Even in my relatively short lifetime, there was a time in which if a couple of local stores didn’t have an item you wanted to buy, you weren’t getting it. Now you can pull out your phone, browse 15 different options of the product you want, and buy it without leaving your couch. We are spoiled consumers, able to be precise without ever having to settle for anything less than exactly what we want.
Unfortunately, that consumerism has spilled into church life for a large number of Christians. Just like the stores, there was a time where you might have a couple of congregations you could choose from, and when neither was perfectly what you wanted you’d just have to find a way to deal with the things you didn’t like. Now some people change churches about as often as they change clothes. Others may drive past three, four, five, or more congregations to go to the one that fits what they’re looking for. If we don’t like the way things are going, we can remain distant and uninvolved, knowing we can always jump to the next option. We’re consumers. We know what we want, and we refuse to settle.
The problem is, that attitude is incredibly detrimental to both the church and to us as individuals. Take it from a preacher – it’s frustrating and saddening when you can’t get someone to be all-in as a part of the church. Under the consumer mentality, nobody has to be all-in. Where some continue to drift in and out on Sunday mornings, others will just leave. Yes, sometimes it’s necessary to leave. No, we can’t overlook doctrinal departures from the faith. But instead of focusing on when we can or maybe should leave, sometimes we need to think about why we should stay and engage more deeply in the work of our local congregations. Here are three major reasons why it’s critically important for you to commit to the church you attend.
For church growth
It’s hard to convince somebody that the church you attend is the one they should look into if you’re not fully invested as a member, or especially if you’re in the habit of switching from congregation to congregation. But when we’re able to show others that our church family is important to us and that involvement is a beneficial part of our lives, it becomes so much easier to tell them why they should want to be a part of it, too. It’s just about impossible to imagine Acts 2:40-47 reading the same if everyone there was either complaining about what they didn’t like, too busy to be active, or looking to move on to the next church. That’s why putting our roots down and being active is so important for the church’s outward reputation in the community, and ultimately the church’s growth.
For future persecution
We talk about getting ourselves ready for persecution, but do we really mean it? If all we’re talking about is being willing to stand by what we believe when put to the test (a noble action, to be sure), we’re grossly underestimating what persecution looks like. For people who have been disowned by their families, have lost their jobs, and/or have been deserted by their friends, a church family is all they have. If we want to prepare ourselves for that kind of persecution, the church hopping/church shopping attitude has to be abandoned. If our lives were on the line every day, would the issues that drive us apart or keep us from getting involved in each others’ lives still seem worthwhile? It’s only in a culture filled with comfort and consumerism that we start putting our other options on the table as soon as we don’t like something. Remove that “luxury” and suddenly we’ll have to learn to depend on each other and work through the difficulties.
For personal growth
There are a number of reasons why diving in to the work of your church and building relationships with your fellow Christians (and not just your clique of friends) is critical for your spiritual growth. First, the longer you stay at a congregation and the more you invest yourself in the lives of the people, the closer you become with them. When you have people who know you well and with whom you can talk openly about your spiritual battles, you’re far better equipped to get the encouragement and help you need as you walk the narrow road. And, you can “do unto others” (Matthew 7:12), which is a huge part of obeying Jesus.
Second, learning to deal with difficult situations always contributes to spiritual growth. We can’t learn to be patient and forgiving with people if we stay so distant that there’s never any interaction or if we take off for greener pastures as soon as times get difficult. Despite our individual differences, we’re on the same team when it comes to the Gospel. If there’s anything to be learned from Philippians, it’s that there is great joy to be had when we work through those difficult situations for the sake of the church and its purposes.
Third, when you start to take church attendance for what it is rather than what it isn’t, you realize that your growth is not dependent upon a couple of Sunday sermons and a Bible class or two. If you’re invested in being a part of the work of the church, you’ll be studying and trying to help others know God more clearly, and you won’t be dependent on those few hours for your weekly sustenance. Maybe the preaching has been weak. Maybe you aren’t getting much out of Bible class this quarter. Don’t focus on that. Focus on the blessing of worshiping freely with the souls who are on the journey to heaven with you. Focus on the encouragement you receive from the young, the old, and everyone in between. Focus on the good, not the bad. Focus on that which unites, not the divisive. The spiritual growth we receive in love, encouragement, and worship to God is vital to a healthy spiritual life.
No church is perfect, because every church is filled with humans (Romans 3:23), but every church that is under the authority of Christ is His bride and is therefore eternally valuable. Sometimes it’s hard work to stay. Sometimes it’s easier to just be a Sunday morning only Christian. Sometimes personality conflicts or even biblical disagreements can discourage us and make us reluctant to invest in deep connection with our church family. Fight through it. It’s worth it. In this culture of consumerism, where the church is looked at as valuable only so long as it gives us exactly what we want, discover the beauty of investing yourself completely in the work of your congregation and in the lives of the people with whom you worship.
By Jack Wilkie
Jack Wilkie is the author of “Failure: What Christian Parents Need to Know About American Education” and is the speaker for Focus Press’s “The Lost Generation” seminar. To schedule a seminar at your church, contact jack@focuspress.org.