When the school year begins, we send off many college students to other cities who are searching for the perfect church. We also meet college students invading our community looking for the same thing.
If I actually found a perfect church, it would no longer be perfect once I joined it.
In reality, I know and you know there is no perfect church because there are no perfect people. We should however look for the best church with which to plant our lives. I encourage those students to look around at churches for a maximum of 2 months before committing the next 4 years or so of their lives to a group of people. They might know the first time they encounter the church, but it is good to put a time limit on it so it doesn’t stretch into a complete college experience of church hopping.
Not just college students need to know this. All ages need to find a church with whom to commit.
When it comes to church involvement, you and I have a few options:
- Neglect. If you don’t see it as valuable, you will not make it a priority.
- Hop. Depending upon your preferences, you just go around to different churches your entire life.
- Spectate. When you visit churches, it is wonderful when the service is excellent, engaging, and memorable. Unfortunately, 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.
To belong to a church, you have to change the American perspective. They realized that they were not going to church, but they were the church.
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.
What Is a 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.
A church is not a place you go but a people to whom you belong.
How Do You Pick a Church?
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.
1. 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 is church hop, you will miss out on the family of God that Jesus intends for all believers to possess.
2. 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.
3. 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.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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