One of the most encouraging people in our church congregation in Toronto is a man named Peter Walleri. Peter has been with our Discovery Pointe Church family almost since the very beginning. When he first arrived we were still meeting out of a local Boys and Girls Club at 2 PM on Sunday afternoons. Peter happened to see a sign for our church and decided to attend. In his words, the moment he stepped in our small congregation of 10 people he felt at home.
Unfortunately, the local church has received its share of knocks the past several years. Gone are the days when attending a church on Sunday was the norm. In a previous post, I noted how it is estimated only between 5% – 15% of Canadians regularly attend a church on Sundays. In Canada and the United States, it is fading from being the popular gathering place where people connect.
As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg states, church was once a strong connecting point in local communities. He goes on to point out, “It’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.”
I would wager that Zuckerberg’s perception of the local church reflects the vast majority of North Americans today. The local church to many people is no different than a social gathering or a glorified little league assembly for adults. And hey, if that is all a local church is, sign me up to join in the decline of Sunday morning attendance!
There are believers like Christian author Donald Miller who are done with the local church. They might refer to themselves as “Big C” church people. Because they are part of the universal church of Christ that exists throughout all time and eternity, they see no need to be a part of a local body of believers. Statements like, “We just need to get back to what the early New Testament church looked like.
But author Scott Sauls makes a marvelous point when he writes:
Many who are disillusioned with the church today romanticize the early church, not realizing how broken things were then as well. Take Corinth, for example. As the most prominently represented New Testament church, Corinth was also a dysfunctional mess. Factions, harshness, divisions, adultery, lawsuits, divorce, elitism, classism, and neglect of the poor were just some of their issues. The famous “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13 was written less as an inspiration and more as a rebuke, because each love attribute was something that the Corinthians were not. They had trampled on the ideal of what Jesus’ church should be—an infectious community of prayer, truth, love, justice, and mission (Acts 2:42-47).
Local churches have never been perfect. They have always been messy. And honestly, the last thing non-church attending Christians want to hear from pastors is a cutting guilt trip that would shame them back into attendance.
I think of the local church a bit like I view a local fitness gym. Great athletes recognize the importance of working out with others. They invest thousands of dollars in trainers. Hypothetically, they could physically perform almost all of the exercises they might do in a gym at home. Yet, they recognize the power of community, encouragement, and strength that comes from being closely connected to others who have similar ambitions. If they work out on their own, it’s going to be tough to be a well-rounded athlete.
Its the same way with the local church. Sure, we can hang out at home with our Bibles and check out the latest sermon podcasts on our iPhones. And for a period of time, we might not notice much difference. But just as having the right habits in exercise are life changing physically, having good habits spiritually are life changing as well.
Here are five reasons I love the local church a lot:
1) Christ Established It.
Having a local church wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t an American or Canadian tradition I can choose to reject or dismiss. It was Christ’s idea. It was his means of bringing the gospel to the world. When I look back on the history of God’s interactions with humanity, I am constantly amazed at the people and means by which he accomplishes his purposes. Now a lot of my friends would look on and say things like, “Well the church is so messed up these days!” I can’t disagree. But God likes to work in the mess.
2) It Reminds Me Whose I Am.
Engaging in a local church and attending Sunday worship reminds me of the powerful reality that I am not my own. I was bought with a price by God. Life is not about me. And I need that reminder! North American culture screams at me six days a week to make life all about myself. Sunday worship is so meaningful to me because as I look around at others who are worshipping along with me, I remember that I am a PART of the body of Christ. I am not the entire body.
3) It Confronts Me With the Joys and Pains of Others.
Isaiah 58:10-11 states:
If you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
I love this and need this reminder. Being a part of a local church confronts me with the joys and pains of my fellow warriors of the faith. As Isaiah 58 points out, contrary to what I used to believe, there is a special strength that comes when we pour ourselves out to others. I have witnessed this personally. I cannot tell you how many times Janan and I have been discouraged, but then we heard someone’s story — often a painful one. As we sat and listened and cried with them it was amazing how our spirits were lifted. Could it be that some of the deepest pains God wants to heal in our lives might not come through longer moments of individualist prayer but as we pour ourselves out before others?
4) It Helps Me Not Be Quite So Wacky.
There are few things more humorously painful than listening to a person expound on subjects in which they have had no training. I shake my head at the man who has a cure for everything but has never read a medical textbook in his life. I take with a grain of salt the advice the overweight couch potato has for coaching Lebron James. I moan for the life coach who wants to help everyone else get their life in order, while their personal life is in shambles. While going to church will not ensure you do not develop wacky beliefs, I believe that not attending a local church will ensure you pick up some. When I am healthily engaged in the lives of other believers, I am able to bounce my ideas off of others and see what they think. One of greatest lessons one of my favorite professors, Dr. Allan Brown, taught me was that while everyone might have an opinion, everyone’s opinion is not equally valid. Many times I have thought something sounded great in my head. Then I shared it with another fellow believer. Almost before I finished sharing I wanted to pull that sentence back into my mouth and ask for a retake! Getting around other believers has helped me get over a great number of wacky ideas because it forces me to talk through what I believe.
5) It Was the Key Reason All My Siblings Serve God Today.
I cannot thank my mom enough for her tenacity in getting each of my siblings into church. She did whatever it took to get us around great Bible teaching. Many times this meant driving 15-18 hours to take us to Christian camps or weekly conventions. Today, all five of my siblings love God. I watch as all of their kids are so tender to the voice of God in their lives. Without the local church in our lives, I have little doubt that this would not be the case. Mom was serious about church. We went Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and every special service our church hosted. Admittedly, I did not always appreciate this! I slept through some and dreamed about being at the hockey rink through others. But through this all mom taught me this one important truth, being in God’s house mattered. It was at the top of our priority list each week. When company came in town, we went to church. If sporting events collided, we went to church. I have little doubt that if the Prime Minister himself wanted to visit our house on a Sunday Morning that Mom would have consented…but only after we had taken him to church!
Now, am I suggesting that to skip church a week and go on vacation will suddenly throw your spiritual walk with God into utter confusion? Of course not. But long-term patterns ultimately define who we are and who we become. In his book, The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy convincingly demonstrates the power of good small choices over time. Skipping church a week does not destroy you in the same way that attending church one week does not save you. As a child, I saw what my parents valued through their actions. My guess is my children will be the same.
Our habits ultimately reveal who we are. For me, the joy and long-term benefits of engaging in a local church are so great for my life and family that I cannot help but be passionate about this topic!