As a millennial who works for a church, it’s not uncommon for 90% of my conversations with people I’ve just met to be an explanation of their feelings towards the local church. In fact, I joked the other day that a lot of my dates end up with me giving church recommendations (oops).
For some, its that the prospect of going to the local church feels painful – they’ve heard things from the pulpit that have felt more like personal attacks than pastoral wisdom, they feel that the church has taken the sidelines in issues that they should have intervened in, or their experience of church has looked more like political division and less like the Body of Christ. For others, attending church simply feels like one more item for a week that’s already packed with work, kid’s schedules, family needs, or home projects.
Often, the conversations I have with people who have chosen to not attend church result in something like, “I don’t go to church, but I do listen to podcasts/watch the sermon online/get devotional emails.” All of those things are great – I love watching my cousin James preach on Facebook Live from his church in California – but they’re simply not a substitute for plugging into the local church.
I’m a firm believer that, even despite its imperfections (it is, of course, made up of imperfect people in desperate need of a Savior), the local church is critical to our well-being and, at its healthiest, is the best hope for our community. Here’s why the local church still matters:
Spiritual Formation is More Than Hearing Great Preaching
It’s not a secret that I’m incredibly passionate about great preaching – I think that something powerful happens when God’s Word in spoken in ways that make it approachable and transformative for people’s lives – but the church is more than great preaching, and our spiritual formation is more than sermons on Facebook Live.
At its best, the church is the most radical form of community available for us today. It’s a place where people are given an unshakable identity in Christ – an identity that cannot be given or lost based on job title, relationship status, neighborhood, or educational degrees. It’s a place where people are radically generous, unusually forgiving, surprisingly hospitable, shockingly welcoming, and counter-culturally self-sacrifical.
It’s a place where we learn to be the Body of Christ and do the will of the Father – not just on Sundays, but in our workplaces and homes, too.
When Jesus demonstrated the way that we can live into our identity as sons and daughters of the living God – heirs to the Kingdom He had made – He did so with great preaching, yes, but also with healing, demonstrations of unusual community, and a deep sense of identity given to His followers. When we follow in His footsteps, we do so in community with others who, too, are seeking to be more like Him.
Accountability is Our Only Hope to be More Like Christ
Hebrews 10:19-25 reads:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 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.
As temptation lurks not on our doorsteps, but on our phone and computer screens, in our workplaces, and in our relationships, the accountability and input offered only by community is one of our primary lines of defense. It is through the meeting of the local church that we are reminded of two important facts: (1) no one is immune to sin, and (2) we can come alongside one another to pray and keep one another accountable to not be beat by the things that could destroy us.
When the Church Meets, It Sends A Message
The early church was brave and countercultural. Their courage to meet in the face of persecution and their involvement in their community – in particular, their treatment of widows and orphans – was second-to-none. The church is just as critically countercultural today.
In a world that is increasingly technologically connected and personally disconnected, the meeting of the local church reminds us that we are created for community. Its meeting sends a message that the faith that we profess is so worthy of investing in that we are willing to take time out of busy schedules and pressing deadlines to come together as the body of Christ. It demonstrates that, in a world in which chaos reigns and headlines depress, the hope we profess is still worthy of being held on to.
Do we believe as strongly in the church’s mission as our brothers and sisters worldwide who risk their lives to meet in basements and dark alleys?
Jesus > Entertaining Messages and Insightful Podcasts
In Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman quotes WorkLife, Inc.‘s Doug Spada to say:
From this day forward, I would like you to think of your local church as an aircraft carrier. […] It’s only as the carrier arms, equips, briefs on the battle plan, fuels the jet and then launches the pilots out on their mission that they assume their maximum dominion. […] Unfortunately, many of our churches operate like a cruise ship. Think about it, what do you do on a cruise ship? You go to be entertained, you eat a lot, there’s very little accountability. And think about a cruise ship: it goes out, hits a couple points, and comes back to the very same place—rarely advancing forward into new territory.
At its healthiest, our local churches are the primary places in which God’s people receive their mission plan and fuel to launch well in every other area of their life. I’m convinced that without community, accountability, and a deep sense of the value of this place that we call the church, your (and my!) chances of burning out, crashing, or confusing your mission plan only increase.
Have you found a place like this?