work is already active in the world through the Spirit. It lives as a demonstration that heaven has already begun for God’s people. This Spirit-led community possesses all the power of God’s presence, even while it awaits the final judgment of evil that will lead to the creation of the new heaven and new earth.
Van Gelder roots the nature of the church in the activity of the Spirit, in pneumatology. If this is true, then a better way to think of ecclesiology is by using a different set of theological terms that better gets at its nature. The nature of the church is nothing less than an incarnational pneumatology. One of Paul’s favorite metaphors for the church is the body of Christ: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Such an understanding of the Christian faith takes the burden off of the church to be successful and instead calls the church into faithfulness as it attends to the action of God and follows the Holy Spirit in that action. This moves ministry beyond gimmicks and marketing methods and moves towards discernment and spiritual practice.
Just as the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus (Luke 3:22), so the Spirit descended upon the church (Acts 2:1ff). The church is, therefore, more than a collection of individuals who attest to a past event (as profound and cosmologically significant as that past event may have been) but instead the church bears the message of Jesus Christ within her very being as the church is the current primary means of God’s revelation to the world. Paul’s description of the church as the body of Christ is more than mere metaphor. Indeed, it is a theological assertion that the work of Christ continues through the church. Drawing from Jürgen Moltmann, Anderson agrees when he says, “the messianic mission of Jesus is not entirely completed in his death and resurrection. Through the coming of the Spirit, his history becomes the church’s gospel for the world. The church participates in his mission, becoming the messianic church for the coming kingdom.” 
Thus, such a view of the church is more than nineteenth century liberal theology or humanist anthropocentrism but is truly an incarnational pneumatology. The church did not decide upon herself that she should possess such a task and status, but God is the one who elected for the church to be the continuing agent of God through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. In ministry the church continues in the ministry of Christ: “The form of the church is thus incarnational; not another incarnation, but a continuation of the one incarnate life of God in the form of Jesus Christ.” The formation of mature Christians must move past current educational models towards practice-based action, whether that is through ritual and worship or acts of service and justice. Because the Holy Spirit continues to be active in the world, Christian formation must take the form of action.
- Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 32.
- Ray S. Anderson, The Soul of Ministry: Forming Leaders for God’s People (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 160.
- Ibid., 139.