This week I had a conversation with longtime believer. It was a conversation while on a flight to Nashville. It wasn’t long before our conversation veered toward the spiritual life. You could immediately tell from this lady’s conversations that she was someone who was kind, generous, and spiritual. And yet, when the topic came toward the Church, she shrunk back. She’d been hurt, deeply, by the Church experiences she’d encountered. She recounted a few of them and they were deep, hurtful, wicked events.
So, naturally, she no longer trusts the Church. She prefers to worship Christ on her own.
I sympathize with this person. Often the ugliest acting people in the world are people of faith. Carnality is a ghastly thing, reflecting the double-mindedness of someone trying to straddle two kingdoms. We al have seasons of this in our lives, but some seem to make carnality their home. In doing so, they deeply hurt those trying to seek God.
I’ve been a believer all my life, nearly 30 years. I’ve felt the hurts of the Church. And yet, the older I get and the more I study the Scriptures, the more convinced I am that God’s best place for worship and growth is in the Church.
In fact, if you read through the New Testament, especially the letters of Paul and Peter and James and John, it’s hard to find any reference to spiritual growth without the context of the church. It’s as if the Scriptures insist that spiritual growth depends on others and must be poured out in service to the Body.
In my role as a pastor, I’m finding a lot of Christians who seem to make church optional. And these are not all flaky, sort of whimsical, lets-meet-at-starbucks-and-hug-each-other types. I’m running into very solid, theologically sound folks who can quote church fathers like baseball stats. And yet, their church record is spotty. They read books, attend conferences, and know a lot of stuff. But they don’t get up on Sunday morning, drive to church, roll up their sleeves and get involved. They do sometimes. But not every Sunday and not at the same church.
Here’s the point I’m making, the point I believe is expressed throughout the New Testament: Your spiritual life is woefully incomplete and falling short of mission if you are not involved in a local church. Even if you’ve been burned by the church. Even if you’re idea of how church should be has not been expressed fully in your community.
My advice? View church as the place for you to serve, for all of its inadequacies, insults, and bad coffee. God created you and redeemed you with the intention of serving the body. It’s time to choose a local expresson of that body to serve.