Our series continues on the “trivial church” and how we can regain an accurate understanding of its designed function. In the first post, we looked at some common “blanket statements” made about the universal Church. This time we will be focusing on the some of the more localized and personal reasons why people may choose to not be an active part of their local church.
“I don’t like the people at my church.”
Do you know what the most common synonym for “church” is in Scripture? House. Throughout Scripture the text indicates that church operates in the same manner as that of a house (Gen. 28:22, 2 Sam. 7:5, 1 Ki. 5:4–5, Isa. 56:7, Mt. 21:13, Eph. 2:19, Heb. 3:6).
Why does this matter? Houses belong to families. For most people, family is the most wonderful and yet the most taxing part of life. They live for the moments in watching their kids grow up, spending time with their parents while they have it, and cherishing family get-togethers when they manage to get them planned. Anyone who enjoys these blessings is no stranger to the two-faced coin of family; a family dinner can get awkward faster than Usain Bolt. We’ve all had those “where’s the closest bomb shelter?” moments in family matters.
My point is simple: You didn’t pick your family. You probably wouldn’t pick half your family if you had the choice. Yet your family means everything to you. Even those who don’t have healthy family relationships would tell you how much they want the warmth of true, authentic family. And thankfully, God did not design His Church like a voting booth, but like a house for a family to share. The beauty in this design is He has made a place where reconciliation happens, grace happens, and love happens across a multitude of political views, races, ages, and backgrounds. God doesn’t expect you to always like your family, but demands that we love.
“It’s not comfortable or easy for me to open up.”
To be fully known is an anomaly in this generation. We’ve watched churches falter when pastors failed to make themselves accountable to others. But it’s not just a problem with church leadership; our entire evangelical church culture breeds a Stepford Wives attitude to relationships. All we care about is a (sometimes fake) smile and a “How’s your job?” exchange in passing. Even in the small group setting, we gather together, discuss the work week and plans for the weekend, ask for prayer about our sister’s friend who has a dog who’s sick, and that’s the extent of prayers needed. Everything is so surface-level, so shallow. At the beach, children play in shallow water, not those who are looking to swim. The same should be said of the church.
I know how hard it is to look across the room at other Christians, let alone friends, in the house of God, and tell them how much you blew it on sanctification last week. I’m not here to tell you to “get over yourself,” because I know your struggle all too well. It’s so much more comfortable to say, “I’m pretty good” and let sleeping dogs lie, or to say nothing at all. But we weren’t called to a life of comfort. Noah’s ark was enormous, Joseph’s life was a roller coaster, Jeremiah’s task was exhausting, Paul’s journey was dangerous, and Jesus’s cross was heavy.
I continue with the swimming analogy. Fish swim in groups for a reason. When fish swim in groups, it’s easier to evade predators, easier to find food, easier to find a mate, etc. The irony is that in their labor to work as a group, to put themselves out there and swim together, things actually get…easier. The same goes for us. One of the primary ways Christ gives us the rest He refers to in Matthew 11:28 is by giving us a church body that shares with us in our sufferings, walks with us in our strivings, and rejoices with us in our victories. As mentioned in last week’s post, we’re a hospital, not a country club. If a church wants to be living in Biblical community, it must commit itself to two things: the willingness to be fully known, and the willingness to make God’s grace fully known.
“My local church doesn’t have what I’m looking for.”
There is a pattern we all go through when visiting churches and wrestling with whether it’s a place we want to be long-term. I remember moving with my wife to Knoxville and looking for churches. I was keeping out a keen eye for churches with established multiplication / pastoral training programs. My wife and I at times literally made checklists about what we did and didn’t like about churches.
It’s okay to be intentional in honestly evaluating church bodies through that process. The problem comes when we start shopping for “the best deal” as a consumer instead of looking for a place we can serve. Some will say, “my local church doesn’t have a big college ministry, so I can’t go here.” Maybe your role isn’t joining what’s been formed already, but forming the area of ministry yourself. If you’re passionate about missions but don’t see it being done well in your local church, don’t detach; labor to bring missions to your congregation!
If you’re firmly established in a church already, you probably see needs that should be met better than a visitor can. Maybe your church needs volunteers for children’s ministry (I use this example because it’s a safe bet every church does). You might think you’re not cut out for teaching 4th graders, but Jesus thought differently. “Go and make disciples” didn’t mean only boarding a plane to Africa, but it absolutely also means helping our kids see Jesus on Sunday mornings. Whatever your church’s need is — children’s, men’s, kitchen, or production team ministries— all parts must work together in the body of Christ (Eph. 4:16).
The bottom line is: Church becomes trivial when our comfort becomes king over Christ’s glorification. A church that runs, sweats, cries, and battles together for the glory of God will stick together, because Christ’s discomfort broke down the barriers once and for all.