Four Vital Reasons to Get Back to Church
Dear Christian who is not attending church, I know you’re out there, and “no” I don’t think you’re an apostate. I know there were plenty of reasons to be frustrated with the state of the American church long before she closed her doors for COVID. I cringe at the consumerism, the egos, the giddiness, and the gimmicks that have often replaced faithful preaching, humble service, holy reverence, and true fellowship. I’m sympathetic to your recent disappointment with how some pastors have responded to the political and cultural issues of our day. I understand why you may not be super motivated to get back to getting the kids up on a weekend morning to scramble out the door in time to make it to that physical gathering of the Church––especially when you can simply watch your favorite preacher from the ease of your living room, or listen to Christian podcasts while you work on projects around the house. But let me implore you to consider these four reasons why you should get back and get involved in a local church as soon as possible.
1. The Church is God’s Idea
“I love Jesus but I’m not sure about church anymore.” Does that resonate? Maybe you’ve been hurt in the local church or suffered under abusive ungodly leadership. Personally, I’ve experienced more pain in church than anywhere else and it has often felt like a knife in the gut. But without minimizing that pain or disappointment, I want to graciously remind you that though the Church has always had her issues, at the end of the day, she is God’s idea, and therefore worth fighting for. Too many Christians are waiting to find the ideal “Early Church” that actually never existed. The Early Church was messed up too, just read Acts 5-6, 1&2 Corinthians, and Revelation 2-3. We are a work in progress. But the Church is also referred to as the Bride of Christ. That is how God sees her in spite of her struggles. Can we sincerely say we love Jesus while ignoring His bride? How would you feel if your spouse were to say, “I love you, but I’m not really sure about your body?” Ouch! Well, the Church is the body of Christ. So let’s show our love for Christ by caring for His body as well––which is kind of hard to do if we are not committed to a local expression of His body. For more on this, see my three-part series on Koinonia published here, here, and here. If you’re inclined to think, “I don’t need to be a part of a local church because I’m a part of the universal Church,” then I’d strongly encourage you to engage with the arguments I’ve laid out in those articles.
2. You Need the Church
“All I need is Jesus,” you say. Ultimately, that’s true, but Jesus works through means. He has set things up in such a way that he ministers to us through means (or channels) of grace, and one of the primary means is the body of Christ. We are built up in Jesus through being a part of His body. That is the normative means that He has established. He has given gifts in the context of the local church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13). So God’s primary design for us to grow up into Christ and to be equipped for ministry is the local church. That’s why the author of Hebrews exhorts us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
There may be short seasons where it becomes necessary to pull back and reevaluate, but staying isolated for long is never a good option. Find a church that exalts Christ and elevates His Word as the standard for all of life, and commit to it. If you can’t find one, then find a few friends who are like-minded and start one, ideally with the help of a solid church from another area. Or if you have flexibility in your job, consider moving to an area where there is a faithful community of believers. At the same time, don’t write off a local church too easily. People make mistakes. Give grace (as you would like it to be given to you) especially to pastors who have gone through a stressful year of hard decisions, pray for discernment, and pursue gospel unity whenever possible. Either way, finding a healthy church where you can be built up, challenged, and equipped for ministry should be a top priority. God did not intend for you or your family to live the Christian life on your own.
3. The Church Needs You
Your fellow believers need you. Your blood-bought brothers and sisters need you––maybe now more than ever. Remember that being a part of a local church isn’t first and foremost about you. Perhaps you’re dismayed by the consumeristic “it’s all about my needs” attitude found in the modern church, well, don’t cater to the very thing you despise. Remember this whole thing is about God and bringing Him glory by loving others as He has loved you. Be a part of the solution by taking your eyes off of self. Consider how your presence at a physical gathering can be a blessing to others. How might your gifts contribute to building up the local body of Christ throughout the week? Almighty God has entrusted you with gifts, talents, and resources for the sake of serving His family (see 1 Corinthians 12). Ask the Spirit to search your heart and reveal any selfish motives holding you back from reconnecting with a local congregation.
4. The Church is God’s primary means for bringing the nations to Himself
God is at work in our world, reconciling men and women to Himself from every nation, tribe, and tongue, and the Church is His primary ordained agency to accomplish this mission. This is not to dismiss the work of parachurch organizations, God has no doubt greatly used many of them. But the best of these organizations acknowledge that their ministries are most effective over time when the individuals who comprise them are committed to a local church and intentional about connecting the people they are reaching to local churches. Also, the most effective evangelists and foreign missionaries are typically those commended by a local church and working in partnership with other believers. This shouldn’t surprise us since it is through local communities of believers that God is displaying His love to the world, not through isolated Christians (see John 17:20-23 & 1 John 4:12). These lives of Christ-like love ought to extend to everyday of the week, but regular corporate gatherings are the rallying point. Indeed, we see throughout the New Testament, that the gathered local expressions of the Church organized under servant-leaders are the primary context from which we live out our identity as the Body of Christ––as we enter into koinonia, submit to sound doctrine and practice, preach the gospel, and disciple the nations. Today’s church has often lost sight of the magnitude of this mission, taking the world-changing force of Christianity and trivializing it with our pragmatism, contrivances, and man-centeredness, but there is hope. The Lord Jesus declared, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18). God is on the move and He has brought you into something much greater than yourself. He beckons each of us to step out of our complacency and work towards renewal and revival within His Church so that we might once again bring His light to those who walk in darkness and change the course of history. Jesus promised it. His Word fails not. He will be worshipped by all nations (see Psalm 22:27-28), and in His great mercy, He wants to use you and me, serving in partnership with other believers, to bring this about in history for the glory of His great name. Finally, let’s remember our Lord’s words in reference to the nascent Jerusalem church, words which every local church that has come since enters in to––including us, as we carry out our part within our own generation, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
The enemy would long to see us disillusioned by the failures and superficiality of the modern church. He would be delighted to have us selfishly abandon our brothers in arms and quite pleased to see us pridefully trying to wage the war on our own. But, dear fellow Christian, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”