We recently moved after spending 20 years in one community. As I reflected on our years there, I could see one common thread that had anchored us in those years: our church.
The first Sunday we arrived in the summer of 2002, we visited the church where other family members attended, and we never looked back. It became a place of worship, of fellowship, of service, and even employment. Our children’s school met there, and I worked at the school for five years before working at the church for 11 years. My daily routine for 16 of those 20 years was to be at the church. Our kids went through all the children’s ministries, junior high and high school, sports ministries, mission trips, and retreats up until college. My husband and I served on various boards and committees and in the children’s ministries, and I discovered that service is the best way to meet people. You go to serve, thinking you are giving, and in the end, you receive way more than you could ever give, while making friends along the way! I participated in Women’s Bible Study which God used to shape me and change my life through the in-depth study of His Word. Our church was in walking distance of our home, about 4 blocks away. It was the center of our lives and community.
We went through the membership class in January 2004. I probably didn’t think too deeply at the time of the “membership covenant” that I was making. I suspect I affirmed the words as we were received into membership and then carried on. But as I reflect on it now and read it again, it was a significant commitment for us to join a church (through regular attendance, giving, service, prayer, the Word, and yielding our lives to Christ to allow His Spirit to fill us and bear fruit in us) and for the church to commit to us (to receive us into communion and fellowship, to watch over us with Christian fidelity and tenderness, to treat us in love as members of the body of Christ). I have to say the church and its body loved us well and have been there for us through every high and low of life.
In our society at large today, church is often not considered essential, and if it is, it can be at anyone’s discretion on when to go and how to give. We’ve seen the rise in other activities on Sundays—outside groups don’t consider Sunday as a day of worship anymore, and it seems we have gradually yielded to that mindset. And if we want to, we can easily find an excuse to miss going one week (“I’m not sure I feel so good today.”). A worldwide pandemic certainly added reasons to miss, but also reasons to re-assess: do I need this every week? Can’t Livestream work? Maybe this is a good time to try a new church while everything in the world is in disarray?
Church can feel optional in our culture. And perhaps that’s with good cause as we see various heartbreaking scandals in the news and realize church leaders are as fallible as anyone else—although I would submit that what we are witnessing in many of those cases is not necessarily the true church or true Christianity. And where it is true Christianity, it will be visible through repentance.
When we see brokenness in church, though, we don’t want to miss other images that show us what the true church is. Our church hosted Ukrainian pastors days before the war broke out in their country. They were eager to return to their country, families, and church, to help and support those suffering. That’s a true picture of pastors who were willing to lay down their lives for the church body. That is a more extreme illustration, but there are countless stories of faithful pastors who shepherd, lead, and serve their churches across our nation and worldwide that never make the spotlight. Quiet faithfulness may not be the story that makes the news, but it’s seen by God and available to us for Christian community if we prayerfully look.
Like most things, if we haven’t experienced church as it is meant to be, it’s easy to think it doesn’t exist in that way, that it’s not necessary, or underestimate its benefit to our lives. But as I look at the last 20 years, I see how much richer my life has been because of walking through it with a body of believers in the fellowship of the church. And I’ve had the blessing of seeing up close a pastoral staff who loves God and seeks Him and desires to see others know and follow Him too.
This is not to make church a legalistic requirement or to judge those who make different church choices as God leads them. We should go to church not out of drudgery, but for the joy of worshiping the true and living God who gives and sustains our lives, who has saved us by His blood and given us eternal life with Him. We want to see and acknowledge Him in community with other brothers and sisters in Christ.
As my husband and I now engage in a new community, I’m finding excitement as we meet other believers and begin to participate in the life of a church. Yesterday, I attended a “creative community” at the church we’ve been visiting. We had a wonderful conversation, and that inspired me to take up writing again and to attempt it a bit more consistently. This is my first offering in that regard, as I begin again to reflect on the faithfulness of God through many years, not least of which has come through the church.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:24-25
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.Ephesians 3:20-21
*For those interested in reading more about “why church?” there’s a short book How Church Can Change Your Life by Josh Moody. It’s currently on sale at Amazon.
* My friend and co-worker Ruth painted the watercolor for me that is at the top of this post as a going away gift. It’s a photo of our church and was the view from my office for over 11 years.