Have you ever thought about leaving church? Have you ever skipped a Sunday, then two, then a bunch, eventually giving up the habit altogether? Have you ever preferred to do your own thing instead of gather with other believers to worship together on a Sunday morning?
If so, you aren’t alone.
We aren’t here to judge you or condemn you for skipping church, but instead to encourage you to come back and stay connected to the church community. We believe that the church is important to our Christian lives, and that it both offers things we can’t find elsewhere, and invites us to give and serve in ways we couldn’t elsewhere either.
Scott Sauls recently wrote an article for Relevant called “5 Reasons to Not Give Up on Church” and he asks a striking question: “Would Jesus, the Head of the Church, favor a churchless Christianity?”
When we look throughout Scripture, it’s clear that Christ loves the church deeply, like a bridegroom loves his bride. We read in verses like Ephesians 5:25 that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, and it’s hard to imagine that he would then turn around and encourage us to leave the church. So, what if we switched from finding reasons to leave the church and instead started looking at all the reasons we should stay?
Sauls shared five reasons we need our local church, and they are helpful in reframing how we view the church and engage with all that it means for us as believers.
- “The church is Jesus’ bride.” I love the picture here of a committed covenant relationship like in marriage— two have become one, there is a deeply devoted love between them, and the command is to remain faithful and united. And even when we as the church are sinful and we stay from him, he remains faithful to us and gives himself up for us, inviting us into a constantly deeper, truer, richer love with more fullness and abundance.
- “The church is a family.” You might hear the word “family” and immediately think “dysfunction,” and trust me, I get that. I often see dysfunction in the church, and it can be frustrating. But like our own families, despite differences and disagreements and all the messiness that comes from doing life together, there is a deep love among the members. “Family stays together,” says Sauls. “When one member is weak, the others lift her up. Where another is difficult, the others confront him. Where another is leading on a mission, the others join, support, pray, and cheer him on.”
- “The church is a diverse community.” Sauls shared the way his church community in Nashville describes their community, and it’s a beautiful and powerful image of unity in diversity: “We are builders and baby boomers, gen-xers and millennials, conservatives and progressives, educators and athletes, struggling doubters and committed believers, engineers and artists, introverts and extroverts, healers and addicts, CEO’s and homemakers, affluent and bankrupt, single and married, happy and hurting, lonely and connected, stressed-out and carefree, private and public schoolers, PhD’s and people with special needs, experts and students, saints and sinners.” Where else does such a community gather with a common goal? Where else can we sit side by side with people who are like us and unlike us, all worshipping the same God, seeking the same truth, and striving to know and love the Lord more? The church is unique, and the community we find among all its members is incredible and life-changing.
- “The church teaches us to love.” Like in our families, it doesn’t always feel easy to love the people we’re closest too, and the church is no exception. It can be challenging to love people in our churches who have different viewpoints or opinions, or who may worship in ways we aren’t quite comfortable with. “Part of the Christian experience,” Sauls writes, “is learning to love people who are not like us. In the Church, we are given a community of complicated, beloved-by-God, always in process, fearfully and wonderfully made, sometimes faltering and inefficient people we are called to love. Including ourselves.” Running away from church when things get challenging is not what we are called to do, even though it’s tempting and seems easier than leaning in to the discomfort. But Christ calls us to love, and it might be messy, but our goal is unity and love above all, and that requires us to do some hard work.
- “The church needs you.” I love the imagery found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 of the church being like a body with all of its members being different body parts. Verses 14-18 say this: “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” We are all integral parts of the body of Christ, and it would not function the same without us.
I love how Sauls concludes his argument for staying committed to the local church:
“As we live in community with one another, we grow in knowledge and experience of God by being with others who bear his image. As we learn from and rub off on one another we become better, more whole, more Christ-like, and ultimately better-for-the-world versions of ourselves.”