Why Belong to a Church?

I found this newsletter article on one of the Faithful lists .. discussion email lists in regions around the country supported by CAT41. Some of them are pretty active and others are pretty quiet, but it’s another useful method of regionalized communication.

The author doesn’t want credit, but is a pastor in a LCMS church. A comment from him: The following is adapted from an article written by a brother pastor to his parish, and passed along to me.  It is certainly worthy of our attention and prayerful consideration here in Austin, too.

 

Dear Fellow Redeemed:

There is something that frequently weighs heavily on pastors and elders as they strive to care for the spiritual well-being of the people God has entrusted to us and who call our congregation their church home.  It stems from the seeming avoidance, reluctance, or refusal of many members to make regular worship a high priority in their lives.  In response, let’s answer the question, “Why belong to a church?”

The Bible verses you could consider would be:

  • “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:5)
  • “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” (Ephesians 2:19)

Back to the question that is asked often:  “Why belong to a church?” Certainly the primary, most critical reason to belong to a church (and to worship frequently) is so you can receive God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation that He delivers to us in Word and Sacrament alone.  But here’s an additional good reason:  To help you find and fulfill your life’s purpose!  Think about it this way:  What good is a steering wheel without a car?  It has no value, function, or fulfillment.  What good is a computer keyboard without the computer?  What good are countless things, unless they are connected to certain other things?  You can discover your true role and purpose in life—your vocations as Christian, family member, citizen, and worker—only through a relationship with Christ, and others!  Listen again to Romans 12:4-5.  “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

Disconnected from the life-blood of the local church, you wander and wither and make excuses about what you are doing.  That’s why one of the first symptoms of spiritual decline is inconsistent attendance at worship services.  Without a church home you’re like an organ without a body, a sheep without a flock, or a child without a family:  You are a “spiritual orphan.”  Or worse, you’re a “bunny-believer,” hopping from one church to another without any identity, accountability, measurable growth or commitment.

Your church is a life-long classroom for learning how to get along with God’s family; for practicing unselfish love.  There you learn to care about others and share in their experience.  Listen:  If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it. Or if one part of our body is honored, all the other parts share its honor.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)  Only in regular contact with ordinary imperfect believers like ourselves can we enjoy real fellowship and experience the New Testament truth of being fruitful, connected and dependent on each other.

We can ask again:  “Why belong to a church?” Because:

  1. It helps you develop spiritual muscle. Listen: “As each part does its own special work, it helps all the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy.” (Ephesians 4:16)  It may seem easier to be holy when nobody’s around to see you, but it’s a false, untested holiness.  Isolation breeds deceitfulness.  It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’re mature when there’s no one to challenge us.  Real maturity only shows up in the give-and-take of relationships.
  2. It can keep you from backsliding.  Not one of us is immune to temptation.  Given the right situation, we’re all capable of blowing it!  Listen: “Encourage one another daily, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13)  “Mind your own business” shouldn’t be in your vocabulary as Christians.  “Live and let live” is just the world’s way of saying “Neglect and let die.”  We’re called as God’s people to be involved in each other’s lives in a loving and caring way!

If you know somebody who’s wavering spiritually right now or has been away from the fellowship of Word and Sacrament for a while, it’s your responsibility to go after them and bring them back into fellowship.  Your efforts may have more positive impact than ours, and also wide-reaching, eternal consequences for those absent.  St. James writes:  “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back,  remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)  Why belong to a local church?  Because it gives us infinitely, eternally more than what the world offers us, God’s loving work to do for others, innumerable brothers and sisters, and the guidance and the strength to face life’s temptations and struggles.  There’s nowhere else on earth where you can find all these benefits!

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for the people in your Church, your body.  As imperfect as they are, I fit in nicely.  Help us to help each other. In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

Why Belong to a Church? — 18 Comments

  1. I, a lifelong Lutheran and church-goer, have trouble getting myself to church every week.

    Recently, I wrote this to my pastor:

    “To me, to go to church is to be in and with the Body of Christ on earth. It gives me physical contact with Him until I will finally see and hopefully be with Him. Being separated from the church is like being in hell on earth—separated from God. (I have experienced that wilderness for a couple of periods in my life.) It is at church I get my “tank” refilled with love and forgiveness. It is the only reason I have any sanity. That is why I force myself to come to church when I have to battle it every week. I say, “the devil would like me to stay home.”

    When I see my family and other people around me that will not go to church, it saddens me very deeply. And I can see them wandering on the earth in separation from God. It seems that they do not desire this closeness with God. And when they don’t like the circumstances of their life they blame Him.

    I do “go after” people and invite them to come, but to no avail. There is so much in society that draws them to other “things.” All substitutes for God. Being “in the Body of Christ”–what better place could there be? What a place of peace and joy and comfort. A very safe place ultimately, no matter what our circumstances can be.

  2. I wonder if more people would go to church if they ” recognized ” church. I mean in the last 30 or so years, church has become something different than what I knew and loved and sometimes attending services is like being in a foreign country where they really don’t speak your language and don’t like your customs. Anyone else feel like this?

  3. Uhm … yeah Our God Reigns, I do feel that way sometimes myself! And, even when our pastor does Divine Service on traditional Sundays, he’s started combining them! One week, I’m following along in Divine Service 1 and after communion, I go back to the LSB and realize he’s not using Divine Service 1 anymore. I check the bulletin (the services are printed in the bulletin) and then flip to Divine Service 2, realize that’s not it and flip to 3 … there I find where he is at. Never seen that before and it kinda upset me. They say they put the services in the bulletin for visitors and new members because it is easier to follow along … now I see why. He combines the DS’s and calls it good! I call it confusing!

  4. My Pastor and I were just discussing this problem one morning two days ago. I will send him a link to this page.

    I like the points in this letter but one line hit me wrong…. “To help you find and fulfill your life’s purpose!” All I can think of is the “Purpose Driven Life” and Rick Warren.

    There is a certain Christain Pirate that has made me even leary of the word, purpose, when used in connection with our Lord, His Church and fellow Christians. I guess I prefer the word “vocation” as Luther used it to describe our work in this life.

  5. I would also tend to stay away from the word purpose or to say that the church is where one finds fulfillment. I think I know what the author means, but that could be taken in the wrong direction fairly easily. There are indeed far too many who labor under the mistaken notion that the pastor and congregation exist for the sole purpose of living up to their expectations. Pastors and elders often spend quite a bit of time bending over backwards for people who really would rather not go to church at all, but instead of breaking the 3rd Commandment outright, (i.e., facing the fact that it is they who despise the word and its preaching) do so obliquely blaming their lack of attendance on someone or something else. Till the trumpet sounds and the Lord calls us home we will be frustrated with the diletant and dabbler, the almost church goer who wants Jesus leave them right where they’re at.

  6. Ha! Thanks for posting this. We just received a “survey” in the mail from our church. Oddly enough, this is one of the questions, stated differently. This answer, now, will be much shorter, & more concise. Thanks again for the post.

  7. This article references some highly visible denominations who have moderated or changed Biblical doctrine (to adapt to society’s morals and/or attract people?). It doesn’t seem to be working. These also tend to be highly visible in the news media. Maybe the lack of steadfast biblical conviction has actually caused people to distrust the church? The Church is flip-flopping too much. And those that aren’t are castigated. It’s a very confusing world out there, especially for those who know little or nothing of what christianity really is. We need to show that our house really is built on the Rock.

    http://christiancentury.org/article/2010-09/no-shows

  8. Why belong to a church?

    To walk together with other believers and for their children and our children to grow up together in their shared belief. The church is where we unite to serve our brothers and sisters and the world by hearing and proclaiming the Word of God. I personally want all of my service to my community to be in the name of Jesus Christ. That is why organizations like LWML and LCMS Relief and Human Care are so important. They recognize that people’s first need is for the Word of God.

  9. Thank you for this post. We, at our church, have seen some of the same things and have the same concerns for our fellow members.
    Would it be possible (for us) to reprint with appropriate citation given?

  10. @Leona #9

    The author would be most pleased if it were widely distributed and helped other churches. It was written as a church newsletter article, so publishing it for other churches would be appropriate.

  11. I’m an adult convert and struggle w/going to church. My life is full of believers who I daily share, encourage, and are also edified by. I am in a few gatherings where we read God’s word, we pray together, even in my profession at work. There is a dialogue and a genuine love where we know one another personally. We are equals meeting at the cross, the ministry is not reserved and delegated to a select few, but distributed where each member does there part.

    I find in the organized church that I do not relate w/looking at the back of someone’s head, being preached at w/words that divide rather than reconcile, and being judged by whether I attend a 1 hour service. Neither am I comfortable giving money anymore, especially after I’ve seen how much is wasted among leadership to judge, and tear down each other in the LCMS. In the last 5yrs after being a member I realized how far from Christ I had become. I went from an “Acceptance Based Relationship” w/Jesus to a “Performance Based Relationship” a backsliding that caused me to lose hope in the freedom I have in Christ.

    I now give my money to those that are a real part of my community. For example: A student & brother who I met because his car broke down. He is from Ghana and a believer in Christ. After coming to know my new friend, I found he had certain needs I could help with, including his rent. As his sister I was more than willing to give what I had. I sing, pray, & praise Jesus w/many and have seen many come to Him in baptism. Jesus has saved all of my immediate family, including transforming their lives from horrible addictions. The first time my mother read to me, I was 33yrs old, it was scripture on temptation. It changed her life. Jesus changed her life not the church.

    I finally realized that I no longer needed to change my skin to fit into an institution that treats others as though they are ignorant. Getting picked on because every word I say may not be said in a way that other’s would agree. Challenged by people who read scripture with a constitutional mind set and fear any kind of diversity from their way of thinking. Or even people who may believe the same things but just simply express it in a different way. Yes, I my focus is on living heaven on earth(a relationship), not practicing a religion that focuses only on saving people from hell. Salvation is the beginning…not the end.

    I realized that God’s Word dwells heavily in my heart and I don’t need to worry about losing my relationship w/him based upon what I do. Within in the body He uses many means in which to dispense & distribute His grace. I’m glad for the experience in the LCMS, I have no regrets, but neither do I believe sitting in a pew on Sunday will undo what He already did 2,000 yrs ago. And yes, often I visit sites like this just to see if things have changed. For the most part I find they haven’t and it simply affirms my belief to stay away.

  12. Penney,
    i am very sorry for your bad experience and for your harsh judgment of the church
    it is my lifeline. i need the friends there; i need my Pastors [who do NOT treat me as ignorant but do have things to teach me.] most of all i need the sacraments, absolution and the Lord’s Supper.
    how do you get along without it?

    you say you are an adult convert how much time did your church spend on teaching you the Christian faith as Lutherans know it? [i have heard of one day catechesis; it isn’t enough]

    this is a discussion board, BTW; it is not the church!

  13. @Jim #4
    I thought the same thing about the finding your purpose line. I have been in church all my life and have yet to define my purpose. By the way, I think we have to pay Rick Warren a royalty to use the word Purpose. Ha. As an aside, have you noticed how the conservative media is beginning to use this “purpose” thought in much of their commentary lately? Rick certainly has a lot of folks fooled.

  14. Wow Penney, someone has done a number on you and it sounds like you have been in a really bad situation. I would urge you to find another congregation or speak with your pastor about your feelings. People expect so much out of church these days and it simply can’t meet the supposed felt needs of each individual. Only Christ can do that. If you are truly upset by what has gone on with your church and your pastor does not have a listening ear and time for you, I would say move on. It is not good for us to make God in our image and that could easily happen if you harbor ill feelings and give up on church altogether thinking you can go it alone. I know, because I have done that in the past. Not a good thing.

  15. I definetly appreciate the kind comments and resources. I am always open to learning. I also would restate that I do not regret my experiences. Nor do I despise the Lutheran Church. If anything in order for me to love Jesus I must love His church. I do. I still meet w/a cluster of Lutheran pastors a few times a year. My challenge is in the fact that often we divorce ourselves from the rest of christianity because we ALL do project our own image on to God. This divorce caused by conformity tends to make people resentful towards the Lutheran way of worship. My way or the highway. We tend to have a very small image of Jesus. God knows we are deaf, dumb, & blind, yet, states He can make the rocks cry out. His way, through what ever means He chooses.

    Let me give an example. Rick Warren, someone whom I don’t agree with on many, many points. I checked out his church and the first red light was that facilitators in his own church needed to be IMMERSED believers. Our church did do a study with the “Purpose Driven Life” along w/disclaimers and a sheet we went over on the differences in our beliefs. It pointed out some of his legalism. With that said, Mr.Warren wrote about how difficult it is for children to love their parents when they have been abused. Especially in comparison to the commandments. In my own life I found this too be true. The mere fact that God chose my parents for what ever reason, that God is not a mean God who states pick up your cross and just bear it, forget about your feelings, stuff them, helped me to talk about them. It brought about forgiveness and reconciliation w/a group of Lutherans who have a common purpose.

    Can we use things from other parts of christianity to support our beliefs? Must we continue to treat people as ignorant sheep who can not discern the truth w/the help of the Holy Spirit? If we say no, we speak against God, because He says we can. Not to mention that it raises up a generation of believers who are now dependent upon their pastors & scholars to cross every T and dot evey I. Please don’t get me started on our LCMS website w/our commission of theology on sexuality. I was quite disappointed in the questions some people ask. Like turning our lives over to Jesus dosen’t mean that we don’t also turn our sexuality over too Him? Must I have a group of scholars tell me whether it is or is not permissable in my own marriage? How many resources do we waste in all this? How many pages of doctrine do we need?

    Last but not least, Rick Warren is old as far as christendom is concerned. Yet, most conservatives are still so focused on him, divorcing themselves from his teaching, I fear they are continuing to promote his material. Can I find unity w/Mr. Warren, yes, at the cross where I leave him in the hands of Jesus the ultimate judge. He’s my brother, God say’s so, I don’t need to go and freak out!

    On the flip side you have the missional church growth movement branded by a consumeristic mentality that creates dependents who are demanding to be fed by the latest up & coming fad. When they don’t get what they want they look for something else. The contemporary worship style, Jesus is my boyfriend, where we use promotional materials that will help fill the pews. The whole MTV Pimp My Gift Series, where God and people are used as a utility to further our own agendas. Agenda’s that ignore our own humanity and that of others because we are caught up in the whole, “Bigger is Better”, kind of thing. Wow, I’ve seen so many hurt from this, it’s nauseating.

    Most people would not even know why it is they are disgruntled or disconnected. For myself I found that the church tends to on both sides of the issue, root people’s identities in the institution rather than Jesus Christ. I do believe in the Sacraments, yet, they are elevated over and above the Person. They are meant to be a means of dispensing grace, distributing it, yes, in unity, but w/diversity. When they are, I believe we find that His Spirit grows and raises up the church. It is a promise I believe in. If it is not, if people are not hearing his voice through his word, they will run the other way.

    So the real question is why are people running from the church? Could it possibly be that they are not hearing his voice? If this is a harsh judgement then so be it. I too believe in sharing truth. Jesus had no place to rest His head, He stands on the outside looking in, a place I have stood most of my life when it comes to our Lutheran faith. A place that can be as cold & unwelcoming as the world I’ve survived, so I stand there w/Him not desiring to go through that hell again, a hell I no longer fear because I find acceptance in His side.

  16. @Penney Winiarski #16
    “This divorce caused by conformity tends to make people resentful towards the Lutheran way of worship.”
    [so she doesn’t like ‘conformity’ … do i guess ‘traditional liturgical’ is being shot at?]

    “Must we continue to treat people as ignorant sheep who can not discern the truth w/the help of the Holy Spirit?”
    [depends on whether they are? that is why Christ sent pastors/shepherds, isn’t it?]

    “Please don’t get me started on our LCMS website w/our commission of theology on sexuality. I was quite disappointed in the questions some people ask.”
    [agin’ conformity but she thinks other people’s ?’s should ‘conform’ to her standards?]

    “I do believe in the Sacraments, yet, they are elevated over and above the Person.”
    [how do you ‘elevate’ Christ’s Body and Blood above Christ?]

    if this sounds like i’m confused by the ‘flood’ above, i am
    (i wonder what the “cluster” of pastors is doing, too) 🙁

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