Last time we considered the importance of having quality time with fellow believers. This probably makes sense to many of you. But it also raises a question which I rushed by in the previous broadcast. Someone asks: “Can’t I have quality time with other believers without going to church?” and adds: “To be honest, I get more out of Christian friendships than I do out of church.” Believe it or not, even though I’m a pastor, I resonate with this question. I love my early morning walks alone with God, the wise Christian books I read, and the honest, open talks I have with my closest Christian friends. Emotionally and spiritually these touch me in a way that time spent in the local church seldom does. So let’s talk about it: to church or not to church, that is the question! Let’s begin with the negative angle – the advantages of not committing to a local church.
What I gain by not being part of a local church; by staying home
1. Staying home gives me more free time
Life is busy. Church attendance, at minimum, requires at least an hour and a half and lots more if we serve in various ministries or attend a small group. Just saying “no” to church frees up time to sleep in, time to spend with family, and time to get a few projects done. Wouldn’t most of us say “Amen” to that?
2. Staying home saves me money
It costs a bit of money just to get to church and then, when you arrive, before you know it, there’s an offering plate headed your way. Now, it’s not necessarily greed that makes them ask for your money. It’s expensive to build, heat, and maintain a church building, stock it with supplies, and hiring a pastor isn’t cheap either. Nevertheless, if you don’t play, you don’t pay. So why not stay home and save a buck?
3. Staying home minimizes heartache and hassle with other believers
Salvation doesn’t guarantee perfection – at least not in this stage of life. If you’ve spent much time in a local church you know what I mean. Christians are often loving and kind, but we don’t always reflect Christ. We can also be cranky, judgmental or just plain stubborn. Even godly, gracious believers, still have strong views on faith and practice which sometimes differ from the strong views of yet other godly believers. So it takes a certain amount of work, forgiveness, and gritty perseverance to stay with a church for a long time, especially if you plan to get involved and not just slip in and out of the back seats. Why not avoid all this by staying home?
4. Staying home allows me to sidestep the failings of the institutional church
The worldwide Christian church, down through history, and even at the present, has had its share of blunders. Sometimes it’s like one of those embarrassing cousins whom we pretend aren’t related to us. So when unbelievers make fun of the church, it’s handy to be able to say: “I have nothing to do with the local church. I stay away from organized religion and just follow Jesus.”
These are tempting reasons to back off from hanging around the local church, but, nevertheless, in my opinion, the local church is still the best option for serious believers. Let’s look at the other side of the coin.
What I gain by making a strong commitment to the local church; by getting up and going
1. A strong commitment to my local church puts me in harmony with biblical teaching
Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing. . .” Yes, I know, it says “meeting”, not “local church meeting” and it doesn’t tell us when and how often to meet. Nevertheless, as we look at the New Testament, it’s filled with local churches-Philippi, Ephesus, Corinth, Galatia, etc. Jesus, in the book of Revelation, writes to the seven churches. And Paul focuses almost all of his time building churches, instructing them, and supporting them. There’s no record of individual Christians who skip the local church and just meet other Christians once in a while for coffee.
2. A strong commitment to my local church makes all the strengths of a local church available to me
Christian fellowship, on any level, is a good thing. By all means, talk with other believers over the phone, meet for coffee, and encourage Christian co-workers. But one on one fellowship will never replace the local church. The local church provides a full range of gifts for our benefit – gifts like encouragement, teaching, mercy, service, leadership, shepherding, and many more. Each of these gifts blesses us in a different way. In addition, the church offers a variety of ministries – Sunday School, music, counseling, men’s and women’s groups, and so on. The church also provides a place of accountability where others keep track of how we’re doing spiritually and encourage us to stay strong. Finally, the church furnishes role models – other believers who model how to live out our faith in marriage, at work, at church, etc. So much of what God wants to give you is channeled through the church. If you ignore the church, you’ll miss a lot.
3. A strong commitment to my local church allows me to be most useful to God and to fellow believers
When people say: “I don’t need the church,” I sometimes reply “But the church needs you.” It’s not all about us and what we need. In 1 Corinthians 12:7, Paul says: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” “Common good.” Your gift is meant to be used for the benefit of other believers in the local church. When we stay home, our gift is mostly wasted – like owning a beautiful violin that gathers dust sitting unused on a shelf in a dark closet.
4. A strong commitment to my local church helps to keep it solid
It’s easy to criticize the church, but are also we willing to make the church better? If we’re patient and loving, if we’re willing to get involved, we can have a positive impact on our church over time. God’s Spirit will speak through us and there are some who will listen. And, as the church grows toward Christ, everyone benefits, both inside and outside of the church. You can make a difference in your church.
On a church bulletin board someone posted this announcement: “This is a segregated church – for sinners only. All welcome.” That about sums it up, doesn’t it? A church is a bunch of sinners sharing the grace of God together for our mutual benefit.
The local church, despite its flaws, is still one of God’s major tools for strengthening believers and reaching a lost world. Furthermore, in my experience, it’s very rare to find a truly mature believer who’s chosen to opt out of the local church. Will you choose, not only to attend, but also to be a committed servant in the local church? You need us and we need you.