I just came from a Bible study full of leaders from around the Denver area. This gathering was not organized through a local church but through a Christian business leader. It was a great time of fellowship, learning and conversation.
The participants around the large conference table had an open and very robust discussion about the role of "going to church" in the life of a Christian. The consensus seemed to be building toward a "we don't need a church, we are the church" kind of mentality.
Many of those who were in this study had been burned by the local church and were tired of trying to earn their spiritual "brownie points" of attending church services every week and being expected to be involved. Some had been frustrated by the legalism or spiritual apathy in many of their former churches. Others were sick of the focus on the building and not the mission.
As the conversation unfolded there came a point where I couldn't hold my tongue any longer (surprise, surprise.) While I agreed with many of their frustrations and challenges with the local church I couldn't shake the theological reality that the church is the bride of Christ.
A sure way to get a punch in the nose from a loving husband is to say something negative about his wife. How much more saying something negative about the bride of Christ himself!
Yes, the church has her problems. But, as my friend Dave Gibson always says, "The church is God's Plan A for reaching the world. There is no Plan B."
So here are 4 compelling reasons you should get off your blessed assurance and get back to church:
1. God commands us to "go to church!"
"And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." Hebrews 10:25
Even in the early church there were those who were neglecting meeting together in a local church setting and, as a result, were straying back into their old lifestyles. So, through the writer of the book of Hebrews, God gives us a very clear command, "let us not neglect our meeting together...."
Some may say, "Well, that doesn't have to be in a local church context," and my answer would be this: Sure, there are other ways we can assemble in addition to meeting in a local church context, but our gatherings must include participating in a local church congregation.
Put another way the author of Hebrews was saying, "Keep going to church!" A Christian who doesn't go to church is a soldier without an army, an ember without a fire, a bee without a hive.
We are not meant to do this thing called "life" alone.
And, if you look throughout the New Testament, it is the church which is the primary vehicle of our togetherness. The epistles were written to local congregations. The seven letters of Revelation contained in Revelation 2 and 3 were written to churches. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."
If it is Jesus himself who is the chief architect, builder and champion of his church, let's not dare to prevail (or rail) against it!
2. The local church should be the central hub for encouraging and being encouraged by our brothers and sisters in Christ.
"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds...." Hebrews 10:24
The local church is the primary place we should "spur one another on toward love and good deeds." How do we do that? By praying for each other (Ephesians 6:18), encouraging each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and using our spiritual gifts to build each other up (1 Peter 4:10,11.)
The local church is where we can serve others but it's also a place we can be served and encouraged. Verse 25 of Hebrews 10 lays out why we should go to church. It's so we can "encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near."
I'll never forget when I was a pastor of a local church in Arvada, Colorado. Although I was the preaching pastor I was having trouble in my marriage. It took a meltdown in a Bible study twenty something years ago to get it all out in the open and, as humiliating as it was, it saved our marriage. The church members came around my wife and me and supported us through that challenging time. The church saved my marriage.
We need encouragement, accountability and an outlet to serve others. The local church provides this like nothing else can!
3. We must be under the spiritual authority of leaders in a local church to guard our lives and theology.
"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." Hebrews 13:17
Those Christians who live like Lone Rangers when it comes to their spirituality are in danger of getting shot in the wild, wild west of the world system. We must not live like rogues, refusing to put ourselves under the spiritual authority of a local church. We need encouragement but we also need accountability. And this is the reason God set up spiritual leaders in the church, to keep us on track.
Paul wrote about the need to establish spiritual elders in every local church that they had planted together. According to the Apostle these elders "...must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." In other words our local church leaderships is there to encourage us to grow and to keep us on track theologically and spiritually.
I've heard people say, "I don't need a local church. I have a group of Christians I meet with on a regular basis and that is my church." But, according to the Apostle, it's not technically a local church until elders are in place. That's why Paul wrote in Titus 1:5, "The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you."
Qualified, godly, Spirit-appointed church leaders (not just a group of Christians that meet together regularly) are necessary for a church to be considered a "real" church. And we must be willing to submit to these spiritual leaders.
Of course there are times when leaders go off track. Sometimes we may have to make the hard decision to switch churches as a result. But, by and large, we must be willing to be under the spiritual authority that God himself has appointed—leaders of our local churches. It's for our own good!
4. Our support of the local church advances the gospel locally and globally.
"In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace." Colossians 1:6
In this passage Paul is writing to a local church planted by a guy named Epaphras. This disciple had probably heard Paul preach in the school of Tyrannus in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10) and was so inspired he went back to his hometown and planted a church in Colossae.
How did the people of Colossae hear the gospel? Through a church plant! How were people across the world hearing the gospel? Through church plants!
From Century numero uno A.D. the spread of the gospel message has been primarily through churches being planted and revitalized. Every Great Awakening worth its salt has had local churches smack dab in the middle of it. Every missionary movement that has made a lasting difference has launched and/or engaged local churches to drive the efforts.
Again, the church is God's Plan A. There is no Plan B!
And remember, I'm writing this as the Founder of Dare 2 Share, a para-church organization! I go to a local church but I'm not leading a local church. Our mission is to "Energize the church to mobilize their youth to gospelize their world!"
I don't view our ministry in any way as a competition with the local church. Our role is to wash the feet of the Bride of Christ, strap on her boots of readiness, put the sword of the Spirit in her hand, turn her toward the battlefield and gently push.
Our greatest accomplishment will be the day that the mission of the church was so effectively being accomplished through the church that our efforts were no longer needed. That's the day we could close our doors as a non-profit because the church was getting the job done. Until that day, I will fight for the church and I will do my best to see her be all that she can be so that she can accomplish all that God wants her to accomplish.
So please don't give up on the church!
We are commanded to support her with our time, talent and treasure! We must help her be all that she can be. Stop looking for the perfect church (because there are none!) and start getting involved in a good, local congregation. If there are problems (and there will be) then become part of the solution. If there's brokenness (and there is) then bring healing. If there's legalism (which there may be) bring grace.
This is the very bride of Christ we're talking about here brothers and sisters! Let's stop complaining about the church and start going and growing like never before!