When it comes to church involvement, you and I have a few options:
- Neglect. Statistically, this option is the preferred choice of the majority of college students. Only 20% of your college peers that were active in church during high school remain active in church during college. The rest of your classmates are sleeping in indicating either church has nothing relevant for them or they just personally don’t have the commitment level needed.
- Hop. Depending upon your relationships, you just go around to different churches your entire life. If you grew up in a stellar church, this is probably the category in which you will find yourself. Your expectations are so high, which they should be, but you find yourself unable to commit to one because the preacher isn’t as approachable as your old one or the music just doesn’t do it for you. You hop from church to church.
- Spectate. When you visit churches, it is wonderful when the service is excellent, engaging, and memorable. It’s fun and the people you met there are very friendly. You love it. You walk in late, you sit down, enjoy the service, walk out in the parking lot, and you never ever commit to that congregation, and they don’t even know if you are there or not from Sunday to Sunday.
- Belong. This category is for the person that found an imperfect church, and upon realization that he or she was imperfect as well, jumped in with his or her heart, commitment, time, service, money, and prayers and never looked back. Sure there were things they wished might have been different, but most of those issues were preference related and they had their roots in selfishness. Maybe the other issues that weren’t preference related were the very reason they were at that church – to be a positive change-agent. They realized that they were not going to church, but they were the church. They decided to get committed.
In order to give Jesus weight in this area, you must get committed to a local church.
Don’t go to church – be the Church.
Before I help you find a church, I want to make sure you know what a church is essentially. Upon Peter’s correct response to Jesus’ inquiry concerning his identity (Matt. 16:16), Jesus told the disciples that he would build his church in such a manner that nothing could overpower it (Matt. 16:18). At this juncture and for a significant time following this incident, Jesus’ followers had not yet constructed any buildings in which to gather a community of believers. In fact, many Christ-followers in the first years of the church’s inception were unsure if separation from the Jewish religion was even necessary. In the middle of Christianity’s early days, the early church had not yet prescribed essentially what a church was theologically.
Through the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament, believers are to understand the church to be the community of all true believers for all time. The New Testament word for the “church” was ekklesia, which simply implied a group gathering or assembly. The word was not originally a religious term as much as it signified a group meeting together for a common purpose. The term is used 111 times in the New Testament. Seventy-three of those times it is specifically referring to the gathering of people, but never does it refer to a building.
As Christianity expanded geographically and exponentially, the writers of the New Testament began to use different inspired illustrations to describe the church. Through these different images, the church was able to better theologically grasp its identity and its purpose during its time upon the earth.
If Christ loved the church enough to die for her and intends to grow this church during its tenure on earth, then it is imperative that believers truly understand the biblical descriptions of the church.
To better understand the church’s function and complexion, one must look at the differing images in an attempt to fully comprehend all of the ensuing implications.
The Family of God. Due to the commonality and the applicability of this illustration, it is still one of the most frequently used terms by Christians to describe the community of believers. At the head of this family of God, Paul clearly stated to the Ephesian church that God was the church’s true, constant father. Since the church’s kinship originates from each individual’s relationship with his or her father, Paul stated that believers are to treat one another as brothers and sisters. If a person associated himself or herself with God, that person was also assuming a role as a member in God’s family.
For the church to understand completely its role as the family of God, the implications drastically change the way the individual members respond to one another’s needs during times of crises. As a family, Christians are expected to behave like members of a loving home by further embracing actions in order to love one another better.
As a family, a local church body is to constantly remind its members that to be called the family of God requires that each member is concerned about the needs and spiritual welfare of every other member.
Bride of Christ. Another image utilized to describe the church in the New Testament is the bride of Christ. When the Apostle Paul described a healthy, godly perspective on the relationship between a husband and a wife, he referenced the loving relationship between Christ and the church. Paul called husbands to love their wives sacrificially in the same manner in which Christ loved the church, his bride. In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul described an intense love of Christ for the church as he actually is depicted as betrothing the church as his personal bride. More than just reluctant obedience, as the bride of Christ, Jesus expected his church to passionately desire to obey his commands in order to please him. The love of God is evident in the life of a believer when he or she obeys Christ’s commands, and those commandments are no longer deemed as burdensome.
As Christ’s very own bride, the church is to be found faithful only to him and never swerving in allegiance and devotion.
Branches on a Vine. Nearing his imminent sacrifice upon the cross, Jesus emphasized that the church’s function was to be viewed as branches on a vine.
The church is never to mistake its identity with Jesus, but believers are always to view their role as an extension of Jesus.
Jesus’ image of the church serving as branches on a vine should cause believers to rely more completely on him for their life and power support. Only if Christ’s disciples remained attached to the person of Jesus will they even be able to produce any fruit for the kingdom. Jesus exhorted his disciples to understand that apart from the life support of the vine, the branches could not do anything on their own. The branch is actually useless if it removes its attachment to the vine. In this image of the church, Jesus emphasized that the only way the church could ever accomplish great tasks for the kingdom is if they constantly reminded one another concerning their dependancy upon Christ.
Body of Christ. Another image that Paul utilized to describe the church was that of the Body of Christ. Paul desired to show the Corinthians that all of the members of the body were gifted and they all had a specific role in the body. The imagery of the body of Christ should cause believers to recognize the need for one another. A mutuality exists between members of the body. Members understand that they encourage or hinder one another’s growth. By emphasizing the church as serving in the role as the body of Christ, Paul celebrated the unified diversity represented in a local church. As Jesus’ physical body was manifested during his personal ministry on earth, the church, serving as the body of Christ, is now his ministerial representation on earth.
The immense range of gifts represented within the church displayed the need for one another, but it also showed God’s ingenuity concerning the differing types of gifts and special places within the body. The spiritual life of believers was never intended to be viewed solely in a personal context.
As the body of Christ, believers are constantly to be mindful of the expected interdependency they have upon one another.
The Buildings. The authors of the New Testament also record different building imagery for the church. While they never viewed the church as a specific building, the authors did use buildings as illustrations to explain the theological implications of the church. As the church members construct the building structure, Paul reminded them that the church could be built on no other foundation than Jesus Christ. Peter described church members as living stones of a temple built upon the cornerstone, Jesus Christ. As his temple, the church should be aware that Jesus’ presence is constantly among its members when the believers gather together. As they gather together, God expects them to offer spiritual sacrifices to God.
How Do You Pick a Church?
Now you know how the Bible describes a church; how do you go about picking between all these different churches? While you will not be able to find a perfect church, I truly hope that you can find a great one. When I counsel people about committing to a church, I want to make sure they can say that the church is the perfect place to belong, to grow, and to serve.
Belong. You desperately need to find a church to which you can belong. Speaking theologically, you can’t go to church since you are a part of the church. It is not a building; it is a body. You are a part of the Body of Christ, so when you find a church, you are simply committing to one section of the larger body.
Don’t go to church – be the Church.
Anne had transferred to the college in our town in the middle of her college career. She initiated meeting with me concerning church membership. She would only be in town for a couple of years, but she was feeling a prodding to join our church. The size of our church was such that not many would even recognize if she had not become a member, but she stated, “I don’t want just to attend casually over these two years. I want to commit to this church so I can grow and give myself away.”
I wish all Christians had that concept down. While you can attend a church and actually be involved in its ministry without signing a piece of paper, the absence of formal commitment always tends to lead people to pseudo-community. Without any commitment, it is easy for you to attend occasionally and to serve sporadically. When you join a church, you are indicating to that family that you belong to them and they belong to you. You want their help in your accountability. You want them to pray for you, to walk with you, and to serve with you. If all you ever do in college is church hop, you will miss out on the family of God that Jesus intends for all believers to possess.
Grow. Not only do you need to find a place to belong, but you also need to find the best place where you can grow. Just because a lot of people attend a church doesn’t mean that people are growing.
Crowds do not necessarily indicate discipleship.
Is the pastor committed to the Word of God? Do the messages attempt to change lives? Is there a strategy present for discipleship? Your involvement in a local church should produce nothing less than spiritual growth. While you play a huge role in how much biblical information you apply, a church should deliver biblical instruction in an attempt for your corresponding application.
I would also recommend that your plan for spiritual growth includes more than attentiveness during a sermon. In my experience, those who grow the most are those who are involved in some type of small group experience tied to a local church. This extra step provides you with a chance to move past an informational sermon to a transformational message. In a small group setting, you are able to apply head knowledge into the different areas of your life.
Serve. Do not fall into the temptation of becoming a spiritual couch potato. If you have ever uttered the words concerning church, “I just didn’t get that much out of it,” you have totally missed the point. As a part of the church, you are meant to give yourself away. It’s interesting that so many people want a church that solely supplies good information.
I had many friends in college who would come back from services and said, “I just wasn’t fed today.” When people make statements like that, they are referring to someone giving solid, “meaty” teaching. When Jesus talked about getting “fed,” it’s very interesting to note that he spoke of doing the will of his Father as his food (John 4:34).
Jesus never equated spiritual nutrition with hearing the Word but rather doing the Word.
While you need to find a local church to which you can belong and where you can grow, you must find a place to serve in ministry. While you may not feel that you have that much to contribute, you must understand that Christ has gifted you specifically to meet a need in a local church as a member of the Body of Christ.
If you have ever played the game Jenga, you understand the importance of each part. When you first begin, removing one piece from the Jenga board doesn’t shake the whole structure, but the more you remove, the more unstable the structure becomes. If you neglect getting involved in a local church, it may not shake the structure with just your absence, but what about when others drop out too? If God has wired you in a particular way, you must understand that God has a particular place to get you involved within the ministry of a local church.
I love the local church because Jesus loves the local church.
He has ordained the church to be the instrument through which he reaches the world, and if you want truly desire to grow in Christ, the local church is essential to your development.