Let’s continue our thinking about the local church, in God’s great purposes.
It is very easy to give up on enthusiastic involvement, because it isn’t what we would like it to be. Some Christians become disappointed because, in spite of all their input, in service, prayer, money and time, the results they have hoped for just don’t come. So, they quietly withdraw, concluding that church isn’t worth the hassle. Others see only faults in the organisation, the preaching, the music — especially the music! — and 100 other variables. If I can’t remake the church in my image, the way I want it to be, I’m not playing — I’ll take my bat home.
Sometimes, there is more than a little justification for all this. Leadership and management structures can be crass and ultimately alienating. Church leaders can become dominant overlords, empire builders who expect everyone to dance to their latest enthusiasm. People can be abused by their churches. If that is so, then the time may be ripe for a change. It is not a sin to change churches, though it can be a toxic habit to become a ‘church hopper’, always looking for the perfect (non-existent) church. But if leadership is dictatorial, even brutal, like the shepherds of Ezekiel 34, it will be right to look for another church.
No opt out
What we cannot do is to opt out. ‘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’ (Hebrews 10.25). An unchurched Christian is a contradiction in terms — unless he is on a spiritual desert island! What we need to realise is that each individual’s participation and contribution is vital to God’s plans and purposes for each local church. There seem to be two major ingredients to this.
Firstly, we need the fellowship of other Christians, to strengthen us for our daily lives in the world. We gather in order to scatter, but to do so from a position of strength and vitality. Each of us impacts every other part of the local body far more than we usually recognise. A critical spirit of negativism will quickly spread, like yeast through dough, whereas a cheerful positive spirit can encourage others to be thankful, to count their many blessings and to trust God’s unchanging faithfulness, day by day. Even our attitude has an impact on others, for good or ill, before we consider the effect of our words and actions.
Every church should compile an inventory of the gifts, talents and skills of its members, so that we can use whatever time and energy we have for building up the body of Christ, in the most effective ways. If you are operating in an area for which you are gifted, you will enjoy your Christian service and you will find that the energy flows in. Sadly, the opposite is equally true. But the more involved you are, the more you will be fulfilled, through loving service, which is Christ’s pattern for his people. And the more you will feel that your contribution is worthwhile in bringing your local expression of Christ’s body a little bit nearer what a local church should be.
So, what should it be? This is the second aspect of God’s plans. The church should be a demonstration on earth of the transforming power of the gospel, taking people from the widest variety possible of backgrounds, ethnicity and experience, and fashioning them into a united body of loving servants, who express the gospel of Calvary sacrifice, in everyday reality. It is the alternative society; the greatest evidence in this world of the power of the gospel to transform and renew. It is a declaration to all the hostile forces of evil that Christ is the victor, that evil will finally be extinguished and that God’s Kingdom rules, now and for ever. ‘God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished [already!] in Christ Jesus, our Lord’ (Ephesians 3.10-11).
That is why the local church matters so much. It is the greatest evangelistic tool that we have, because it is the fleshing-out in transformed lives of the realities which the gospel message proclaims. No wonder the enemy will do all he can to fragment and destroy it, or to persuade us that it really isn’t worth investing in! Yet, the city of God remains. That is our eternal destination, so let’s get involved here, in time.
David Jackman writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.
This article was first published in the November 2011 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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