I meet more and more Christians who have simply given up on church. Maybe you are one of them. You’ve been disappointed by a leader, disillusioned by division, or just can’t find a place you belong. Through COVID-19 quarantines, perhaps you settled into a new routine of watching your favorite pastor on YouTube and listening to Hillsong on a Sunday hike. That’s worship, right? With the best music and teaching available on your smartphone, it’s easy to forego the hassle of going to church or the heartache of investing in a place that might disappoint you.
Many of us have been rethinking church. Why does it matter? What does a healthy church look like? What’s the purpose of church? I want to share with you five reasons why being involved in a healthy church is a critical part of following Jesus.
Individualism is one of the blindspots of our current culture. Companies spend billions of dollars curating experiences and content that will connect with your desires and preferences. All day long, we absorb subliminal messages that life is all about you. Without even realizing it, we can translate that into our relationship with God. He loves me. He wants to use me. He wrote the Bible to me. While God absolutely cares about you and deeply knows individuals, His primary work is through people, not just a person.
When you regularly gather and serve with other believers, you will constantly be reminded that you are part of something bigger. God’s story is much greater than your specific part in it. In fact, your unique journey will only make sense once you see it in light of the greater work that God is doing around you. When I interact with God’s people, I see people who are suffering when things are going well for me. God says, “Weep with those who weep” Romans 12:15 (ESV). Other times, I witness God’s divine intervention in someone’s life when my faith is shaky. Church reminds me that I’m not alone and that God is always working around me. Being with God’s people will help you put your own story in context of the greater story.
One of the main ways we put a smile on God’s face is to gather together to worship Him. Worship and praise are offerings to God. He loves it when He sees His children putting aside their differences and distractions to offer a joyful noise to Him.
Our worship is not just the “warm up” for the sermon. It is a literal offering to God. You can praise the Lord in the privacy of your own home or car, but there is a greater celebration when you worship with other believers.
In God’s goodness, this sacrifice of praise also blesses us. Singing to God releases endorphins and dopamine into your body, giving you a sense of peace and happiness. Interestingly, when we sing together, we also experience a release of oxytocin, a hormone that bonds people together with feelings of love and closeness.
America is experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, medical and psychological experts voiced concern about rising rates of anxiety, depression, and alienation. According to a survey published by Cigna in January of 2020, more than three in five Americans reported feeling left out, being poorly understood, and lacking companionship.
The Church is meant to be an antidote to this alienation. The Bible consistently uses the language of family (son, daughter, sister, and brother) to describe how intimate our relationships within the church are supposed to be. Are you looking for a mentor? Someone who understands your journey and can encourage you? Are you looking for a potential spouse? Do you long to nurture children or invest in people’s lives? Your smartphone can never provide that type of intimate relationship. Church should be the number one place we connect with people in this way.
Notice that the family relationships described here require that you be involved in a church, not simply attend. And remember: when you put people together and they move past the pleasantries, you will run into differences and disagreements, like family. There is no perfect church. This is why so much of the New Testament emphasizes how we are to treat each other in the Family of God. Forgive. Give grace. Be patient. Accept people’s faults. Above all, let the love of Christ bind you together.
Friend, you may have experienced deep heartache through previous experiences in a church. If this is your story, I’m so sorry. There is a time to separate from unhealthy relationships and communities, but don’t give up on finding a safe church.
Just yesterday at church, I thanked a woman who had recently joined the worship team. She replied, “I joined mostly because I need the accountability.” She went on to explain that without being involved in church, she had wandered from God’s Word and had begun making poor decisions in her relationships.
God’s Word encourages us, but it also rebukes and corrects us. Attending a church that is faithful to His Word will bring you back to truth on a regular basis.
On top of that, God intends fellow believers to be “up in each other’s business,” gently and lovingly correcting one another. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” Proverbs 27:6 (ESV). In healthy churches, pastors, counselors, and mentors engage in discipleship, which may include discipline for a Christian who is willfully engaging in a pattern of sin. How many marriages, families, and lives might be different if Christians took discipleship relationships seriously?
In Ephesians 4, Paul writes about the spiritual gifts that God gives believers. God gave gifts of teaching, preaching, evangelism, shepherding, and many others for the purpose of equipping the saints for the work of ministry. Paul goes on to explain that when Christians use their spiritual gifts together, the people of God will be mature in love and not tossed about by every new wind of teaching. Bringing maturity to the church is not just your pastor’s job. You have a part in it too!
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, God has given you gifts that are not meant for you to keep for yourself, but intended for you to exercise for the sake of others. The primary place you use those gifts is with other Christians. Young or old. Male or female. Single or married. God has given you gifts and perspectives that your church needs.
When you spend time engaging with people at church, they will see your gifts and encourage you. You will begin hearing things like, “You are so encouraging. Every time I’m with you, I just feel better.” or “You have a true gift with teenagers. They are drawn to you.” or “You explain things in a way that just makes sense.”
I discovered my spiritual gifts not so much in school or even in private practice, but by serving alongside my brothers and sisters. They continually help me see how God has gifted me and where I am most needed in the work of God.
There should be no lone warriors in the body of God. You were meant to be connected to God’s people. When you commit to a church, think beyond the consumer mentality of “Does it meet my needs?” Invest in God’s people because God loves His Church and commands us to be part of it.
Photo by Tom Ramalho on Unsplash