Last week we began our look at the purpose or mission statement of our church. We looked at the first two responsibilities: to Go into the world and to Reach the world with the gospel. In the course of our discussion I gave you several hopefully practical suggestions for how we can better fulfill God’s calling for us as a church and as individuals.
Many people seem to think that the first two statements are the sum total of what we are called to do. They are wrong. Getting people to receive Christ is an essential beginning . . . .it is not the end. Jesus called us to “make disciples” not just “get decisions”. It’s because of that clear Biblical mandate that our mission statement continues.
It would be a tragic thing to give birth to a child, hug them, kiss them, and then place them on a street corner and then walk away feeling we had done our part. And yet that is what we often do in the Christian life . . . we introduce people to Christ . . . we lead them to the experience called “being born again” and then we walk away. As a child needs to be involved in a family so do believers. And that family is called “the church”.
This morning we look at the importance of being a part of a spiritual family. Someone has said, “To begin our Christian life we must commit ourselves to Jesus Christ, to grow in our Christian life we must also commit ourselves to other Christians.” That’s what the church is: a group of people who are committed to each other because of Christ. So this morning we focus on the “A” of GRACE and it stands for assimilation.
This morning I will give you five reasons (I’m sure the list could be much longer) why it is important to be a committed part of a church family.
We meet Christ in a special way in Corporate Worship
In the book of Revelation (1:9-20) we read the account of John’s vision of Jesus. He sees Him standing among the lamp stands. The text does the interpreting for us, the lamp stands represent the churches. In a very real way Jesus is most real in the church.
In Matthew 18:20 we read these familiar words:
“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Jesus is present when the believers are gathered together.
Kent Hughes writes, “It is true that one does not have to go to church to be a Christian. He does not have to go home to be married either. But in both cases if he does not, he will have a very poor relationship.” (Commentary on Hebrews)
Our times of corporate worship heighten our encounter with God. That’s not hard to understand. If you were a lover of Contemporary Christian music you might love to listen to CDs with your headphones. You could hear the music clearly and the lyrics more precisely. However, if you are like most people you would most like to hear the concert live and in person. Why? The music is generally not as clear. We enjoy these concerts because of the excitement and enthusiasm that is generated by the crowd. There is clapping, singing along and even a little dancing. It enhances our enjoyment to enjoy the music with others.
The same is true of our worship. Celebrating the goodness of the Lord in the company of His people makes the music richer and the teaching fuller. God is present in a unique way in the gathering of His people.
The Church gives us the opportunity to show our love to God
A little old man was seen every Sunday morning walking to church. He was deaf, so he could not hear a word of the sermon or the music of the choir, or the hymns sung by the congregation. A scoffer asked, “Why do you spend your Sundays in that church when you can’t hear a word?” He replied, “I want my neighbors to know which side I’m on!”
Our involvement in a local church gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our love for God and it shows the world which side we’re on in at least three ways: First, by our commitment to weekly worship. We give our time to the things that are most important to us. When we make our weekly meeting with God a priority in our schedule we demonstrate the Lord’s importance in our lives.. When that weekly time is regularly sidestepped we also demonstrate the Lord’s importance in our lives.
A pastor was once asked to define “Faithful Attendance at Worship,” and this was his reply: All that I ask is that we apply the same standards of faithfulness to our church activities that we would in other areas of our life. That doesn’t seem too much to ask. The church, after all, is concerned about faithfulness.
Consider these examples: If your car started one out of three times, would you consider it faithful? If the paperboy skipped Monday and Thursdays, would they be missed? If you didn’t show up at work two or three times a month, would your boss call you faithful? If your refrigerator quit a day now and then, would you excuse it and say, “Oh, well, it works most of the time.” If your water heater greets you with cold water one or two mornings a week while you were in the shower, would it be faithful? If you miss a couple of mortgage payments in a year’s time, would your mortgage holder say, “Oh, well, ten out of twelve isn’t bad”? If you miss worship and attend meetings only often enough to show you’re interested but not often enough to get involved, are you faithful?
Our commitment to weekly worship speaks volumes to a watching world . . . and our watching God.
Secondly, we demonstrate our love for God by our service to each other.
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the famous story of the sheep and the goats. The way he separates the sheep from the goats is separating those who showed love to Him in practical ways and those who didn’t. When the people say they don’t remember seeing Jesus, he responds,
“You did it to me when you did it to the least of these my brothers.”
Our service to each other, our acts of kindness to each other are acts of kindness to the Lord Himself.
Third, we demonstrate our love through our giving.
In the book of Malachi God asks a penetrating question:
Mal. 4:8-10 Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ “You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Let me prove it to you! Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not shrivel before they are ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the LORD Almighty.”
In this passage the people are charged with robbing God. Why? Because they are not giving God the 10% of their income that He has said should be given to Him. And what’s more, the 10% is to be given to the “storehouse”, the temple . . .today it would be the church. Extra gifts go extra places, but the tithe goes to the church. That tithe enables the church to be sustained, ministries to be funded, needs to be met. But not only this. When we give God the first portion of our income, we prove our love to Him and “open the windows of blessing” from God.
Can you imagine what would happen if everyone brought their “tithe” to the storehouse? Our building addition would be paid off, needed repairs would be made, hurting people would be helped, missionaries would be supported and our budgeting would be based on what “should be done” rather than on “what might we be able to do . . .if we get the money.
Our checkbook says a great deal about our values. God is honored when we honor Him in our finances. What does our checkbook say about us when we:
- pay the cable bill
- the Internet bill
- the house payment
- the car payment
- buy new things for ourselves and our homes
yet do not give God His 10%? What does it say when we pay our bills but only TIP GOD?
The church gives us the opportunity to show our love for God in a tangible way through our attendance, our service and our giving.
The Church is where we find strength for difficult times
In Hebrews 10 the author talks about the difficulty of our spiritual walk and the necessity of persevering in our faith. He gives us practical help. He points us to the church. In verses 24 and 25 he writes:
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Do you see this? The author tells us not to give up meeting together . . .Why? Because He knows we are more susceptible to falling when we are alone.
If regular worship is a part of your life, and if you have made a commitment to a local body of believers then you know what the author of Hebrews is talking about. When you miss a week at worship you find yourself weaker, diminished, zapped of strength.
We draw strength from each other. In this place we find sympathy, encouragement, accountability, wise counsel. We strengthen each other by our presence and weaken each other by our absence. In this place we understand the concept of a spiritual battle. We know we will be overwhelmed if we face the enemy along . . so we march together. We understand that at times we stumble, so we are ready to catch each other if we fall. We celebrate the victories. We cheer each other on.
The Church is Where We Find Completeness
Paul writes in Romans 12:3,4
Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of his one body, and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others. (NLT)
Paul’s point is clear, we are incomplete when we are in isolation. We are whole when we are together. God designed the Christian community to be inter-dependent. No one can manage on their own. God has not given all His gifts and abilities to any one person. It is spread among a group. He wants us to need each other.
My son has been talking about football practice over the last couple of weeks. One of the things the coaches have been trying to drill into the heads of the team is this: everyone is important. No one can win on their own. The blockers need to make their blocks so there is a place to run or so the Quarterback has time to throw. The runners have to depend on the blockers to open a path for them. The receivers need to catch the ball. The quarterback needs to throw and hand off with accuracy. If any one of those players does not do their job, the play is broken and usually there is a loss on the play.
We don’t all do the same jobs. But we are all important. We may not be the people in the spotlight but we matter. But our service is incomplete without the others. You can be the best blocker in the world but if you aren’t blocking for anyone it doesn’t mean a thing. The only way we can win is to be part of a team . . . the church.
The Church is a Laboratory for Christian Living
The apostle John said: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 Jn. 3:16-18)
You might be able to learn about hope and peace by yourself but you cannot learn about love in isolation. We can’t learn about forgiveness, dealing with anger, becoming compassionate in solitude. We need to have people around us. The church gives us a community of people to “practice on”.
A Pastor tells the story,
I was in the supermarket one day, and a lady came down the aisle whom I could barely see over the top of her groceries. I got somewhat frightened because she seemed to be heading straight for me. She screeched to a halt within a few feet of me, peered over her load, wagged her finger, and said, “I left your church. I left your church”.
So I said, “Well, if it’s my church, I think that was a very wise decision. If it’s my church, I think I’m going to leave too.”
She said, “Don’t you want to know why I left?”
I said, “No, not particularly, but I think I’m going to find out”. And I was right.
She said, “You weren’t meeting my needs”.
I answered, “I don’t ever recollect seeing you before, let alone talking to you, let alone knowing your needs. Did you ever tell anyone specifically what your needs were?”
She couldn’t recall that she had, so I raised another question. “Can you tell me, if we have 5,000 people sitting in that church, all with your attitude, how anyone’s needs are going to be met? If you reserve the right to have that attitude, then you must give everybody the freedom to have that attitude. And if everybody has that attitude, who on earth is going to do all the need-meeting?”
Standing her ground, she demanded, “Then you tell me who will.”
Relieved, I said, “I thought you’d never ask. This is what will work: when people stop sitting in the pew saying, ‘They’re not meeting my needs’ and start saying, ‘Whose needs can I meet?’ Then needs will be met. When the servant spirit flourishes in a congregation, then they minister to each other as unto the Lord.” — Servant, January/February, 1989
The church is to the Christian as the battlefield is to the soldier. It’s the place where all the talk turns into action.
I hope from these five things you see the importance of being united to a Church family somewhere (why not here?). If we want to grow we need the church. If we want to maintain our spiritual health, we need the church. If we want support in difficult times, we need the church. And so do the people we reach out to. We must GO to them, REACH them with the Gospel and then ASSIMILATE, integrate, them into the Christian community. If we don’t, they will not survive. Our goal, remember is not to “get decisions” but to “make disciples”.
In light of all we have said, what do we do? I suggest two things. First we have to look at our personal involvement in the church.
In this day and age I have done many (too many) weddings of people who were currently living together. For all appearances they are man and wife. And yet I am amazed that no matter how much a couple will justify living together, there is still something special about their wedding. They say they were committed to each other before . . . but they don’t take the marriage step quickly. Why? Because they know there is a difference in the level of commitment. When they were not married they could walk away if things got hard. In marriage they are committed to working together “in better and in worse”.
That’s the difference between attending church and belonging to a church. One is convenience, the other is a commitment. One is a game, the other is serious. One is easy to walk away from. The other is not. In one you are giving part of yourself, in the other you are committing all of yourself.
I know that there are times when marriages fail. There are also times when people must change churches. There are times when the church and the individual have grown in different directions. There are times when a person needs more than a particular church can give. These times happen . . . but not as much as it seems. We can be more committed than we are.
So what about you? Have you experienced the joy and delight of being a member of God’s community of believers?
- are you committed to the church or are you just a spectator?
- What does your church attendance broadcast to others (and the Lord) about your spiritual commitment?
- What does your service say about your love for Jesus?
- What does you checkbook tell you about who/what occupies first place in your life?
Do you need to change your involvement in this church? You need the church . . . and the church needs you. It’s time to stop “living together” and to enter into a “commitment” of love with the people of God. It’s time to become a full-fledged part of the family.
Second, we must take our role as a church seriously. Are we doing what a church should do?
- Are we a supportive family?
- Are we honest in our worship?
- Do we accept broken people or keep them at arms distance?
- Do we recognize that everyone has something to contribute?
We must look for ways to integrate new people into the fellowship. Too many churches are “closed” to newcomers. The doors are open but the people don’t feel they are wanted at all. If we want to be an open fellowship let me suggest a few things:
- make an effort to invite new people to worship and to join your particular group
- make an effort to welcome visitors
- be aware of newcomers to the group (be careful of God-talk that we understand but newcomers do not; be alert to people new to Bible Study . . .they can’t flip quickly to references and don’t know stories by heart.). Treat them with consideration.
The church is not a building . . . it is a people, who have been irrevocably changed by God; who have joined together to bring honor to the one they call King. May God help our family grow and may He be honored in all that we do.