“We haven’t really found a good church to join since we moved here a few years ago. We’ve visited around though. We’re at one church or another most Sundays.”
“I know my child’s travel ball teams cause us to miss church a lot, but we always have a team devotional, and sometimes we find a church to visit while we’re out of town.”
“I really can’t find a church I like where I live, but there’s a small group of us that meet once a week in homes for Bible study, and really, that’s more in line with the way it was in the New Testament anyway.”
“I don’t really go to church in person very often, but I listen to sermons on podcasts all through the week.”
“I love my church. We’re not as involved as we used to be when the kids were little. Their activities take up so much time, and sometimes Sunday is the only day we get to spend time as a family. We still make it to church a couple times a month, though. I really love my church.”
Have you heard any of these statements? Have you MADE any of these statements? I’ve heard them all, and when I hear them, I can’t get them out of my mind. There’s just something that doesn’t sit right in my heart with statements like these. And I think the reason is this: the church is the bride for whom Christ died, and if we love Christ, we must truly love the church. If you identify as a believer in Christ, as someone who as placed your faith in Him for salvation from your sins, but you are not fully committed to your church, this post is for you.
When I say we must love the church, I believe that love will be more than a fond feeling of nostalgia, more than an intellectual agreement with the creed of a particular church, more than making sure your name is on the enrollment list, more than a place you go because you feel comfortable and welcome, and more than a place you go on Sundays as long as no better opportunity presents itself.
I believe to truly love the church as Christ would have us love the church is to make it a priority.
To teach your children that church ranks above sports and extra-curriculars. To invest your time and resources to serve and give to the ministries of the church. To be involved in the business and decisions of the church as much as you are able. To get behind the vision of pastor and leadership and support them. To actually make the effort to find out what that vision is. To have the mindset that whatever your church is doing, you are going to be a part of it, even if it’s simply praying for it.
Basically, to truly love the church is to commit.
Commitment is falling wildly out of style. Have you noticed how hard it is to get someone to commit to something? We like to keep our options open. After all, what if something better comes along, whether that’s a fun thing to do as a family on Sunday or a cool new church that just launched down the road that probably has better music than your little country church?
I work with a ministry to women, and as I reach out to women’s leaders all over KY and TN I hear the same refrain over and over: We can’t get the women to commit to anything unless it’s a just-for-fun event. They’ll come to the painting night but not the Bible study. They’ll go to the conference with the built-in shopping time but not the one with workshops and messages all day long. They’ll come to the Christmas tea but not to the prayer group. The women that fit these descriptions would probably say they love their church. But loving the church requires commitment.
Are you really committed if you attend the events but not the business meetings? Are you really committed if you show up once or twice a month and never serve in a ministry? Are you really committed if you are only familiar with the sanctuary and the fellowship hall and never set foot in a classroom. Are you really committed if you casually attend several churches without ever saying, “This is the church I will join. This is the church I will claim as ‘mine.’ This is the church where I will invest and serve and commit.”
Why does it matter whether you ever commit to one specific local church?
Well, it’s for your own good, and also for the good of the church.
How is it for your own good to commit to a local church?
1. When you hop around from church to church, or attend one church only sporadically, or only listen to sermons online, that’s the spiritual equivalent of only eating from one or two food groups, or only ever eating your two favorite meals all the time.
It’s pleasurable, fills you up for the moment, and is a comfortable, quick fix. But you are neglecting necessary nutrients which results in poor, stunted growth. Committing to a local church and attending faithfully ensures that you hear the whole counsel of God preached faithfully–with the hopeful assumption that you have committed to a church pastored by a man who does such a thing–instead of random sermons here and there, or choosing only the sermons that you want to hear off of a podcast playlist. (Note: I’m not saying you should be legalistic: sickness, vacations, unavoidable work schedules, and yes, even the occasional major competition or tournament can all cause us to miss a Sunday here and there. I’m just saying that missing should be the exception rather than the rule.)
2. It’s impossible to really connect without commitment.
One of the main reasons that draws people to join a local church is that they felt a connection with the people there. They felt welcomed and accepted. This feeling of connection is one that most of us long for. It’s also something that many people say is lacking in their church experience, and one of the main reasons people leave a church to look elsewhere. In my experience, most of those who have left our church and gave this as their reason have been occasional attenders who never took part in much at all besides the Sunday morning worship. When you commit and start investing your time in the additional activities and ministries of your church, you’re almost guaranteed to form connections with people, sometimes with people you never thought would be your friends. The body of Christ is meant to build us up, encourage us. The group can fill what lacks in the individual, and the large group can fill what lacks in the small group. When you are brave enough to invest, you will receive dividends of connection and friendship in your church family.
3. Committing to a local church ensures that you will rub elbows with people who aren’t all just like you.
So much of our time is spent with people that we handpick, and we usually handpick people who are safely within our own demographics. Our friends are usually of our same generation, in our same season of life, experiencing the same kinds of trials and triumphs we are experiencing. Faithfully attending and investing in a local church–again, assuming it’s a healthy church with diversity at least in generations, economic demographics, and backgrounds even if it’s not located in an ethnically diverse area–ensures that you will know and form relationships with people who are different from you, and trust me–this is to your benefit. As we’ve moved around in ministry, we have served in mostly small churches, and there haven’t been many people our age. My closest friends in almost all our churches have been people a couple decades older than me, and I am grateful for that.
4. Committing to a local church, again provided that it’s a healthy, biblical church, ensures that people will know you well enough to link arms with you through your trials, and that includes your trials with sin.
We will all go through hard times when we need a church family. If you have been estranged from yours, or only show up on holidays and the occasional Sunday that has no ballgames, then you’re faced with a tragedy, you will sorely lack the support you need. A faithful church will do its best to reach out to you anyway, but there is only so much they can do for a near-stranger. And who is helping you with your growth in Christ? Who is close enough to you to speak to you about your sin? When you refuse to commit to one local body, you are robbing yourself of the resources you need to grow in Christ and to weather the storms of life.
How is it good for the church for you to commit?
1. Well, obviously, because we need you.
You are a unique individual with skills, gifts, and life experience that we need. We need you to add your voice to our family. We need you to serve. We need your ideas. We need you to reach out to us when we are struggling. We need you to remind us of God’s goodness by telling what He’s done for you. We need your stories, your background, your perspective. We need you to provide what only you can provide, and we may not even know exactly what that is until you jump in and commit. You may not know what that is either, and you may think you have nothing to offer. I promise you, when you are brave enough to commit, you will discover that God has gifted you in unique ways to serve WITH a church body better than you could ever serve on your own.
2. And along the same lines, the church must have committed members who are “all in” if she is going to be effective for the kingdom.
So many people leave their small churches because they found a bigger church that already has the desired programs and opportunities in place, without giving thought to the fact that the small church might be able to go on mission trips or offer great kids’ programs or Bible study groups for moms if they had the people to work. Nothing can be done in a church without people. Those big churches didn’t always have those programs. They had to have people who were willing to commit even before the vision was reality. I am the pastor’s wife of a very small church, and we have big dreams. Dreams take people to make them come true, though. We have so many people who attend our church sporadically and claim it as “their church.” They might even say they love their church. However, there is so much more we could do to reach people with the gospel and minister to our people and our community if we simply had more people coming in from the fringes and jumping fully on board with the mission.
Being fully committed to your church is not always easy, convenient, or risk-free.
All investment carries a little bit of risk. There have been several times when our kids have had to miss out on practices or competitions in their activities because we said church comes first. There are many times when we have met ourselves coming and going all week and would really just like to have a day to relax before the next week starts and honestly, aren’t super excited about going to church on Sunday. There have been times when I’ve heard about what other churches are doing or how they’re structured or how their worship services are run and frankly, I’ve been jealous, wishing our church were like that or that I could just move on and join a church where all the setup work has already been done and the structure and programs are already in place.
And let’s be real: when you remain on the fringes, you are insulated from hurt, whereas putting your roots down deep in a church family means more risk of pain when those roots get threatened or must be pulled up altogether. Churches are a family made up of sinful people, and they are not always safe from hurt. Whether the pain comes from conflict in the church as a whole, conflict between you and another member, or even just from having to move away after you’ve fully invested, loving a church is not guaranteed to be pain-free. So yes, there is risk, but like any good investment, the reward is much greater than and well-worth the risk.
In the words of songwriter Derek Webb, written as if Christ were speaking, “You cannot care for me with no regard for her. If you love me, you will love the church.”