I’ve heard it said that if there was a perfect church out there, you’d just screw it up when you started attending. That is a comical picture but there is truth in the statement. As independent Americans we live in a day and age where you can gorge on sermons all day long without even getting up from your chair, getting fat on the word and never working it off. It’s easy to start listening to passionate, biblically sound preachers on YouTube and Sermon Audio and think to yourself, “Do I even need to go to church at all?”
The idea of solo believers gone rogue from the local church was unheard of in the early beginnings of Christianity (with the exception of being sick, or in jail; not because you were too tired to get up early- ahem). The writer of Hebrews tells believers,
“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.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Okay, maybe God has already sufficiently encouraged you in His word and through prayer, but is it possible there may be someone who needs some of that encouragement shared with them? Is it possible someone may need some of the money God has blessed you with? Some of the hope God’s filled your heart with? Perhaps another Christian needs your God-given strength to stand?
That brings us to the topic of spiritual gifts. In his letter to the Romans (12:6-8) the Apostle Paul lists several possible gifts; prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, and mercy. I’ve heard it said that God doesn’t give everyone gifts. No, that would be calling Paul (and ultimately God, since all scripture is God-breathed) a liar. All people are given spiritual gifts by God; not just for themselves, but to strengthen the body of believers. When a part of the body decides to stay home the body just doesn’t function as well. We may not notice a lone finger deciding to sleep in, or one ear favoring Netflix on the couch. But as more and more body parts go MIA the entire body is going to start looking deformed, and eventually it won’t even function any more. Just imagine if the liver thinks, “No one even notices I’m here, I feel invisible!” and decides to exit? It won’t be pretty.
God has also called men to lead His people; through preaching the word of God and by their example as they model their obedience to Christ. The writer of Hebrews (13:17) exhorts,
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”
How can an online pastor keep watch over you, if they don’t even know your name? How can your local pastor keep watch over you, if you’ve never officially submitted to their authority through church membership? Imagine a shepherd with a flock of sheep, but some belong to Bill down the street, some just show up because the shepherd makes really great coffee, and some are only sticking around until the shepherd holds them accountable to their responsibilities as a member of the flock, and then they’re out. Let’s help our leaders by showing up to be led. Let’s help him when we see false teachings start to enter the church; let’s help him by PRAYING for him and his family every week. Some day he will have to give an account for his leadership; let’s help make that task not a burden but a joy, to the best of our abilities.
Now, to clarify, there are legitimate reasons for not being a part of a local church. The only church in proximity to you may be engaged in heretical teachings, or you may suffer from a chronic illness, or you may have experienced genuine abuse within the only church near you. In these cases YouTube and Sermon Audio may be your best bet for the time being. But don’t give up looking. Don’t give up praying that God will help you find a local body of believers that you can serve with, to the glory of God.
But if you do have access to several local churches, find one that teaches the word of God and plant roots. Sure, you’re going to come across people who believe differently than you. You may have different political preferences, and different core values, and different eschatologies (end time beliefs). You may argue, and bicker, and struggle. There may be days where you want to abandon the local church and their issues, put on your pjs, and spend Sunday mornings watching powerful preaching without the drama of real life people, feeling perfectly justified because “they” are all wrong. But think about this; God loves all His children. Those who confess salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone are family. And in all families there will be difference of opinions as well as competition for their Father’s attention and favor.
To share a personal anecdote of this, I became friends with a talented, wonderful woman years ago. We got along great and never had a thing to argue or fight about. Then three years ago she became a Christian, and one year later I unexpectedly became a Christian. You would think that we would become closer than ever, right? Well, we started having little spats off and on. It was never anything serious, but one day I was walking into the post office wondering WHY we were having issues when we never did before, and the answer just smacked me right in the face in the form of a thought, “Because you’re sisters now.”
So yeah. Church may be messy, but what families aren’t? Who knows, the very thing that is frustrating you about your local church may be the reason you are there, to bring change and correction. Maybe you’re there to learn patience, and perseverance. Maybe you’re there to teach and instruct. Maybe you need to learn grace, or forgiveness, or how to be humble. Maybe you just need to work off some of the spiritual meat you ate online during the week. Heaven knows we all need to be there to take the Lord’s supper, remembering Jesus until he comes again, as a family who is waiting for their Savior to take them home.
Regardless of why you’re there, please just be there. Why? Because my dear Christian, going to church is never only about you.