What in Heaven’s name are we thinking? Since when has church attendance become this: “What can my church do for me?” Where is this attitude reflected in the Acts 2 Church? I don’t think it is. Recently, we had a discussion in our small group about what we should look for in a church when the time has come for us to seek out a new place to serve and worship. One of our members answered wisely “I think it’s wrong when we go into it asking what can the church do for us?” In other words, “I want…..a great youth group for my kids, or a thriving adult ministry; or the music ministry has to be just so-instruments or no instruments; a band or an organ; hymns or contemporary songs.” Yet sadly, denominational preferences and subjective criteria are often what guide us in placing “church membership,” or committing ourselves to a church body.
As Christians, we all agree (I hope) on the saving power and inerrant words of the bible and the gospel message. As Christians, we should also agree on the spiritual truth that we should allow God to use us where and when He chooses. (Deuteronomy 13:3-4; Matthew 4:19-22; Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 9:23-24; 1 Peter 2:20-22; Jude 1:18-20; Psalm 40:7-8; Psalm 48:14; Proverbs 16:3;) Then why is it, when it comes to church attendance, we don’t trust in the will of God? Rather, we consider only those churches that meet a certain set of criteria. Left to our own devices, we search for a church without fully considering God’s plan for our lives. Considering the passage found in Romans 9:20-21, how does the story about the Potter (God) and the clay (us) fit into this formula for church selection? I know some who refuse to consider churches outside their preferred denomination. How can you be so sure that God isn’t calling you somewhere else? I don’t know. I am just asking.
Say you are an affiliated Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Non-Denom, Assembly of God, just to name a few. And as life would have it, you have found yourself in the position of having to find a new or different church to attend. But you automatically rule out any church that is different from the same denomination or affiliation you have been attending. I have a few questions. Is that because you know without reservation that this is where God wants you to serve? Or are you only comfortable in that religious persuasion? Or do you believe that God could not possibly use you anywhere else? Or is it because you think this church you have attended is more scripturally correct (the “right” one) and the others have it wrong? I don’t know. I am just asking.
Is it just me, or do we limit God and His power this way? What if we did this?
“Where does God want me to serve? Where can my gifts be used? Where can my family best serve? God, where do YOU want me to commit my time, my tithe, my spiritual gifts…?” Maybe we are afraid of the answer. I knew one family who did this, and God sent them to Africa as missionaries. No doubt about it, this takes the control away from us and gives it back to God.
I am not saying that Adult ministries, youth groups, and music programs, are not fantastic. But what I am saying is we have it backwards. Rather than asking ourselves what can this church do for me or for my kids, we should ask what could my family bring here? Yes, what could my kids bring to the youth program? What could we bring to small groups ministries? After all if our first ministry is our family (and I think it is) then I will trust God to stand in the gap for my family, as we navigate through the challenges and the differences in the place He has called us. For instance, if our children are getting truth and training in righteousness at home, first and foremost, then great youth groups should be considered a bonus, not a necessity. It is over and above what God has called us to do as parents.
Obviously, this devo isn’t really speaking to the non-believer or someone who has never walked inside the doors of a church, so much as it is Christians and those of us who, well, are very “churched.” I just don’t believe that the caliber of adult or youth ministries, instruments or no instruments, the dress code, or denominational preferences should guide our decision as to where we worship and serve. And isn’t that what being the church is all about? Worshiping God and serving others?
I know I am not going to make a lot of new friends with this devo. (I am hoping I don’t lose any.) But I can’t help but wonder what have we allowed to happen by judging churches based on a set of criteria that simply is not scriptural.
My husband and I and our children left a church where we had attended lovingly and faithfully for about 7 years, the denomination to which we were connected for 14 years. Had we only considered churches within that denomination, when we departed, well, that would have limited the options severely, and it would have been disobedient to God. It just so happens, He had an entirely different plan in mind for us. But to find that, we had to be open and willing to walk away from all that was familiar to us. It wasn’t without repercussions. There are people who no longer speak to us since making this decision. But that’s another story another day.
Lessons from that experience: (1) I am not indispensable to either my denomination or the church I attend. (2) God is so faithful and will go ahead of you. (Deuteronomy 31:8) And He will stand in the gap for you and your children. (3) God is transforming lives in many many grace filled churches with many different names on their front lawns. (4) My faith is not dependent upon the place I call my church home. It is totally and irrefutably dependent upon the cross and the mercy of God.
Go back and study the 1st century church of Acts 2. Not through your denominational lenses, or even the lenses of your pastor, or through the lenses of your church traditions. All of these, though they are all good things, can act as a filter for scripture. We simply have to look at scripture with a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17); and examine the truths for ourselves (Acts 17:11); in a way that pleases God and reveals his good and perfect will (Romans 12:1-3).
When we do this, we can only concede that denominational segregation among Christians was never the intent of God, but rather over the course of centuries became the intent of man. (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)
If our faith is inextricably tied to the denomination or non-denominational church with whom we are affiliated, rather than to the One whose life was sacrificed that I might live, what does that say about our walk with Christ or the power of the cross? Is that really faith at all? And if we truly believe in our hearts that God cannot use us outside of this group or that God cannot exponentially transform your life, your marriage, your family, anywhere else, but “there,” then what does that say about the power of our God? How could God, the creator of the universe and author of our faith, be so small? We must not put God inside a little box along with the great plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
I know it is a scary prospect to change religious gears (so to speak) and to suddenly start looking outside your familiar circle as you listen for God’s voice in the journey. I know because we did it. And then just as we were rocking along in our new church serving and feeling like God brought us here for a clear purpose, well, He moved us to Germany. Here we found that we were “stripped” not only of the convenience of denominational choices, but also every “comfort” that goes along with that: buildings, leaders, staff, youth groups, and the list goes on and on. We joined up with another family hosting church in our homes (thanks LC Online resources). It has been so different for our children and us, but once emptied of all that is familiar, you only have God on whom to depend. And the One you serve is faithful.
(1 Corinthians 1:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:11-13)