By Teasi Cannon
Ah, Sunday morning! When Christian children everywhere rise early, yelling through the halls with gleeful anticipation, Wake up, everyone! It’s church day!
Wait, what? This isn’t your reality?
No need to worry. I’m not sure it’s anyone’s reality. In fact, I’d say most would laugh out loud reading that little snippet because it’s so ridiculously far from our norm. In the real world, Sunday mornings often involve navigating protests from crusty-eyed children while force-feeding them Cheerios on the go (when attending in person) or some sort of last-effort negotiations involving sugary treats and extra screen-time — all in hopes of catching even the tail end of a sermon.
Yes, I do know some families have smooth sailing on Sunday mornings (please tell me you list this among your many blessings if this is you), and I do believe there are children who love church (mine had their moments). But for many families, Sunday mornings are a battle, and they can feel like a full-on war when our children enter the teen years — when their bodies aren’t so easy to lug around, and their reasons for church-aversion grow more robust.
All those people are hypocrites.
No one even notices I’m there.
The Bible doesn’t make any sense to me.
God seems like a total jerk in the Old Testament.
Add to these the weighty issues regularly encountered on social media — stories of abuses in the church, skeptical claims targeting all that is sacred, testimonies of ex-evangelicals living their “best life now” — and it’s tempting to call it quits on the local church altogether and start a home church led by dad.
Why don’t we? Especially since a global pandemic has kept most of us home for months. Why don’t we just stop the Sunday insanity and do our own thing? Why not quit churching altogether? After all, isn’t Jesus everywhere? Can’t we just enjoy Jesus in the privacy of our own hearts?
Do we really need the local church?
Based on all my research … yes.
But, before I share some reasons why the church is valuable, I’d like to acknowledge a few very important things. First, church life isn’t easy. The people there are … just people (including us). They fail. They wound. They go about piously telling everyone else how to act while being blissfully unaware of their blind spots. As a good friend of mine says, “sheep bite and the body has body odor.” I couldn’t agree more. I have personally experienced some of my deepest, most heart-shattering wounds from members of a church. I’m sure many of you have, as well. I don’t make the claim that we need the local church flippantly. I make it while still experiencing phantom pains in my heart.
Next, I want to affirm that someone can be truly saved and experience a true relationship with Jesus while not being part of a local church. Anyone who has accepted Christ’s work on the Cross and has made Him Lord of their lives is a member of the universal Church (indicated with capital “C”), which includes all believers from all times and in all places. The opposite is true, as well. Just because someone attends (or even leads) a local church, doesn’t mean he or she is a true member of the universal Church. God is the only One who has that membership log. Just because someone attends (or even leads) a local church, doesn’t mean he or she is a true member of the universal Church. God is the only One who has that membership log. Click To Tweet
I also want to acknowledge there are seasons that warrant a break from commitment to a local church — perhaps times when we’ve moved to a new area or have left a church for biblical reasons and want to visit and pray about where to land next. Times when we need to heal from various things such as serving burnout or, as I mentioned above, experiencing abuses. God definitely uses times like these and is still God when we aren’t in church.
But as believers, it’s important for us to be regularly involved in a biblical, local church — even when we can only participate virtually for a season — and it’s important for our children to understand a bigger “why” than our exasperated “Because I said so.” Having good conversations with our kids about God’s heart for the church and why we need it won’t necessarily solve all our Sunday morning dilemmas, but it will absolutely help. And it never hurts to have a good reminder for ourselves.
God wants us to be together.
I think one of the most important reasons is that God wants us to worship Him both independently and in community. We should worship God both individually and in the community setting. The church is important for our spiritual growth. Click To Tweet
Throughout the Bible we see God calling His people to assemble. In the Old Testament, He instructs the Israelites to assemble at various times and places to provide for them, hear His Word, and learn to fear, trust, and obey Him. In the New Testament, the pattern continues. The disciples met regularly together to learn from Jesus and encourage one another. Most of Paul’s letters were sent to churches — not individuals — and were read to the entire group. Clear instructions were given for structuring and leading local churches. In Revelation, Jesus sends seven different letters to seven different churches, and His words are directed toward assemblies — not individuals.
There seems to be an expectation that even under the New Covenant, God desires His children to assemble to learn about Him and live in community. In fact, the Greek word translated “church” in the New Testament literally means “assembly.” It was and still is a group of people who gather weekly to worship God and profess faith in Jesus.
Thanks to technology, we can “assemble” even when we are physically separated for a time. Through various formats, we can join our hearts and minds together as we tune in to hear a sermon, praying for other members of our local church as we imagine them all doing the same.
The local church has significant purpose.
Before I share some of what the Bible teaches on the purpose of the local church, let me share a few things we won’t find anywhere in Scripture. The local church doesn’t exist …
- To make me feel good.
- To promote me.
- To entertain me and my family.
- To provide the most up-to-date technology for easy access.
- To provide for every spiritual need my family will ever have all on Sunday mornings.
In other words, the local church isn’t all about me or my children and what we like. The local church isn’t just another consumer item we price shop to get the most bang for the buck. The Church is a God-ordained gathering of people who have something far greater to give than the world offers. The world can make people feel good. The world can offer self-help. The world can entertain us (and do a far better job than the church most of the time).In other words, the local church isn’t all about me or my children and what we like. It's a place where we can learn truth so we can share it with others. Click To Tweet
But the world can’t offer living water. It can’t offer true answers to all of life’s deepest questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where will we go when we die? Why is there so much evil in the world? Only the Christian worldview offers answers that line up with reality. And local churches are hubs for learning what that truth is, how to defend it, and how to share it. Can we find these answers without a hub? Sure. But I’m not sure we really would without the accountability and fellowship the local church offers. Your family might be different than mine, but when we have taken a break from attending (or watching) local church for any significant time, our Sundays filled up with a lot of sleeping in and Netflix. (The sleeping part is actually good. It is the Sabbath after all!)
What does the Bible say?
I love the way Wayne Grudem breaks down the main purposes of the church in his Systematic Theology. His list of three broad but clear purposes for the local church are easy to understand and explain to our kids. I’ve used his list to share some thoughts and findings.
1. Ministry to God. Another way to say this is worship. To worship God is to celebrate His nature, give Him honor, and offer up praises for who He is and what He’s done. Yes, we can do this on our own, but isn’t it incredible in a crowd? Just think: one dancer doing high kicks is impressive, but 30 dancers standing in a line kicking in unison is a Broadway show!
There’s something deeply meaningful — not only to us, but to God — when people gather (in person or virtually) to remember God’s mind-blowing grace as we share the Lord’s Supper together or to sing and praise Him. Paul instructs the local church at Colossae to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). Even heavenly beings are described as worshipping God in an assembly!
God is so good. He is worthy to be praised. The local church exists to provide opportunities for believers to worship and praise Him … together.
2. Ministry to Believers. There’s a lot more to being a Christ-follower than saying the sinner’s prayer (Can I get an “amen”?) just as there’s also a lot more to being a soccer player than wearing a jersey. You need to learn the game, which means you need a good coach; and you need a team. You won’t get better at kicking goals unless there’s a goalie frustrating all your attempts. You also need the team mom to bring snacks and juice boxes.
To follow Christ means to learn, understand, and obey His teachings. All of these require the input of others in our lives. First, we need help to understand how to read the Bible. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not. We needed instruction on how to read everything else we read, and the Bible is no different. The fact that it was originally written in a different language than we speak, in a culture from which we are thousands of years and miles removed, only makes our need greater! One of the biggest roles of the local church is instructing us on how to interpret and understand sound doctrine in God’s written revelation. (Which, as a side note, highlights the importance of having qualified and trained leaders.)
We need help understanding how to apply Jesus’ teachings to our lives today, and we need encouragement and nurturing to love God and others, know Him and ourselves, and to finish our earthly race well. God knew we would need this, and that’s why He gave gifts to the local church for the equipping of believers (Ephesians 4:11-14). He gave us gifted teachers, missionaries, evangelists, shepherds, and more. He also gifted you and me for the purpose of building up others. We encourage each other when we celebrate others’ milestones such as baptisms and dedications. Yes, we attend church not only to receive but to give!
The Bible likens the Christian life to a battle. God even tells us to put on our armor (Ephesians 6:11-17). We need proper training and equipping not only to live victorious daily lives, but to wage the war on sin in our lives, on skepticism in our culture, and on false doctrine in the church. The local church is a place where we can gather to train, prepare, and use the gifts God has given us to build one another up on a regular basis with accountability.The local church is a place where we can gather to train, prepare, and use the gifts God has given us to build one another up on a regular basis with accountability. Click To Tweet
3. Ministry to the world. Jesus left us with the commission to go into all the nations of the world to make disciples and to teach them how to know and obey what He taught (Matthew 28:19-20). He also taught that we should love the widow and the orphan and stand up for the least and the lost. Can we do this individually? Absolutely, and we should. But think about the work that can be done when people pool their resources.
I’ll bet you can think of countless examples of this. Teams of men taking a weekend to go fix the plumbing and electric in a single mom’s house. I can’t do that alone, could you? Churches opening their doors to the homeless providing music, homecooked meals, beds, and supplies. Online “needs pages” informing congregations of tangible ways to help one another. People putting their money together to provide relief of all kinds to victims of disasters and at-risk people groups. The examples are countless of how much good can be done when people come together.
Jesus loves churches.
One of the most important cases to be made for the local church is this: Jesus loves it. He loves the universal Church, and He loves local churches. And He doesn’t love them because they’re spotless and reflect His heart perfectly. In fact, the opposite is true many times. Jonathan Leeman said it so well: “What’s unexpected about Christianity is that its hero doesn’t risk all for a damsel, but for what the Bible likens to a harlot.”
If Jesus loves such a crazy lot, and we are His followers, then to follow our Leader involves loving the local church — which requires being a part of one. God has a grand-scheme purpose for our assemblies, and whether we understand or even like all His reasons, we are asked to obey him. In fact, the way we show Him our love is by our obedience (1 John 5:2).
Our willingness to get up, get dressed, and go to a biblically-sound local church on Sunday morning (or attend online during pandemics) — despite its failures and flaws — is one way we join together in declaring, “We love you, God!”
Special thanks to Teasi Cannon for contributing this article. You can read more about Teasi and her work on her website at http://www.teasicannon.com/.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 867-68.
 Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 102.
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