I’m all about the spiritual reasons that relate to prayer, the work of the Spirit during worship, the observation of communion, study of the Word, and expressing praise to our God. For me, that’s enough. It’s this assembly and fellowship to which God has called His people.
But I’ve been reminded recently that there are some ‘unspiritual‘ reasons for attending and being a part of the church. I know not everyone experiences this in the church to which they belong (which is regrettable). But I have found the church to be …
-A group of people who always ask how I am and are interested in me, fighting back the loneliness of our culture and world.
-A group that has get-togethers planned where we share food, laughs, and friendship.
-A resource of knowledge from various backgrounds that can offer me direction when I have a legal question … or a suggestion when I have a medical ailment … or can remind me which literary novel references this phrase that’s been on my mind … or can tell me how to cook something I haven’t done well with … or who can tell me if the latest movie is any good.
-A place where I can find help. Whether I need to move something that’s too heavy for me or my car is broken down and I need a ride … usually someone will be able to come to my aid. Sometimes it’ll be a group of someones. And without complaints.
-A group that will bring me food when I’m sick or when I’ve lost someone I loved. They won’t let me suffer alone.
I know there are many organizations and groups that can claim to serve their members in such ways. There are places that encourage belonging and warmth, acceptance and friendship. But when God calls a church together I think he has a way of deepening all of those relationships. Our interest and help for one another is based on an eternal principle.
Really, now that I think about it a little more what we might term ‘unspiritual’ is not unspiritual at all. It is reflective of one of the greatest commands of God.
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others].’ – Matthew 22:38b, AMP
When one gives up on church they might think they just don’t believe some of those doctrines or that God is real or that they don’t want to be involved in a religious organization. But what is given up are those unspiritual blessings that, as it turns out, would feed the spiritual side of one’s heart. So, they are not quite so unspiritual after all.
Even with the flaws of her human inhabitants, the church reminds me … out here hope remains.
Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ~ Acts 2:38
Growing up in churches of Christ, I heard this verse almost every Sunday! A phrase frequently emphasized was ‘every one of you’ – letting us know that this teaching of the Apostles was for everyone who would express faith in Christ.
Obedience to the Gospel is to be followed by a life in the church! Most churches are packed with immensely talented people! God has gifted every one of us with abilities that are to benefit the church. He truly has equipped “the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). You are enabled to contribute to the good of the entire body.
When you use your gifts to bless the church, then “the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16). The church is a community of faith that is dependent upon the service and involvement of every one of its members.
What would happen to your body if one day your leg decided it didn’t have to participate in the day?
What if your arm decided it needed to do something else instead of be a part of the body? What if the body failed to accomplish its mission because many parts refused to cooperate with the rest of the body?
One thing is for sure – the body will never have to operate without it’s head: Jesus! “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). It is our obligation to mature in our functioning in the church – and not excuse our absence and inactivity.
Upon how many of your body parts are you depending? Every. One.
Upon how many members of our congregation are we depending? Every. One.
How many ministries could benefit from more participation? Every. One.
How many empty pews should be filled at all of our gatherings? Every. One.
Who should be praying about this and contemplating their involvement in the church? Every. One.
It’s Saturday night as I write this. It’s been a rainy afternoon … a kind of dreary nap-inducing time to tell the truth. It is the summer and many of my brothers and sisters are on the road vacationing and visiting family. I don’t blame them and look forward to some travels soon myself. Every Sunday morning we have a number of people (sometimes a large number!) who simply decide not to come to church that day. I get it. You’ve had a hard week and you’re facing a brutal Monday morning. Maybe you don’t feel very good or you have some spiritual need you’re wrestling with right now. I’m writing this for the people who just arbitrarily decide that church is not that important today. Maybe all of these won’t ‘fit’ you, but please consider the ones that do.
1. You Will Miss the Opportunity to Love. I know you don’t have to go to church to show love to your brothers and sisters, but it stands to reason that when they are all gathered together you have an excellent chance to share the love of Christ with others! Jesus has expressed such love for us in both his sacrifice at the cross and in His grace that saves us. When we love we are doing so in His name. Romans 12:10 says, “Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
2. You Will Miss the Opportunity to be Loved. Did you notice in Romans 12:10 that phrase, “mutual affection”? Then the instruction to try to “outdo one another” in a good way! When the focus is on loving and being loved, you don’t want to miss out on that. Many is a Sunday when I really don’t feel like being at worship, but then people start showing love and my spirits are revived!
3. You Will Miss the Opportunity to Experience Diverse Relationships. The church is a diverse group of people. Sometimes this can create challenging situations. However, sometimes it can bring a lot of joy. When we ‘live in harmony’ that means we are singing different notes to the same song! Worshiping together with a diverse group gives us opportunity to put others first and rid ourselves of destructive pride. Romans 12:16 says, “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.”
3. You Will Miss the Opportunity to Extend a Welcome! Romans 15:7 says, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Not everyone at church will be the old familiar faces. There will be new faces. Sometimes these are hurting people trying to find a connection to God. What a blessing it is to make someone feel at home, to welcome them into the Lord’s Assembly. Romans 16:16 says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” A holy handshake as a greeting is good too!
4. You Will Miss the Opportunity to Hear a Needed Instruction. Romans 15:14 says, ” I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.” When we study the Word together we often hear insights that we did not have when we were studying on our own. The messages shared in classes and sermons and even good spiritual conversations might be a way that God is shedding some light on our path through life. Hebrews 3:13 reminds us to, “…exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Do you think that by staying away from the assembly we may become more hardened to the deceitfulness of sin?
5. You Will Miss the Opportunity to Care. 1 Corinthians 12:25 instructs members to “have the same care for one another.” Many times prayer requests are shared and each one of those not only gives us the privilege to pray, but also to respond in compassion. Maybe there’s something you can do to bless a hurting member of your church, but you won’t know about it if you are not present at the assembly. Maybe one day that person will be you, and you’ll need the care of others. Perhaps in caring for someone who is visiting or showing love to someone who is weak in faith you may be the reason someone gives their life to Christ!
6. You Will Miss the Opportunity to Serve. Galatians 6:2 tells us to, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Jesus told us that when we serve the ‘least of these’ we are serving him. When we bear one another’s cares and troubles we are fulfilling the law of Christ. What a terrible thing to neglect by our absence!
7. You Will Miss the Opportunity to Mend a Broken Relationship. Ephesians 4:31-32 reminds us that our brothers and sisters in Christ are not to be at war, fighting one another … but instead forgiving when there has been a disagreement or problem. It is to be so thorough a repair to our relationships that it is comparable to the way God has forgiven us in Christ. “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
8. You Will Miss the Opportunity to Sing to One Another! “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God (Colossians 3:16).” You might not think you’re a great singer, but every voice adds to the beautiful orchestra of the Body of Christ. In the songs we sing there is wisdom and teaching. Singing together is something we almost always do only at the assembly – unless you’re one of those who breaks out in song every chance you get!
9. You Will Miss the Opportunity to Grow in Love. We are to be growing in our love for one another. Although they say, ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’, I don’t believe it! How can we grow in our love for one another and not be around one another when we are worshiping our King? 2 Thessalonians 1:3 says, “We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”
10. You Will Miss the Opportunity to Develop a Good Habit! Consistent church attendance is one of the greatest habits you can develop and also help your children develop. Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us that some people develop the opposite talent. (“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”) Instead of staying away from the assembly, it is true that we all have a job to do when we gather together.
There are many more reasons to gather with the church at each assembly. But the truth is that we will not likely find time to obey the commands of Scripture that relate to “one another” if we are in the habit of staying away from the church gathered. No church is perfect and maybe you’ve had your feelings hurt or you can see the faults of others very clearly. If I read the above Scriptures correctly that is your cue to demonstrate the love of Christ to those who are not what they should be. Help make the church what it ought to be, if it is falling short in some area. The church is made up of individuals – and you are one of those!
I hope this is an encouragement to you to worship with your church family next time they gather. Maybe print it out and have it handy to read when you’re feeling a little down about being with God’s Family. Thank you for reading! JD
Jesus is described in the Bible as the cornerstone, the door, and the foundation of the church. Peter wrote that we were “living stones…being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:25). The architectural imagery of the church in Scripture is vivid. There is no question that the foundation of a great church is Jesus Christ. But the biblical imagery of the church also suggests that each member of the church is a vital part of that structure.
There is a sense in which we are all ‘the church’ every day and everywhere we go. We do not put on and take off Christ depending on the situation. Our desire as disciples of Jesus is to bring His presence into the world around us through love, service, and attitudes we learn from Him.
There is also a sense in which we are ‘the church’ when gathered. The community of faith as described in Scripture regularly assembles to encourage one another to show love and do good works.In the Book of Acts they gathered daily.
I am concerned that in today’s culture the church is seen as a consumer provider. Many may feel that the church is to provide a menu of choices from which we might pick one or two that suit us.At least, this is what our attendance patterns tell me. The church is so much more than just attendance at Bible Class, LifeGroup, and Worship times … but can the church ever be all it could be without consistent attendance at those times?
Who is setting the agenda for you and your family? When Wednesday night Bible class rolls around we ought to have a packed church. Why? Because we are building a foundation for our family and our own spiritual life to empower our walk the rest of the week. Sunday School should be a power hour for our children. Who is deciding where your children are during Sunday School? Parents? Coaches? Television? A sleepy-eyed child?
In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus describes building a life on the word of God as building on a solid rock foundation. Trying to build your life without the word of God is to build on sand. When the storms of life come – and they will – you and your children will need a firm foundation to survive.
To build a great church every member will have to make the effort to be present when the church gathers. Otherwise, what are we building?
Small Groups: A Refreshing Approach for Exasperated Leaders is the title for a presentation at the Tulsa Workshop, Saturday March 21 at 2:00. Audio will be added soon. Many of the ideas expressed here came from a survey conducted in February 2015 of small group leaders across the country. Some specific survey results are listed at the end of this post. Also I asked for book suggestions for small group leaders and those are listed at the end of this post as well. ~JD
If you are discouraged with your small group ministry, remember:
*There are no perfect small groups.
*There is no one way to do small groups.
*There is no guarantee that this is going to engulf your church in a perfect storm of fellowship and evangelism.
*Everybody in your church will not embrace small groups.
*The breakthrough you’re hoping for is both spectacular and short-lived.
Other than that, small groups are awesome!
Why Do Small Groups Exasperate Leaders?
According to those who took my survey, a majority of respondents are exasperated because group members do not attend consistently. Other areas of frustration are the number of non-participants in the church and the lack of evangelistic effort within the groups. Other sources of frustration given were:
*Senior Leadership that does not promote or encourage groups
*Leadership that attempts to micromanage groups
*It’s hard to find Substitute leaders
*Childcare is a difficult problem to solve
*Best scheduling for participation
*Unwillingness of group members to birth new groups
*Finding willing hosts
All small groups will face some of those problems.
– One Dozen Ways to Overcome Exasperation In Small Group Ministry –
1. Prayer, meditation, and time in the Word. It’s hard to lead a group into spiritual life if we do not have it ourselves. In her book Soul-Shaping Small Groups, Kim Engelmann suggests that this should be the major component of our group meetings.
Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. ~Ephesians 6:18
2. Spend Time With Other Ministry Leaders.There is value to talking with another, more experienced leader.
Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. ~Proverbs 27:17
3. Realize that God has the people here that need to be here. This is God’s ministry to those in need, not mine. This gives me time to give extra attention to those who need it. Don’t be addicted to the success story, be addicted to the ministry story.
The household of Stephanas … “have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints…” ~1 Corinthians 16:15 (KJV)
4. Talk with the group about consistency – it’s possible that they haven’t really considered how important each one of them is. To hear from someone who is is a friend about how important the meetings are can make an impact.
And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. ~ Hebrews 10:24-25
5. Explore Social Connections. If you have opportunity, spend some time with group members one on one. The basis of small group ministry is relationships – and the connections we have are very powerful. Loving one another is key.
Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. ~ Acts 2:46-47
6. Persevere! All ministry efforts require a moderate (and sometimes extreme) amount of perseverance.
…We rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. ~Romans 5:3-4
7. Take a Break. The Sabbath Principle is often not practiced by Small Group Leaders. It’s hard to find someone to take your place. A break could take different forms: A break from the meeting one night a month. A break from the usual setting – meet somewhere different. Ideally you should be able to be a regular Small Group member for a season.
Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. ~Matthew 11:28-29
8. Consider the Needs Being Met. What you are doing is vitally important – more so to some individuals. What spiritual maturity has been enhanced because of your work? In what ways has the group grown in effectiveness and strength under your leadership. Your small group provides a place for those who may feel like ‘outsiders’.
And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. ~1 Thessalonians 5:14
9. Self-Care. If you burn out in your ministry efforts, more people will be hurt than helped. Resist the temptation to do too much. Exercise, take care of yourself, let the group go for a bit if you need to. Refresh and Feed yourself … in order to encourage others.
10. Move beyond the group into everyday life. Service projects, mission trips, attending conferences together. Break up the routine.
11. Remember that the seeds you are planting today God will produce fruit for many years to come. Sometimes it takes years to see the result. Over time the impact of your group will be immeasurable.
12. Realize that it’s OK to be frustrated. Do you know WHY you are frustrated? The group has purpose and needs, and those do not come easy. The group is not about you, it’s about helping each other follow Christ more closely.
Conclusion: Remember that Jesus’ small group was probably just as frustrating!
– Survey Results –
Small Group Leaders from Across the U.S. took a survey in February 2015. Survey Results:
84 Small Group Leaders Took Survey. 40% have been leading a group less than 4 years. 60% over 4 years.
What is the Typical Content of Your Group Studies?
* 29% Books designed for Small Groups
*30% The Bible
*27% Sermon-Based Groups
What is the Number One Frustration You Have as a Small Group Leader?
39% Group Members that Do not attend consistently
18% The number of non-participants in church
17% Lack of evangelistic effort in group
Priority of Prayer in Group Meetings?
*30% Very High – prayer takes a significant portion of meeting
*49% Medium – pray together a few times during meeting, mentioning specific needs
*15% Low – not a major component of meetings
This is a combination of two similar questions: When you encounter frustration about your group, can you briefly name one or two things that refocus your energies? / What would you say to small group leaders who are tired and frustrated with their duties? There were 59 Responses, these are the top three:
27 said: Take a break – sometimes we do things for a season. Maybe even ask someone to take the lead one night a month. / enjoy being a group member for a season. / No group should be dependent on just one leader. / Smaller churches often struggle with this./ do less so someone else can step up / Recruit others to lead.
25 said: Prayer / meditation / time in the Word / ask God if he has really called you to this ministry? / pray for each member by name
15 said: Talking with another, more experienced leader. / discussing with co-leaders. / Encouragement from other leaders. Doing things on my self-care plan. / let’s struggle together and encourage one another. / spend time with someone who can mentor you in this area.
These and other responses were used throughout this presentation.
– Book Recommendations –
One more question: If you could pick one book about small groups to give to all group leaders, what would it be? Here are some of the suggestions that related to small group ministry, with some additional selections as well:
Thanks for reading and especially if you gave me the honor of spending time in my session. I am grateful. JD
Doing things the old way isn’t always the best way. But it’s equally true that doing things in new ways doesn’t make them better ways! I confess I do like considering new approaches and making new efforts to accomplish the Christian mission in our time. Sometimes that helps us … sometimes it hurts us … but I think there is merit in exploring new territory to try to reach out for Christ. Even so, I will admit that I am still old school in some areas that I think have great importance. Further, I’m not ashamed to be old school about these things!
*Warning* Personal opinions ahead. I’m not making these judgments for you to live by, I’m expressing my own thoughts. Don’t be offended if you think differently. Everybody has the equal opportunity to be wrong. You can smile now.
I Think Christians Ought To Go To Church When The Doors Are Open. I know most (all) churches have their set of problems. But nothing is solved by staying away. I would venture a guess that most people do not study their Bibles and pray MORE when they stay away from church. I don’t think that going to church solves all issues in our lives, nor does it guarantee a seat in the Heavenlies (only Jesus can do that!). But there is something that happens in the assembly that doesn’t happen elsewhere. Support your local church with your attendance and participation. Help it become what it needs to be. Be a team player and be dependable! Bring others along!
I Am A Proponent of Acappella Congregational Singing. Yes, anyone who follows me online knows I am a Hillsong fanatic. I enjoy going to Christian concerts and even worship services designed with instrumental music. But when the only sound in the building at the moment is the uplifted voices of the Saints … it’s a holier moment to me than most any other. It is a pure experience, in my opinion, because the message of the song rises unhampered by theatrics. I know it’s not as musically precise (and to be honest neither are some of the worship bands I have heard). I’ve been in some excruciating acappella services as well – times when it would have been a praise to God to just get quiet. But given all our human foibles, acappella congregational singing best unites the gathered Christians vocally, with praise going to God and not to other humans.
I Am Glad My Tribe Celebrates the Lord’s Supper Every Week. Listening to podcasts and reading writings of other denominations, I’m often caught by surprise when there is some jubilant announcement like, ‘Hey, we’re having communion this Sunday! Awesome!’ Yep it is so awesome that it is relegated to quarterly observance! Maybe it’s my upbringing, but I cannot imagine worshiping week after week without communing together. The message of the Eucharist is unity, remembrance, and looking forward … these are core to who we are as Christians. I have a sense that the earliest Christians communed even more than we do … and the presence of Christ as the host of His table was a conscious part of their daily lives.
I Still Believe in Sunday School. Until we reach the point where families are studying together frequently, and Christians are in the Word as they should be, I think Sunday School serves a great purpose. The people that I know who are thirsty for God’s Word are Sunday school attenders and participants (and teachers). There may be some individuals out there who turn their nose up at Sunday School who are diligent Bible students, but I suspect most study less when they do not participate in a class.
I Still Love the Church. I know there are terrible church stories about people who have acted badly, but the best people I ever met in my life were strong members of the church. When I read the Scriptures I do not find a church-hating people – but a gathered people … a community of faith … living the life of Christ together. So you can talk bad about church if you want to, but I love my Christian family! I love spending time with them pursuing holiness and discipleship … love and support … weeping together and laughing together … I really love the church.
I can see the rolling eyes now from those who feel free from legalistic constraints. But I don’t view these as legalistic obligations as much as they are opportunities to honor God. I also wonder if those who abstain from the above find other ways to honor God …or they just are glad not to feel like they have to be at church on Sunday morning!
God bless you on your journey with Christ. Thanks for reading, JD.