Perhaps a Pastor painted a poor picture of Pastors for you. Maybe a church staffer didn’t elevate your ministry the way you thought it deserved. Did a fellow member rebuke you harshly instead of with gentleness and in love? Cultural Christians and their hypocrisy, possibly, have made you sick over the years. Or is it that members, your friends, left your church, and it no longer has the same homey feel? No matter whose fault it was (it could have been yours), the local church burned you like a finger that touched a hot stove. You touched it, experienced hurt in being part of a church, and now you have no desire to come near your church or any church ever again. It scarred too deep. You agree with Donald Miller and believe you don’t need to go to church to worship God[i], so you resorted to your couch—or the woods or perhaps Starbucks—for “church.” You vowed not to be part of a church again—at least not one that notices when you slip through the door.
Although I empathize with your pain and recoil, I encourage you to go back to church. In this article, we will consider together how the word church is used in Bible. Don’t just slip through the megachurch’s doors with the hope of distancing yourself and preventing any future burns. Instead, visit a local church you intend to join, and then, join a church that holds to the biblical standard outlined briefly in this article.
The Church is a People
As a born-again Christian on your own in private, you absolutely can worship God from your couch with your Bible, prayers, and occasional songs of praise. You can also worship God in the woods by lifting up your voice to Him as you gaze upon His beautiful, awe-struck creation. With the Holy Spirit inside of you, you can worship God anywhere as Jesus is now your High Priest and gives you full access to the Father (1 Cor. 3:16, Heb. 4:16). But you must be careful to call the act of worshipping God on your couch or in the woods “church”—that is, when you’re alone.
The word “church” in the New Testament does not refer to a building or a place. One way you could take this to mean is you can worship God anywhere because the “church” is not confined to a building or place. This is true in a sense. For more clarification, the word “church” in the New Testament always refers to a gathered people. It refers to the church as a group of local believers, also known as the local church. Also, it is also described as the total number of believers who have ever lived—the universal church (Acts 11:22, 1 Cor. 1:2, 12:28, 15:9, 16:19, Col. 4:15). Thus, staying home to have your own special church service in which you isolate yourself from a group of believers incorrectly uses the word “church.” God commands the people of God not to neglect meeting together. The Word of God calls this assembly the local church (Heb. 10:24-25).
Church is More Than Attendance
Christians, God desires for you to be part of the local church. David Mathis, Executive Editor of Desiring God, says that one of most counter-cultural things you can do is become an engaged member in a faithful local church[ii]. The church is more than attending a Sunday sermon because the church is a gathered people. You cannot attend a people. You are the people. As members of a local church, you are the church. Chris Bruno, in his book The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words, discusses our need for the Church below:
We need the church because the church is God’s covenant community today. Think of it this way: Jesus commanded us to gather in his name as the church (Matt. 18:15-20). This means that is does not make sense for people to say that they are followers of Jesus but that church isn’t really their thing. That’s like saying, ‘I’m a follower of Jesus, but following Jesus isn’t my thing.’
Moreover, my Pastor, Ryan Sullivan, at Grace Community Church likens church membership to being hired for a job. As a church member, you have a job do to do. While much more could be and has been said in articles, books, at conferences, and sermons about the role and responsibilities of church membership, 1 Peter 4:8-10 lays out three responsibilities church members should have toward one another in the local church. You are to love one another, show hospitality to one another, and serve one another. What a rewarding job! Peter goes on to assure you this job glorifies God through Jesus Christ (v. 11) which is your created purpose (Is. 43:7). God in the flesh came down to bear your wretched, filthy sins in an excruciatingly painful death on a humiliating cross as He took the wrath of God deserved for you. Jesus rose from the dead to give you full access to God and by grace through faith now indwells you with the Holy Spirit. Through Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, you can fulfill this vital role today of being a church member. The local church vows to be there together in Christ for one another in need, in much, in sickness, in sorrow, in rejoicing, and on and on. By committing to a healthy, God-glorifying, Biblical local church, you get this blessing.
Let God Heal You
Dismembered one, let God heal you from your past hurt. Ask God to reveal any sin or bitterness in your heart and then repent. Pray for those who hurt you. Contact anyone who has been hurt by you or who has hurt you.