Following the way of Jesus is a life devoted to The Fellowship. The fellowship is:
- A family formed by faith in Jesus
- Marked by mutual sharing
- Unified, not uniform
- Not optional for a follower of Jesus
- The future of the Kingdom of God
Following the way of Jesus is a life devoted to The Fellowship. The fellowship is:
Christian friendship is designed to be totally unique. Why? Because Christian friendship is rooted in God’s love, reflects a greater story, and is a joyful requirement in Christ. How can you take STEPS toward friendship in the church?
This sermon is part of The Surprising Power of Friendship sermon series, recorded on Sep 15, 2019, by Pastor David Parks on 1 John 4:7-21. Listen/download here:
Loving people is hard. Why? It’s perfectly natural to be afraid of people who are different. Different means unknown and the unknown could be dangerous. Is it any wonder that fear defines so many relationships across differences in religion, ethnicity, class, and gender? Plus, the needs of others often make costly demands on our personal freedom. However, the love of Jesus is greater than fear. And even though it’s costly, the love of Jesus is far better even than personal freedom. Following the way of Jesus leads to a life of relationships defined by Remarkable Love.
This sermon is part of the Following The Way Of Jesus sermon series, recorded on Aug 11, 2019, by Pastor David Parks on 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12. Listen/download here:
Why is Sunday such a big deal for Christians? Is it ever ok to skip church? Is it ok to worship at different churches from time to time? Personally, I have friends and family members at different churches in the area. Why wouldn’t I bounce from church to church? Well, the truth is I have to preach almost every week at one, particularly amazing church. 🙂 Aside from that, Is there any reason to be committed to a single local church? Good question!
Last week, I started makingÂ The Case For Going To Church. In that post, I emphasized that a church is the family of God formed by faith in Christ. And it would be pretty weird to have a family you never saw or spent time with. But there’s so much more!
God has ordained 4 things for his family to do in the world:
Here’s the rubâ€”these thingsÂ can only be done fruitfully through a long-term commitment to a single local church. Worship, community, ministry, and mission are what the people of the church gather to do.
But first, let’s spend a little time unpacking why the language we use can be so confusing.
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, the English word “church” comes from the German word “kirche” which is based on a shortened Greek phrase “kuriakon (dÅma)“â€”meaning, the Lord’s (house).
So, over the years, our word “church” acquired a reference to the gatheringÂ placeâ€”the Lord’s house. This shift in language started to shift people’s thinking about the nature of the church. If a church is a gathering place,Â rather than a people who gather, then it’s easy to see how you could bounce from one place to another. What difference would it make to worship here or there or anywhere?
But this is not how it was supposed to be. In the Bible, the word translated “church” is the Greek word ekklesia (pronounced ek-klay-see’-ah). In the first century, AD, an ekklesia was a gathering or assembly of people. This is why it makes more sense to say the church is a family rather than a building. A family is made up of people with covenantal, not consumer relationships. What does that mean?
A church isn’t a coffee shop. If a coffee shop stopped serving good coffee at a reasonable price, you would just bounce to the coffee shop down the street. Or if you get bored of the bakery, you’d just bounce to the shop down the street for a different selection. This is perfectly acceptable in a consumer relationship.
But a church is a family with covenantal relationships. Covenantal relationships are supposed to be deep, lasting mutual commitments. This is why it is so much more painful for a family to break up than for a coffee shop to go out of business. There’s both stability and security in a covenantal relationship. You don’t have to wonder if people will be there for you.
My kids can’t just bounce to a different family if they’re unhappy or bored with our family (even if they wanted to!). Families don’t work that way. And churches aren’t supposed to work that way, either. Make sense? Ok. So why does a local church gather?
There are many benefits to worshipâ€”from being encouraged, challenged, and inspired to being able to serve others, form new friendships, and more. But the primary goal of our worship is not for our benefit.
The primary goal of our worship is to giveÂ God the glory due his name (Ps 96:8). The main direction of worship is vertical, not horizontal. Why? Because God is supremely glorious! Nothing in the universe shines brighter or more beautifully than God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Ps 19:1) In who he is and what he’s done, God deserves all glory, honor, and praise. So, the local church is first and foremost a God-glorifying family.
Of course, worship isn’t limited to Sunday mornings. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1Co 10:31) Christians have the freedom to worship God at home, at work, out loud, in the heart, individually, in a crowd, on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday…you get the idea.
But the truth is, when we gather as a local church, we can glorify God more together than we can on our own. Why? Because we do so together. We glorify God by singing together, praying together, obeying God’s word together, taking communion together, giving together, and serving together. All these things bring more glory to God when they are done together!Â
It’s the togetherness of worship in the context of the covenantal relationships that’s one of the things that makes worship so sweet. When you worship, you’re not just an audience at a performance. You’re a people who are deeply committed to one another, who gather to magnify the name of Jesus together!
Not being able to attend worship from time to time is understandable. Sometimes traveling for work or a sick family member prevents us from attending worship. But when we can’t gather, we should share the emotion found in Psalm 84, “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” The courts here refer to the temple courts where God’s people gathered for worship.
If you’re on vacation, working the night shift, or recovering from surgery, of course, you won’t be able to attend worship. But there should still be a spiritual longing to be with God’s people in worship. “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.” (Ps 42:4) Pause for a second and ask yourself:
Does your soulÂ yearn for God in worship (Ps 84)?
Does your soulÂ long to be with God’s people in worship (Ps 42)?
If not, why not?
Maybe we need to be reminded of the glorious truth of who God is and what he has done for us in Christ. Maybe our gaze needs to be fixed on the cross and the empty tomb once again.Â The gospel has the supernatural power to set a believer’s soul on fire. There’s nothing else like it. This is why we’re so passionate about our mission of sharing good newsâ€”worship pours forth in response!
But maybe with all the busyness of life, we never stop to listen to the longing of our souls?
Maybe we need to put a little extra thinking into how we schedule and prioritize our lives?
Very practically, let me ask you this:
– Before you sign up your kids for a traveling sports team
– Before you take a job with difficult hours or extensive travel
– Before you buy that amazing (and time-consuming) cottage “up north”
– Before you make plans to visit family/friends
– Before you respond to wedding invitations
– Before you sign up to run a marathon
– Before you decide when your child’s naptime should be
– Before you put anything major on your calendar
Do you think about the impact it might have on your ability to gather for worship?
Now, please hear meâ€”none of these things are inherently bad. In fact, I intentionally chose examples that, on their own, might be helpful things to do. But if the busyness of life is limiting your ability to gather for worship, even good things can become spiritually unhelpful or even harmful.
The local church is a God-glorifying family.Â My encouragement is this: find a church that isn’t afraid to talk a lot about Jesus and where you feel like you sorta fit, and then decide to make that your family. Commit yourself to it, make the gathering a priority, and don’t bounce!Â
May our church be a joyful, passionate God-glorifying family. May the name of Jesus be lifted high in our midst. May the Spirit open our eyes to the barriers in our lives that keep us from worship. And may God be glorified in every aspect of our lives both now and forever!
Have you ever heard someone say this? “Don’t go to church. Be the church!” Interestingly, I recently heard this from Christians who were both theologically liberal and conservative (and how often does that happen?!?). This statement is catchy—but is it true? If so, does “going to church” even matter anymore?
In the coming weeks, I’m going to make the case that going to church isn’t optional for followers of Jesus. Also, I’m going to write about the costly yet beautiful things that only happen when Christians gather in a local church. This is my case for “going to church.”
First, a little context. Across the country, pastors have shared with me the reality that fewer people are attending church, and of the people who do attend, they do so less frequently. Weekly church attendance has declined to 2-3 times per month. Monthly attendance has fallen to once every 6-8 weeks or less, and so on. I’ve seen this trend as well. To be fair, this is part of a broader cultural shift. It’s hard to get people to leave the house for any reason. Fewer people attend movies and concerts, join clubs, participate in local government, etc.
Why is church attendance less frequent? There are numerous factors, from busyness and increased mobility, to scandals and bad theology, and more. But one thing’s for sure; it’s much easier and more comfortable to download worship content (sermons and worship music) while we run on the treadmill of life (or on an actual treadmill) than to go to worship in a local congregation—in all it’s sometimes awkward glory.
So is this trend just a change in cultural preference (a new normal?) or are there Biblical reasons to prioritize church attendance that may be increasingly countercultural? There’s much to say, so let’s begin.
“Being the church” focuses on the fact that our Christian faith is rooted in our identity in Christ (being the church) and not in what we do (going to church). Having dinner with people doesn’t make them a family. But often, families have dinner together. Why? Because they are families! Activity flows naturally out of identity. This is both helpful and Biblical in understanding the church.
Maybe more accurately, the “be the church” slogan puts our being/identity and doing/activity in the right order. Our actions (worship, service, generosity, love, justice, forgiveness, etc.) are supposed to flow out of our identity in Christ, not the other way around. For these reasons and more, we should not hesitate to “be the church!”
At the same time, Christians should absolutely still go to church. Meaning, Christians should faithfully, regularly gather in-person for worship as a local church. Why? Certain things only happen when people are together. You can have 1,000 friends on Facebook and still be lonely. There are certain aspects of our relationships that are impossible to replicate online.
Relationships are foundational to the Christian faith. The relationship of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit form the basis of all reality. When asked which was the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39).
How good would my relationship be with my family if I never saw them, spent time with them, or talked with them? How healthy would our family be if we never had dinner together, went on vacation together, or demonstrated our love for each other? Technically, they’d still be my family, but I’d need a DNA test to prove it!
The church is the family of God formed by faith in Christ. So followers of Jesus ought to regularly gather in-person as a local church—a family of faith. The more time we have together, the more opportunities we have to strengthen our relationships with God and one another. The more often we gather in-person, the more we love one another, the more healthy our family will be. Maintaining weak relational ties to God and your brothers and sisters in Christ is the context for defeat, not victory.
So how about you? Are you willing to commit the time to be with your family? Are you willing to sacrifice your preferences at times to be with your family? Are you willing to let your activity flow out of your identity as a member of a family? Are you willing to let your guard down enough so that others can know you, love you, and help you follow Jesus? I pray you do. This is what you were created for and it really is the best way to live.
In subsequent blogs, I will unpack four purposes of the local church: worship, community, ministry, and mission. In the meantime, why do you go to church?