…Christ loved the church… Ephesians 5:25
Are you happy in the church you belong to?
Well, no church is perfect, so I imagine all of us can think of things we regard as not quite ideal. But I hope that on balance you feel good about your church.
I ask because I was talking recently to someone who had moved house and was having difficulty settling into a new church. She had tried various churches in the locality, but none of them seemed right for her.
Her problem, in essence, was that she had been extremely happy in her first church – she had become a Christian there, been baptised there, been married there, and found opportunities to serve there. And she now found herself saying of her new church, “It’s just not the same!” Church number one was very much her spiritual “home”.
I did my best to advise her – I hope wisely. Thinking about it afterwards I boiled my advice down to a number of headings which I hope pointed her in the right direction. Just possibly they might help you too.
1. After serious prayer and thought (of course), find the least imperfect church and commit yourself to it. A church that is as near to being Christ-focussed, scripture-based, prayerful and open to the Spirit as you can find. Remember the old saying “If ever you find the perfect church, whatever you do, don’t join it – you’ll only spoil it”. Feed on the thought: “God is calling me to make an imperfect church that little bit better”.
And, of course, never make the arrogant mistake of assuming you have nothing to learn: be humble.
2. Make sure your commitment is cheerful and positive. Not “Oh well, if it’s the best I can find, I suppose I’ll just have to put up with it”, but “Right, this is where God has led me, so it’s time to get cracking!” Don’t be a grumbler. If you discover a little group of malcontents (most churches, sadly, have them), keep well away from them. Such a faction is poison in the blood-stream of the church.
3. Support the leadership. All right, the preaching may leave you a bit hungry, the theology may raise some questions in your mind, and there may be matters of direction and policy that make you a little uneasy. But live with it.
Pray regularly for the leaders, remembering their task is hard. When a leader does something that you appreciate, be ready with a quiet word of thanks and encouragement. Unless something happens that you really are seriously unhappy with, “obey your leaders and submit to their authority” (Hebrews 13:17). Christian leaders (you may be interested to know) often appear strong and confident, but deep down most of us are pretty insecure people and need a genuinely given boost from time to time. (You can take that from me!)
4. Look for opportunities to serve. Make the gifts and talents that God has given you generously available to the church – teaching, pastoral work, practical skills, music, administrative and financial expertise. You will find fulfilment in the exercise of your own ministry even if the church as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. We belong to churches to give as well as to get.
5. Join some kind of small-group fellowship – a house-group or prayer-group or whatever. We often gain from small groups what a more formal service or meeting doesn’t give us. Be the first to turn up at a prayer-meeting – yes, even when it’s a dark February evening, the rain is bucketing down, there’s a big match on the television and you might be one of only three or four attending. God will honour your faithfulness. Be happy to learn from others, and pray that your contribution to such a group will benefit them too.
There are plenty of other things I could add. But I think these five points cover the essentials. Perhaps I am a little naive, but I sincerely believe that if you put these things into practice and quietly stick at them long-term, something wonderful will slowly happen: your church will become the kind of church you can truly love, and the kind of church where others will find the risen Christ.
“Christ loved the church” – and it wasn’t exactly perfect, was it? Can we do less?
Lord Jesus, please help me to love the church as you do, even if sometimes it’s heavy going. Amen.