Making disciples

How Connected Are You to Your Church?

Five ways we approach our church families, for better or worse

What kind of connection do you have to your church? I’m not asking if you are a member or how regularly you attend or give. Rather, how much are its people a part of your life and you theirs? Do you see people in your church as family or fellow attendees? Do you think of your church as a “them” or as “us, we”?

Many of us can be tempted to see the church as a spiritual utility company: a place that holds a service where the pastor meets—or doesn’t meet—our needs. As phone, electric and cable companies provide services to benefit our lives, so does the church. Or so we tend to think.

The Bible goes far beyond this conception of church, however. We often fail to recognize how deeply Jesus wants our lives and the life of His Church to intertwine. We’re often quite pleased with our comfortable, yet shallow, relationship with our spiritual family.

Few among us tend to remember that the Church is a blood-bought body into which we have been baptized and placed by Jesus. We belong to a body that is as interdependent and connected as our own (Ephesians 4; 1 Corinthians 12, 13; Romans 12).

In light of this deep connection, here’s a way to check your church connectedness. Which of these phrases sound like how you describe your church to others?

1. “I go to Pastor So-and-So’s church.”

For many, the pastor is the church’s main identity. He is the man of God that you follow, trust, respect and stand behind. As enviable as that may sound to us pastors, it is a scary and vulnerable place to let people stay.

What if the pastor leaves? What if he falls into sin or serious doctrinal error? Or, inevitably, what happens when he shows his humanity? How deep a stroke would it be to you? Do you believe what you believe because a pastor seems convinced enough for both of you, or do you own your faith?

Paul confronted the church in Corinth when they boasted about and lined up behind their favorite leaders (1 Corinthians 3). When we make our connection to church more about the identity of its leader, we become worldly, immature and divisive.

2. “I go to a such-and-such church.”

Your church’s reputation, distinctives, denomination—or lack thereof—and even its image are key. You name-drop it for spiritual credibility, clout or even to be “chic by association.” Your church identity is defined by who you are and are not: traditional, contemporary, reformed, free will, baptistic and so on.

There are hundreds of things we own as distinctives: Pentecostal, non-charismatic, decaffeinated, non-smoking, Republican or Democrat. These can helpful modifiers, but when they define us, they divide us (re-read Ephesians 4:1-16 and Philippians 2:1-11).

We often assert that we agree on a few core doctrinal matters, the essentials. Still, we often truck in our distinctives, put them up front, give them more weight then they deserve or can bear and then start parting company.

Though we may have the Lord Jesus in common, many of us prioritize musical styles, Sunday evening services and dress codes above our crucified, buried, risen, coming-again Savior. Our connectedness should be in Him, not in our particularities and differences.

3. “I go to a church that offers (a list of programs).”

If church primarily is a place to be served and catered to, then something is amiss. We have far too many pew people who claim to have known Jesus for years and are still acting like consumers. They are not ministering, using their gifts or laying down their lives for others.

For people in this mindset, they identify as satisfied customers who like what their church provides. They show up for many of its offerings and even give, bring goodies and help set up and clean up. But, dare you disappoint, offend or slight them, these previously happy customers will vanish, not return calls and arrive late or leave early to the last few events they attend.

When the novelty wears off of how well their church “serves the better burger” and the next “First Church of the Latest and Greatest” bursts onto the scene, they feel the need to check out what “God is up to” there, forgetting all the while that God was already up to something at their former church home.

4. “I go to my family’s church.”

You grew up in the same neighborhood as your parents, went to the same schools and, of course, attend the same church. It’s “where your family goes” because they’ve been involved from the start. Like three other generations, you were dedicated as an infant and later married in that church.

This can be a precious and a holy legacy of stability and commitment. There is nothing wrong with a family church, as long as your family knows it is part of a bigger Family where God is in charge, not Grandma.

5. “I go to a church with my brothers and sisters in Christ.”

To use an old, noble term, you are a churchman or churchwoman. You are committed to serving and meeting the needs of your church family. The churchman or churchwoman is the need-meeting, class-teaching, stranger-greeting, sick-visiting, meal-fixing, flower-buying, card-sending brother or sister.

You rejoice with those who are getting married or having babies. You weep with those facing death, divorce, unemployment or disability. You know and acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, promotions, layoffs and major medical tests. You provide rides to the store, cut the grass, pay the bills, fix the car, slip cash to, pass along hand-me-downs, watch the kids, loan the car.

Each church probably has some of each of these five types of Christians. Our disposition toward church may or may not be produced or promoted by our churches. Rather, we’re all inclined to fall into some of these common approaches to our church families.

I want to urge us all to take the risk, again, and be the church. Let us each lead the way by humbly serving each other as family. For when we do, Jesus will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

How has God changed your approach to your church family? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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