CROSSING OVER ♦ CHURCH
The book of Ephesians is a wonderful overview of God’s redemptive plan for humanity. Jesus, having brought salvation to the human heart, purposes to transform all the peoples of the world into one spiritual tribe. The word “church” derives from a Greek word meaning “those called out.” In the Christian sense, it refers to those who have been called out of sin to live for God.
The Church is universally comprised of all cultures, nationalities, races, and languages, God-given heritages that are our contribution to the world. But in the spiritual kingdom God is building on earth, these diversities cease being our foremost characteristics. New spiritual diversities given to us by the Holy Spirit now distinguish God’s people, all of them dominated by love.
Thus, the church is more than a building or gathering. It is a people, the people of God. Church is you because you are one who has been called out. That ends the argument for people who say they don’t need church or organized religion. They miss the point. Church is who and what we are existentially in Christ. It is God’s idea.
The Community of Faith
Further, the Church leads the charge on earth for the kingdom of God. The apostle Paul explains that God has made it the repository, or storehouse, of Truth, his saving truth, and we bear the responsibility of defending it. That’s your role, too. People who wrangle about attending a worship service misdirect their focus and fail to understand the church’s role in the world and for them.
With that said, I’m telling you now to get up and GO to church! The beauty of life consists in our shared relationships. God has eternally enjoyed abundant fellowship within himself—Father, Son, and Spirit. He created humankind to be social and capable of enjoying fellowship within itself in the same manner.
The church, moreover, is where the redeemed fellowship together with their God as a people rediscovering their human dignity. Church is about community and the shared presence of God. It is a dynamic interaction of believers that exceeds our personal weekly spiritual habits and acts of worship. It is the people of God in the presence of their God, and it really should be a heaven-on-earth experience!
I hope you notice the words I’ve used: fellowship, spiritual body, community, interaction, experience. We go to church (a place) only because we are the church (a reality). Don’t get hung up on a building. The earliest Christians used to gather by riversides and in homes to hear the gospel message. This is not about huge sanctuaries and glitzy productions. It is about Christ filling the temple of our hearts and his explosive power transforming everything in and around us.
Your new life will launch when you get involved at a local church, and hopefully you have found a place you love. If church is who and what Christians are, then church programs (services, groups, etc.) serve to edify them. There are so many benefits of attending church.
Here at the start of your Christian life, church plays a major role in providing growth resources for you. Everything from Sunday School to Bible classes to discipleship groups are at your disposal. There is simply no reason for you to not grow in faith and God’s word. Hopefully, you are already in a new believers class; if not, you need to find one. Many churches also have various support groups that cater to personal life issues and are based on the scriptures. Church will expose you to good Bible teachers and literature you probably should consider listening to or reading.
The Many Benefits of Church Attendance
Church is the place where you can see the Christian life modeled. One purpose of this study, if you’ll recall, is to help you understand how to do what you understand yourself to be. You will mingle with Christians of all ages and spiritual depth at church. You will hear what God is presently teaching others and stories about God’s faithfulness to them in the past. Being in other Christians’ presence is instructive and will teach you what godly behavior looks (and doesn’t look) like.
This is interesting because you’ll discover that the church is as colorful as society. If your image of a Christian is someone who wears black all the time, mutters “Jesus” in every other sentence, and doesn’t believe in lighthearted fun, well you’re in for a surprise! You will meet radical-looking youth with deep, godly wisdom and grandmas and grandpas with a robust spirit of joy. If you want to see Christ, look for him in the diversity of his people.
Church is where you can find accountability. Other believers that counsel and listen to you are able to make you responsible for your scriptural interpretations, ideas, behavior, morals, and ethics. In fact, the spiritual habits of guidance, confession, and submission largely focus on accountability of this kind. Everyone needs accountability, even the pastor of the church. It’s not a bad thing either. It helps define us. A person that intends to become fit will exercise his or her body, and steady exercise will make that person lean. If we intend to be lean in our spiritual life and purpose, we need godly people and habits that cut away the excess that makes us inefficient. The Holy Spirit’s correction and oversight of us makes us fitter persons, and we should welcome it.
I encourage you to seek out people who can help you live the Christian life. Find a faith friend or prayer partner. Look for someone with a passion for Christ, his word, and discipleship. They could be anywhere around you—in a class, in the section where you sit, or leading a support group. Spiritual connections like this are direct ways of maintaining accountability and growing in Christ. Now don’t ask a person to be your faith partner. You may scare them away! Just befriend people and let a spiritual relationship evolve. I also advise that this person be of your gender.
Church is where we put our spiritual learning to work, so get involved. Too often people join churches and do no more than attend Sunday morning services. God has called us to action. Jesus’s final words to his disciples were that they go preach, teach, and baptize in his name; and they certainly didn’t fail at it. You are not growing in spiritual practice just for yourself. God requires ministry of you, in the church and outside of it.
Hear the scripture: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16). The body ministers to itself and so grows. You are part of the body, and God is relying on you to share what you have learned about him and your Christian experience. There are new Christians that you will be able to help. There are veteran Christians, too, who need to hear something from your experience. Do not limit what God can do through you.
You Have a Ministry
Your involvement and contribution will bolster your confidence in your ability to minister. Most of us don’t consider ourselves ministers or think we have anything worth sharing—until we do share it and see people marvel or weep because God spoke to them through it. Like the fish and the loaves, what seems insignificant to us becomes a miracle in Jesus’s hands.
You already possess spiritual insight just from your conversion. There are many similar things about all of our conversions, but all of them are completely unique. God called each of us in different ways; some of us responded immediately, others of us ran away. Now looking back, we realize how much we’ve learned about ourselves and God in the process.
This is the kind of message you can share right now, and I’m telling you that God will save other people with it. But that is the point of it all. You are a disciple of Christ with the task of making new disciples and teaching them how to live for God so that they can do the same thing. You cannot avoid this duty because it never changes.
Finding YOUR Church
Now what should you look for in a church? Above all, it should honor Jesus Christ as God and Savior. It should have high esteem for God’s word, build disciples, embrace all people, and be geared toward ministry.
Find a church that works for you, a place that fits your personality and offers the qualities and services you desire. Everyone doesn’t want (or need) a church with thousands of people—and there’s nothing wrong with big churches. Also, there are different worship styles to choose from: liturgical, traditional, contemporary, Pentecostal, and others (see Glossary). Churches of a certain style are likely not fully that style and definitely none are alike. There are blends, which actually makes churches more enjoyable. So you will have to visit many places often to determine what you like best.
I encourage you to take the time to educate yourself about a church. It’s not the same thing as buying kitchen cabinets or a car; however, you should put just as much effort into your selection. Don’t feel bad about the length of time it takes to find your church. Just don’t settle for somewhere you don’t like. We do this sometimes because a church is perhaps our denominational affiliation, family church, or the closest one to us. But God has a church family just for you where he wants you to grow and contribute. Ask him and he will show you where it is.
When you get there, go to work! This is now your immediate family in Christ. Support it with your prayers, attendance, advice, money, participation, leadership, and enthusiasm. Also, remember that no church is perfect. Sometimes you may discover things you don’t like or that you should avoid. Steer clear and pray about them, even be questioning; but don’t let these things run you off and definitely don’t take your eyes off Jesus.
On that point, remember that Jesus is whom you serve. Although God honors leadership and expects your proper submission to it, no one in leadership, including the pastor, should possess enough power and control over you to divert your attention into any sin, to reject essential doctrinal truths, or to turn you away from Christ entirely. We have too often witnessed people turn from God because a leader took advantage of them or went astray themselves. That should never happen and can rightly be assumed as part of the purpose of this study: to establish you in Jesus until the day you see him face-to-face. He is worth everything—no turning back, no turning aside.
God’s Purpose & Your Responsibility
God’s purpose is that you understand your role in his grand redemptive plan that climaxes with his Church. He desires that you find fellowship, growth, and mission among your Christian brothers and sisters. Your purpose is to find a church that you like, attend it, and get involved.
INPUT: (For those without a church) research churches in your area. You can usually learn much from a church’s webpage (if available). Select four to visit over the next month on Sundays, through the week, and for special events. (For those with church homes) search yourself and determine the reasons why you belong there. Consider whether you’re satisfied. If not, what more are you looking for? Is it enough reason for you to consider another church? Or would your involvement help the situation? OUTPUT: You will approach church membership informed and be more satisfied with your final decision.
Daily Bread: Church
1 Timothy 3:14-15—“I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”
Hebrews 10:23-25—“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.”
Matthew 16:13-19; 28:16-20; 2 Corinthians 2:15-17; Ephesians (the book); Philippians 3:1-14; 2 Peter 1:12-19