Katie was 33, single, and deeply in love with Jesus. I remember asking her, “Where do you go to church?” She smiled and said, “Well, I have three main churches. I go to Rez Church for weekend services because I love the music. I am in a small group at Community Church over on the North side of town — the people are so nice. And I enjoy the singles ministry at Stone Brook Church.” Then, as an afterthought, Katie said, “Oh, and I love the concerts over at Sunrise Church!”
I paused as I pondered her answer and then inquired, “But where do you go to church? Where do you invest yourself, serve, give, and do community as a member of God’s family?” Katie looked at me with kindness and some confusion in her eyes and said, “I’m not sure what you mean.”
We went on to have a rich and meaningful conversation about the value of being connected to a local body of Christians. We discussed the importance of connecting deeply and consistently with a group of believers where we can love and be loved, serve and be served, know and be known, celebrate and be celebrated.
At the end of the conversation, Katie admitted that she really looked at the church as a place to get her needs met and that she had not gotten engaged in serving, helping others, giving, or really going deep relationally.
Brendon was serious about his faith, loved to read the Bible, and had some strong Christian friends. He used to go to church faithfully, but his college years had been rough on his church-attending rhythm. Now he was in his mid-20s and had never gotten back to a lifestyle of regularly gathering with a Christian community of believers.
Sometimes he thought about looking for a church to attend, but he told himself that loving Jesus was enough. His friends would invite Brendon to attend their church, but he thought, I read my Bible and pray. I’m close to God.
Both Katie and Brendon were dealing with what many young people face. They were seeking to understand their relationship to this unique spiritual thing called the church. They both understood they were saved by grace. Both realized that, in a very real sense, as Christians, they were part of the church of Jesus: They were children of God, saved by grace, and adopted into the family. So why feel the need to connect in a local church and put down roots in a specific body of believers?
I’ve asked this same question for the 35 years I have been a follower of Jesus. As a pastor, I still ponder this question.
What You Can Gain and Give
Some years ago a publisher pressed my wife and I to deal with this question for six months when they asked us to write a book titled, Finding a Church You Can Love. We talked, prayed, and said, “Yes, we will write the book with one condition.”
I think the publisher was a little surprised but asked, “What’s your condition?”
We explained that we did not want to write a book that would lead people to selfishly look for a local church congregation that would simply meet their needs and make them happy. Instead, we wanted to write a book that challenged people to find a church where they could be loved, learn, grow, and find fellowship. And we wanted people to be serious about discovering a church home where they would be challenged, serve, sacrifice, love others, give, and pour themselves out for the sake of the Savior who died and gave everything for them.
The publisher agreed to our twist on the project, and we changed the title of the book to, Finding a Church You Can Love, and Loving the Church You’ve Found. Since that book was published, I have continued to reflect deeply on why a follower of Jesus should find a church to love and love the church they have found.
Here are my top seven reasons we should all be part of a congregation of Christian believers. And, as I am sure you can guess, not all the reasons are about making me happy and improving my life. God has something much bigger in mind.
1. Knowing and Being Known
In a time when virtual relationships and friendships can feel vacant, we all need a place where we are known and really know others well. God has designed His church to be such a place.
Among the people of God, you can be yourself and still be loved as you grow to be more like Jesus. It is also a community where you can know others deeply and call them family. As a bonus, in the church we can meet people and see their character, love for Jesus, and how they treat people.
I have three sons, and two of them are married. Both met their wives as they were part of a church family together. In the safe place of the church, they watched, learned about, and got to know their wife-to-be.
2. Generous Giving
Some people avoid going to church because they get irritated that they are asked to give and be generous. I think this is backward thinking. Left to ourselves, we can become self-centered, self-serving, and small-minded. When we are in community, we are called to invest in a mission bigger than the next personal acquisition.
3. Sacrificial Service
Every local congregation needs hands and hearts that are ready to serve. By definition, local churches that follow Jesus will help the poor, care for the needy, and serve one another. This is what Christians do. A church can have 55, or 500, or 5,000 people, but there are always lots of needs to meet and service to offer.
When you are part of a local church, you hear about these needs and can follow Jesus on the lifetime journey of sacrificial service. In the local church, we hear the call to be on mission right where we live and to the ends of the earth.
4. True Family
I grew up in a home with no Christian faith. When I became a follower of Jesus and became part of a local church, I found spiritual parents, brothers and sister. To this day, more than three decades later, many of these same people have an important role in my spiritual growth and life. I would have missed these enriching relationships if I never put down deep roots in a local church.
5. Learning and Immersion in God’s Word
A church that honors Jesus will teach the Bible and call us to read the Scriptures every day. This deep dive into the truth of God will transform our lives. When we are in community weekly with a body of believers, the Scriptures come alive and exhort, encourage, convict and instruct us.
6. Conflict Management and People Skills
The church is people, and no church is perfect, because people are frail and flawed. You will learn more about navigating the challenges of relationships as a member of a local church than anywhere else on the planet.
The years I spent in a church, growing close to imperfect people, was my best preparation for marriage. It really was. This might shock you, but I married an imperfect person and so did my wife. Living in close community with people in the church, and not leaving when things get tough, will earn you a master’s degree in marriage preparation.
7. A Weekly Party
I don’t know about you, but I love a good party! I think gathering with God’s people, every week, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, to sing songs of praise, to talk with the Living God in prayer, to share fellowship with others, to serve in community, and to feast on God’s Word is the best party of all. Why miss it? Why avoid it?
As a fellow follower of Jesus, I encourage you to find a church you can love and love the church you have found. It will change your life.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 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” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Copyright 2015 Kevin Harney. All rights reserved.