“I don’t need to belong to a physical church in order to have a relationship with Christ!” This is a statement that I have heard far too often in my moderate number of years. Heck, I probably uttered it myself a time or two. And now, in our post-COVID quarantine world with every church offering their services online, this is even more so becoming the popular mantra.
Here’s the thing: the above statement is both true and false. Yes, it is true that you can have a relationship with Christ without the confines of a formal denominational box. But the problem is this, we are commanded by God to meet together in community. If we refuse to do so, believing instead that we can make it on our own, we are directly disobeying His instruction.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
God’s Model for Our Century
Physical church community may seem like an old fashion, dying approach to life, but I assure you it is not. God is alive and well within the model that He created over 2,000 years ago. And it is just as relevant today as it was then. Do you know why? Because He is omniscient, which means He knows all things (past, present, and future), and He was specifically thinking of the 21st Century when He created it.
There is purpose in His design as well. In their book, Rediscover Church (Affiliate Link), Collin Hansen and Jonathan Leeman talk about this exact thing.
God does not invite us to church because it’s a comfortable place to find a bit of spiritual encouragement. No, He invites us into a spiritual family of misfits and outcasts. He welcomes us into a home that’s rarely what we want yet just what we need.
What are the Reasons for Going to Church?
1. Go to Church for Accountability
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14
The path to heaven is not an easy one. It’s one that’s full of sacrifice, restraint and hardship, and we weren’t meant to travel it alone. All it takes is one small step off the path to start yourself on a new trajectory. It may not seem like a big deal at first, but we all know how a diagonal line begins to separate from a straight one. I should know, I made a small choice years ago that led to my own separation from God for 15 long years.
When we live in biblical church community with others, we are allowing them permission to speak truth into our lives and to help pull us back on track.
Biblical repentance also has a corporate dimension. In my case, it meant abandoning my life as an unattached, autonomous individual. It meant joining a family and taking responsibility for that family. It meant inviting other Christians into my life and having embarrassing conversations that included confessing sin and admitting weakness. It involved looking for older men to disciple me and younger men to disciple. It led me to show hospitality to folks who were new or in need. It trained me to rejoice or suffer with those who rejoice or suffer.Jonathan Leeman, Rediscover Church (Affiliate Link)
In today’s self-love culture, the expected response to a friend’s poor choices is to affirm and to support. Calling a friend out in biblical love is counter to this culture and may be uncomfortable. But it is what we are instructed to do.
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. James 4:17
In order for true accountability to work though, you can’t just sit back and hope that nobody notices and calls you out on it. You must participate, and willingly ask for help.
Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16
2. Go to Church for Community Support
Some years ago, my husband and I were in the Bay Area for Easter with his family. We were asleep in the hotel late one night, when we received a call from our home’s alarm company. The trigger had come from my husband’s shop containing all of his prized possessions. An officer went out, took a look, thought everything looked okay, and left.
Now, if you know my husband at all, you know the amount of anxiety he faces on a normal day. This was not a normal day. After the call, he struggled through the rest of his sleep, and then left early to fish the Bay with his dad. What should have been a fun bonding experience, was threatened by his fear of what could have happened to his shop.
Knowing this about him, I sent out an APB to our church community, and within minutes a friend responded that her husband would go by the house and personally check it over for intrusion. This man and my husband were mere acquaintances at the time, and he didn’t owe us a thing. But out of love for a church community member, he sacrificed his time to support us and to set our minds at ease.
This is what church community is all about. Supporting one another in times of need. We don’t need to be friends with everyone, but we are family. Sharing what we have, whether it’s our possessions, our food, our home, our time, or our finances. We support each other. This is the model that the first church set for us, and it is the model that we still use today.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had…that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
3. Go to Church for Sanctification
(For a good explanation of what sanctification is, see this blog post on Joy in Chronic Pain.)
Whether we’d like to admit this or not, if we have a personal relationship with Christ, we are all on a path to become more like Him. This path is that narrow and hard one mentioned above, and it can be a painful process as we repeatedly say “no” to self, and “yes” to Him.
What you may not realize, is that God intended the church community to be a safe place for this to happen. Most of our sanctification occurs in response to other people, and I’m pretty sure that people are what church community is made up of.
You may ask why you can’t just apply the lessons that God is teaching you on your own. Isn’t that the point of personal devotions?
In her study, We Over Me (Affiliate Link), Whitney Capps answers this question better than I can.
Through our personal prayer and Bible study, the Spirit works in us, molding us into the image of Christ. But those truths we are learning are tested and put into practice in the community of the church. Plus, we are held accountable to those truths through our local body of believers.
When I was young, my grandfather owned a rock tumbler. He used to bring back all sorts of rocks from his many trips down to Arizona and elsewhere. Together, we would throw these rocks, rough and dirty, into the tumbler with a mixture of sand and water. The rocks would tumble around in there, being turned over and over in the midst of the grit, until they emerged smooth, round and brilliant.
God created the church community environment to be our tumbler. It may not always feel very pleasant to have our rough and dirty edges ground away, but the end result is far beautiful than you can imagine.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
Learning that God wants to use my local church to sanctify me is not a new idea. But I always thought that sanctification happened through a sermon or heartfelt worship. God uses intimate fellowship with a group of people whose only real similarity is our sin nature. We are selfish and broken, desperate and needy. Yet God is using iron to sharpen iron, through the power of the Spirit, as we grow together in Christ.Whitney Capps, We Over Me (Affiliate Link)
4. Go to Church for Friendship
When my husband and I first moved to our small town, neither of us worked here. He commuted two hours south each day, and I commuted a half hour north. We only knew one couple in town, and we used to joke that we grocery shopped and slept here, but our lives were elsewhere (apart from each other even).
Long before I turned my life back to Christ, I remember praying one day that we would find some sort of community within the town that we lived. I had no idea how He would make this work, nor the magnitude to which it would occur. A few years later, we found our little church, and it was slow going (mostly because of the sanctification that needed to occur in our own hearts first), but we began to go to church and to develop the most amazing friendships. Friendships that were born out of a shared love of Christ.
I have very close friends and family members who don’t know the Lord personally. They are all amazing individuals, and I love them all dearly. But there is a deeper level that is reached when you spur one another toward the hope that only Christ can bring.
I love Paul’s example of biblical friendship in His letter to the Romans:
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will, the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. Romans 1:8-12
5. Go to Church for Discipleship
Church community is also where we go to learn and to grow in our knowledge of Him. If we simply rely on our own personal studies, who will correct us if we interpret the scripture to support our own desires. We might get some things right, but others may just be that slight step off of the path mentioned above.
So, Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13
Friends, we live in an age when we have unprecedented access to information, and most of it is peddled as “truth.” There is a lot of teaching labeled as biblical that, in reality, is not based on Scripture. We need to sit under pastors, shepherds, and teachers who take seriously the instruction to correctly teach God’s Word and are gifted for the equipping of the saints.Whitney Capp, We Over Me (Affiliate Link)
Discipleship can come from our peers within the church community as well. Meeting together regularly, outside of Sunday mornings, to edify and learn from one another is important. Discussing God’s Word, challenging each other to consider what it has to say, and praying together is what cultivates the bond of Christ.
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 1 Corinthians 14:6
6. Go to Church to Worship
This is another thing that can be done on your own, and you should. But there is something special that occurs when this is done together, within your church community. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, charismatic or conservative, hymns or contemporary Christian rock, when God’s people call on His name in praise and worship, He answers. His Holy Spirit fills the room, binding all together in unity.
I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. Psalm 34:1-3
Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Psalm 150
7. Go to Church to Serve
A desire for servanthood is not something many have (at least I know I don’t). And it may seem more like a deterrent from joining any church community than a benefit. But it is another thing that we are called to by Christ. In fact, we are not only called to it, but we’ve been given unique gifts by the Holy Spirit specifically for the place of service we were designed for.
Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed…There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts forms one body, so it is with Christ…But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:1,4-7,12,18-20,27
Its easy to sit at home and think that the church community has enough members, that you are not needed, and will not be missed. But you couldn’t be more wrong. My husband is currently experiencing a weird phenomenon of constant pain and stiffness in his left pinky. Nobody needs a pinky, right? Well, ultimately one could survive without it, but I’ll tell ya, when he bumps that pinky, or every time he sits down to type, he knows without a doubt that it isn’t acting right. The pain that shoots up his hand and down his arm is excruciating, and it keeps him from the full use of his hand.
The absence of the gift to God’s church community that is uniquely you, doesn’t go unnoticed. The community is in pain without it, and is not operating at full capacity.
8. Go to Church to Aligne your Priorities
This is one that I feel passionate about. But first, my disclaimer: If you are sick, injured, or are impeded in any way that is out of your control, from physically attending church, this point is not for you. If you try to make church attendance important, but sometimes life gets in the way with vacation, work, or any other life event that might crop up, this point is not for you either.
That being said, there are many who feel that church attendance is not a priority. Who cares if you’re actually attending service on Sunday morning, as long as you jump online at some point throughout the week, right? You couldn’t be more wrong.
God has set the expectation that we enter into a community of believers. When we choose to attend church together with that community, we are obeying Him by making accountability, support, sanctification, friendship, discipleship, worship, and service a priority in our lives.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33
Now, I want to be extremely clear. This is not an easy thing to do. There have been many, many mornings in our house where one of us has resented the Sunday morning routine, preferring instead to stay home. In some of those cases, we’ve literally had to drag the other out the door. But you know what? It’s usually on those mornings that we’ve needed to be there the most, and God has used our community, or the message, or the worship to get our attention, or to encourage us in the exact way that our hearts needed at that moment.
When we begin scheduling our lives to not include church community, we are making a statement about what is important to us. When obedience to Him is not at the top of our list, we are realigning our priorities in an unhealthy way, taking another small step off of the path.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:34
The Blessings of Church Community!
Church community is so very important. No matter who you are, you are not exempt.
Sanctification, exhortation to holy living, submission to sound teaching, and the celebration of faith through ordinances are all uniquely experienced in the church. In essence, they are what we get out of church. Collectively, these experiences help us know God better and reflect Him better to the world.Whitney Capps, We Over Me (Affiliate Link)
Beautiful things happen when we are going to church together. We are given the privilege of being blessed by others, as well as the privilege of being used to bless others in turn. This was God’s design.
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! Psalm 133:1