A popular meme features the peaceful picture of a rowboat and these words: “Religion is a guy in church thinking about fishing. Relationship is a guy out fishing thinking about God.”
The philosophy affirms another popular idea: “I don’t have to go to church. I can worship God anywhere.” The idea sounds appealing some days, but is it true? Why does being part of a church community matter?
Church matters because all parts are needed for God’s mission.
“The body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. … God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. … The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you’” (1 Corinthians 12:14–21).
Nine years ago, doctors told me I needed a kidney transplant. Kidneys are required to get rid of the things that would otherwise poison you. This body wouldn’t have lasted long without a kidney.
God made the church like a body on purpose. He made it so one person who sees well (spiritually speaking) can see what others can’t. Another person who has a passionate heartbeat for justice wakes up others who are less “heart.” Someone who hears the culture around her gives others her insight.
It’s part of His nature — the Three-in-One God. When we act like a body, we act more like Him. When one part isn’t contributing ideas, service, personality or time, the church’s mission isn’t complete. Not being a part of it is a much bigger issue than just an empty seat in Row 4.
Church matters because it’s God’s hothouse for growth.
When Jesus says His disciples will be known by their love for one another, He presupposed that we cannot represent God outside of community. If we’re trying to be followers of Jesus solo, we’re failing. We may be displaying a great person to the world, but they don’t need another great person. They need a place where not great people can learn to be whole.
The local church is the hothouse for nurturing robust seedlings that become plants that feed and beautify the world. Church is the incubator where the baby gets the strength to go out and be who he was created to be.
The church is the place where God planned for His people to learn from one another, practice how to live together, and show the world what a God-breathed family looks like. Yes, we have podcasts for learning, but they do not replace face-to-face messy interactions with fellow followers who need us as much as we need them to sharpen one another toward holiness.
“Solitary religion is not to be found,” John Wesley wrote. “‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness.”
Church matters because God uses our failures.
The church deserves some of its criticism. We have looked at others like HGTV projects that need a lot of work and are already over budget. We have been friendly but not loving, inviting but not welcoming, a group but not a community. We have fought over minutia and neglected to fight for what mattered. We have accused younger generations of compromise when all they’ve done is made us uncomfortable.
But maybe God wants to use that pain to make His church a better place. A hurt person who stays can make sure the next person who comes through the doors does not end up hurt. Hurt people can teach His people better lessons about empathy and wholeness.
When God designed the church, He called us a body. He had in mind a people who walked together, toward the same place, with the same goal. He did not have a picture of individual eyes, noses and kneecaps lying around telling one another, “Hey, I’m OK. I’m worshipping God over here my own way. But it’s all good.”
The church is intended to batter the gates of hell. It’s a glorious adventure to be a part of together. It’s supremely ineffective as a lone person, smacking the gates with a baseball bat. Jesus laid down His life for the church, for us, and He asks us to be His image here until He comes.
1. Why do so many people believe they don’t need church?
2. Would those doubters feel welcome in your church?1