The Local Church: A God-Glorifying Family

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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 making 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:

  1. Worship
  2. Community
  3. Ministry
  4. Mission

Here’s the rub—these things 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.

The Church Is A What?

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 (dĹŤma)“—meaning, the Lord’s (house).

So, over the years, our word “church” acquired a reference to the gathering place—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, 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?

A God-Glorifying Family

There are many benefits to worship—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 give 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! 

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!

Longing For Worship (When You’re Gone)

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 soul yearn for God in worship (Ps 84)?

Does your soul 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. 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 news—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 me—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. 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! 

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!