I've experienced heaven on earth the past few days. I found it in Durban, South Africa, while visiting one of the most joy-filled congregations I've ever encountered in my travels.
It's called His Church, and this 1,000-member multicultural church has many wonderful qualities: a loving pastor (a brave woman, Fiona Des Fontaine) who is committed to preaching God's Word without compromise; a powerful outreach to the community; a healthy team of pastors who serve with no signs of competition or ego; and a Bible college where many young leaders are being trained.
I know there are many churches around the world today that have qualities similar to His Church. Yet many Christians—especially in the United States—are giving up on church because they were hurt by pastors or wounded by other Christians, or because they simply decided to "go it alone." They are knows as "dones"—people who are "done" with church.
"Dones" might watch an occasional church service on television or meet with a few Christian friends over coffee for a casual Starbucks version of "church lite." They still consider themselves serious Christians, but they want nothing more of pastors, tithing, scheduled meetings or church drama.
If you or someone you love has given up on church, I'm not here to condemn you. I've had my share of disappointments in church over the years, including some spiritual abuse. But I want to offer six reasons why you shouldn't let a bad experience end your connection to God's people.
1. The church is Christ's body on earth. With all its flaws, the church is still God's Plan A. Jesus announced before He went to the cross: "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). Jesus intends to use the church—even in its weakness—as His primary tool to reach the world with the gospel. Heaven does not have a Plan B. Jesus is the head of his church (see Col. 1:18) and we are His hands and feet. To reject the church is to reject God's ultimate strategy to bring heaven's kingdom on earth.
2. The Holy Spirit has called us to work and flow together. When we were born again and baptized, the Bible says we were mystically unified with all other born-again believers and connected to each other by the Holy Spirit. The Lord also connects people in local congregations. This connection is holy and we should never make light of it or damage it. Paul told the Ephesians to "preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" by being in close fellowship with each other (Eph. 4:3). To reject this union of believers is to dishonor the work of the Spirit.
3. God accomplishes more through His corporate people than through isolated individuals. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit worked primarily through the nation of Israel, and through individuals who had special callings and remarkable courage. But in the age of the New Covenant, the Spirit dwells in every Christian believer, and the corporate church makes a much bigger impact. This is why Jesus told His disciples after He went to the cross that we would do "greater works" than He did on earth (see John 14:12). And because healthy churches can pool resources and organize volunteers, they are able to offer ministry to children, youth, families, singles, the needy and the lost overseas—in a way you could never do while sitting home alone.
4. God's authority flows through His church, not through "lone ranger" Christians. Some people who've been hurt by church leaders feel they can never submit to another pastor again, nor will they honor a person who is called by God to carry the authority of a minister. Yet God has delegated to certain people the task of building up the church (see Eph. 4:11-12). It's totally acceptable for you to leave an unhealthy church with poor leadership, but you should quickly find a new church where you can be equipped to fulfill your ministry. It was never intended for a Christian to live with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude.
5. It is by living in Christian community that we learn to love and serve. The Book of Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were thinking of abandoning their Christian faith because of persecution. Some of them even stopped attending church, but Paul addressed their disillusionment by saying: "And let us consider how to spur one another to love and to good works. Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us exhort one another, especially as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:24-25). People who live in isolation find it difficult to develop character, and they often get discouraged; those who walk together in close fellowship inspire each other, and they improve each other just as iron sharpens iron.
6. If you leave the church because of hurt or resentment, you make it more difficult to find healing and reconciliation. It might sound spiritual to say you are pulling away from people to focus on God. But the New Testament says your relationship with God is directly related to how you relate to others. John wrote: "Anyone who claims to live in God's light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark" (1 John 2:9, MSG). People may have hurt you, but God will also use people to heal you. Don't let the hurts of the past paint you into a lonely corner. Choose to forgive. Take a risk and keep loving.
Please don't check out of church or give up on God's flawed saints. There is no perfect church—and if there were, it would not be perfect after you joined! There is a place for you in God's eternal family.
J. Lee Grady is the former editor of Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter @leegrady. He is the author of several books including his latest, The Truth Sets Women Free (Charisma House.) You can learn more about his ministry, The Mordecai Project, at themordecaiproject.org.
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