More and more Christians are deciding that regularly going to church no longer makes sense. They love Jesus, read their Bible, and pray; but do not see the importance of going to church. “Isn’t it more convenient”, they argue, “to stay home and listen to Christian radio and watch a sermon on TV? Aren’t I doing the same thing?” While all the things just mentioned are good; they are not replacements for the church. In this lesson we will discuss why being connected to a local church is an essential (not optional) aspect of your spiritual growth and how we can make the Church a priority in our lives.
What is the Church?
We must be very careful when we speak of the Church. The Church is not a building or a Worship Service. The Church is “the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit.” The Church is important to Jesus. He died for the Church (Acts 20:28). The Church is Jesus’ Plan (Matt 16:18), Jesus’ Bride (Eph 5:25–27), Jesus’ Body (1 Cor 12:27), and “God’s household…the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Jesus’ Church gathers throughout the world as local congregations.
Why Do We Gather as a Church?
The Church is important to Jesus; therefore, it must be important to us. Sadly, the church is not important to many Christians in the United States because our society has become very individualistic. Zane Pratt correctly stated, “We tend to stress individual relationship with God, but undervalue the corporate relationship of the church.” In other words, while our Christian faith is personal, it is not private. We must be personally reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and Jesus intends for our Christian growth to happen in a Christian community (i.e., a local church). Therefore, being connected to a local church is essential (not optional) for spiritual growth. Consider that, while some of the letters in the New Testament are written to individuals (Timothy, Titus, etc.), most of the letters are written to churches. The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) was given to the Church. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances (a command from Christ) of the Church. The Church is very important to God and “the church is the primary means through which God accomplishes His plan in the world”.
We, the First Baptist Church of Scott City, MO, understand this. This is why our Constitution states that our purpose is “to promote the interests of the Kingdom of God by evangelizing the unsaved and seeking the spiritual improvement of its members through the Gospel as set forth in the New Testament.” We gather to worship God and help one another grow in spiritual maturity. Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us “let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” God has planned that our spiritual growth and sanctification occur in the context of the local church. Jesus intends for His followers to gather together for prayer, singing, preaching, evangelism, correction, and to help one another.
What is a Healthy Church?
Notice that we are speaking of healthy churches and not perfect churches. There are no perfect churches because there are no perfect Christians. What makes churches healthy? For far too long the determining factors used to gauge health were “nickels and noses”. The two questions asked were: How much money did we collect (nickels)? and How many people showed up (noses)? While churches should praise God for every nickel and nose, these factors can be very misleading. Are larger churches healthier than smaller churches? What about music? Are churches playing modern Christian songs healthier than those who only play hymns (or vice versa)? What about the building? Can church health be determined by the age of the carpet or whether the sanctuary has chairs or pews? Sadly, many churches fight over these things and are unhealthy.
What makes a healthy church? Healthy churches are comprised of healthy Christians who are committed to the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) and the Great Commandment (Matt 22:36-40). Healthy Churches have healthy members who value:
- the Bible as the perfect treasure of Divine instruction,
- Worship that is authentic and glorifies God,
- Prayer that is authentic, persistent, and guided by faith,
- the Dignity of all mankind who are made in God’s image (Gen 2),
- Good works that glorify our Father in heaven,
- Forgiveness and they forgive one another as they have been forgiven by Christ,
- Discipleship that results in all nations obeying all that Jesus commanded and who are more focused on making Christian disciples rather than Christian consumers.
What is a Healthy Church Member?
According to Thom Rainer, here are 6 aspects of being a healthy Church member:
- Be a functioning church member. We are not members of a country club. We did not join in order to have people serve us. We are members of the church of Jesus Christ who are charged with making disciples. 1 Corinthians 12 uses the imagery of a human body to describe a local church. Just as a human body needs functioning members (arms, etc.), so too the church. Every member of a church is given a role or function and is valuable and necessary. If a member ceases to function, the body suffers.
- I will be a unifying church member. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Do we truly love one another? We must commit to being willing to forgive others and be forgiven by others. Nothing destroys unity more efficiently than gossip. Are you “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3) or fighting for your desires and preferences?
- I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires. Everyone has desires and preferences but we must never let them cause divisions in the church. The church belongs to Jesus, not to us and we are to serve rather than be served.
- I will pray for my church. If you believe that prayer is important, please pray for your church because it is under constant spiritual attack. Pray for God’s protection on its leaders and members. Pray for all the ministries that occur on Sunday and during the week. Pray that everyone would love one another and share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who are not Christians. Pray for unity.
- I will lead my family to be healthy church members. Healthy Churches are comprised of healthy Christians and healthy Christians flourish in healthy families. Take time during the week to pray together as a family, to read the Bible as a family, and to prepare yourself for worshiping together with your church.
- I will treasure church membership as a gift. I will not neglect the gathering of the local church. A gift must be treasured and we must always be thankful for it. When we are thankful for something, we have less time and energy to complain about it. Yes, the church is not perfect, but neither are you. Even if there are problems in the church, you must remember that you are called to be a solution, not part of the problem.