Christians tend to be skittish about the church. I feel like much of my ministry revolves around convincing Christians of their need to belong to a local body of believers, to commit themselves to its community, and to submit to its discipline and teaching. Though I’m able to convince some, others drift into the lone-ranger mentality that is characteristic of much of what is called spirituality today. Instead, many Christians take a more eclectic approach, creating their own spiritual regiment like consumers bouncing between storefronts in a mall.
For worship, I can sing with the radio to my favorite worship songs.
For preaching, I can stream my favorite podcast preacher.
For Bible study, I could join one of the parachurch organizations capitalizing on the lack of biblical teaching in so many churches.
For community, I can join a facebook group of Christians in my tribe.
For missions, I can give to or pray for one of the many missions agencies.
The plethora of options has produced an á la carte approach to discipleship, which has created a problem unique in the history of Christianity—churchless Christians.
In addition to many believers mirroring the hyper-individualism of our generation, some have become disenfranchised with institutions. They have seen corruption in the church or have been wounded by an unhealthy church. The crisis of harmful or abusive churches is a tragedy that needs to be addressed. But, problematic and sinful churches ought not to lead us to reject the church entirely. Through all her failures, Christ preserves his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her.
I can attest from my own experience that when God’s people wound you, it leaves a gaping spiritual wound in your soul. Our hurt does not justify our disobedience to the Scriptural mandate to assemble regularly with other Christians. Cynicism about the church is the fruit of the seed of bitterness. As we respond to a hurtful church experience, we must not boycott the church and go rogue. Instead, we seek out a healthy church, a church committed to the gospel, the authority fo the Scriptures, and who longs to shepherd your soul and nurture you in the Lord. Life is too short and entirety too long to be in an unhealthy church.
How the Church Helps You Grow
If the local church ought to be the epicenter of your spiritual life and discipleship, how does the local church help us grow in Christ?
The local church expands your vision of God’s work. The gospel is about God saving a people. Rather than making the gospel about us, a local church helps us see the corporate dimensions to God’s work of redemption. Through community, we comprehend the scope of his purposes as a member of his people.
The local church provides the opportunity to display the fruits of the Spirit. In the idealized picture of ourselves in our mind, we are the most humble, the most patient, the most kind. However, spiritual fruit does not exist in the imagination, but in the messy reality of the local church. The saints of God will try our patience and expose our pride, shattering our own delusions of spiritual grandeur. Thus, the local church helps us grow in godliness by providing the people to test our growth and refine us by fire.
The local church channels the means of grace into your life. Our souls need the food of the preached word. We need the prayers of God’s people. We need the reminder of the gospel in the Lord’s supper. The local church bestows these means upon us, and God uses them to sanctify us.
The local church holds us accountable. As a member of a local church, your life is known by believers who love you and watch out for you. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13). We need the careful watch of a local church and its discipline. It is how the Lord empowers us for perseverance.
The local church provides spiritual models. We need examples who show us how to follow Christ, and in the local church, we can find spiritual fathers and mothers who model godliness for us. By placing ourselves in their mentorship, the Lord will help you grow in Christ-likeness.
The local church partners with us in mission. Within the local church, we will be equipped for the purpose of God and sent out into the fields to harvest alongside other co-laborers. As we lock arms with other Christians in the work of evangelism and missions, the local church becomes the missions outpost to support you and partner with you in the great commission.
No Replacement for a Local Church
There is no replacement for the local church in your Christian life. You need the people of God. Instead of assembling a smorgasbord of spiritual resources for your personalized spirituality, invest yourself in a solid local church that will nurture you in the Lord. You will not come up with a better plan for your discipleship than one God has prescribed for you. Do not neglect “to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:25).