There are 10 primary reasons why a Christian should become a vitally active part of a local church family. We will examine half of them today, and half tomorrow.
1 Salvation means forgiveness and new life in the community of the Spirit on mission with Jesus. Salvation is not merely a personal relationship with Jesus that allows us to go to heaven when we die. It is also a communal relationship with the church to live on mission for Jesus’ kingdom in this life. And the kingdom begins its reign in the church.
2 Being a Christian means being a Jesus follower, a disciple. His call to “follow me” means come join a group of disciples who together are the people of God. The New Testament uses collective metaphors to describe the church of Christ. They include flock, temple, body, and family or household. Each of the images communicates the same big idea that God’s people are to remain together. Sheep die individually but live as a flock, fed and protected by a shepherd; a building falls down if too many bricks are removed; limbs die if removed from the body; a family is destroyed if its members do not live in love together.
3 Real disciples commit to the church because they know they need the help of others to keep following Jesus. They know that fellow members will expect them to attend meetings, and they know they need this kind of incentive and accountability to strengthen their spiritual lives. They know they need to be under the loving protection of other Christians. They are humble and honest enough to know they need the exhortation, strengthening, encouragement, and comfort of other travelers following Jesus. This fact only becomes amplified for those who have the additional responsibility of a spouse, child, or grandchild, or find themselves in a tempting or trying season of life.
4 Paul’s favorite metaphor for the church that we find in the New Testament is the body. If you are a hand in the body of Christ, then you need an arm and a head to do what the Spirit has gifted you to do. Paul’s long exhortation in 1 Corinthians 12 helps us see the value of the complementary diversity of the body that makes everyone effective and fulfilled in the work of Christ. Those who care about living fruitful lives for the advancement of the gospel know that the church with all its gifted people is essential.
5 Disciples know they need to be equipped for ministry. Only in the community of other believers can we be joined together so that every part works properly. Only then will the individuals and the body build itself up in love. Apart from the church, there is no way to be trained adequately to do the ministry of the church or truly live a life of love.
6 If you are wise, you know how easy it is to fall into deception apart from the protective work of wise leaders and the insightful help of other Spirit-led believers. Fools will stand confidently on their own wisdom and eventually find that the power of fine arguments, smooth words, and flattery lead them astray from devotion to Christ. You need leaders to watch your soul, to be responsible for you before God. They provide spiritual protection for you and care about your growth in Christ.
7 Jesus followers join churches because they want to be like Jesus and will risk loving others deeply. Don’t ever deny the pain of this risk and naively think that truly living in community as the church with sinners is easy. Church squabbles do injure innocent people. Church leaders do disappoint when they don’t live up to their calling. Other believers do betray trust and cause disillusionment. Every Christian both suffers these pains and causes others to suffer them. To love is to risk and grow through pain, and those who want to love well choose to suffer pain rather than self-protect by abandoning church.
8 Disciples know that though the church is imperfect, Christ calls them to strengthen it by their presence rather than criticize it in their absence. The old quip forever rings true: “If you do find the perfect church, don’t join it, for then it would no longer be perfect.” Spirit-led Jesus followers recognize that they are imperfect Christians working with other imperfect Christians to serve a perfect Christ. When we love and give to one another, then we grow as individuals and as the family of God.
9 Christians join churches because they know it is the right thing to do. From the beginning, God said it is not good to be alone. As God’s Trinitarian image bearers, church community is essential and nonnegotiable.
10 Jesus’ heart for and commitment to the church should compel us to love and serve the church. In Ephesians 5:25 Paul says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The context in which Paul speaks is marriage, and without overstating the analogy he is saying that the church is like Jesus’ bride, whom he loves and serves despite all her faults and flaws. Those who ignore the church, criticize the church, despise the church, or even harm the church must seriously question whether they truly love Jesus and are his followers, since true Christians love and serve the church because Jesus does.