What do you do when you just don't want to hang out with your church family? When you find it difficult to foster relationships in church? Or if you just find church life a bit mundane? Perhaps you're a new Christian, and you walk into a church full of people you have little in common with, and you don't know how to relate to them; or maybe you just feel like you never quite fit in anywhere, no matter where you go. It can be hard to deal with these struggles, especially when we know that church should be something good, a blessing, and an important part in our Christian life. The struggle is real. I have been there. But thankfully, Scripture has something–actually, a lot–to say about this. When our view of the church and church life is shaped by our feelings and experiences, God gives us His view of things, and it is this heavenly perspective that will make all the difference. I want to share three theological truths the Bible teaches and practical implications that challenged me and that I hope will challenge you as well.
- The Church is a display of the wisdom of God.
Ephesians tells us that the Church is a display of God's wisdom in Christ. There is a new humanity made up of people from all backgrounds and races that has now been reconciled together in Christ. So, you may look around your church and be very unimpressed, but God gives us a heavenly perspective that we often do not see. God Word tells us:
This grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.Ephesians 3:8-10
This perspective is that it was God's plan that through the multi-faceted church, His wisdom would be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This is a big deal–there is a presence of an invisible realm looking on, and the church is God's own evidence to these spiritual forces that their plots have failed, and God's eternal purposes have come to fruition in the Church. The Church is God's victory parade as it were.
This spectacular, cosmic view of the church will transform how you view your local church. You might see an unspectacular group of people on a Sunday morning; you might see people with whom you share little in common and feel underwhelmed. But it is precisely in that unity of very different people, united by faith in Christ–it is through that–that God is displaying His wisdom to the universe. So, you shouldn't go just by what you see and feel but be reassured by faith and not by sight of what is really happening through your church by regaining this view, God's view of his church.
- The church gives a visible demonstration of our union with Christ.
Secondly, we need to be reminded of the implications of being united to Christ as believers. Here's the thing–the Church was Jesus' idea, not ours. It is Christ who said He would build His church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. But more than that, the church is the body of Christ, spiritually; this is a reality (Ephesians 4:1-16, 1 Corinthians 12:12-14). Every believer is united to Christ, grafted together in Him. This means that your attitude toward the church, your attitude toward your brothers and sisters in Christ, reflects your attitude toward Christ. How you treat His people is how you treat Christ Himself.
The implications of this are put so well in a line from a song by the Getty's: "Beneath the cross of Jesus, his family is my own / Once strangers chasing selfish dreams, now one through grace alone / How could I now dishonour the ones that you have loved?"
How then could you possibly mock, disregard, ignore, or dishonour those whom Christ has loved? So, value and love your family in Christ. Like you, just as they have been purchased by Christ and are precious to Him, so too should they be precious to you.
- The diversity of the church reflects the triune God.
The people in your church are not the same as you. Of course they're not. They come from various social and cultural backgrounds, they have different hobbies, they are different ages and have different personalities. But the diversity of your church in fact reflects the diversity of the God we worship–one who is triune in nature, a unity in diversity.
So, don't just put up with them because you have to, but celebrate and rejoice in the diversity. Get to know them. Where have they been? What's their story? What have they learned about Jesus? Be sure that your conversation and relationships will be enriched by it. That frail looking granny in your church that does not seem to do much but knit–turns out she was a missionary somewhere for twenty years. What did she learn about the Lord during her time? When you actually speak to people in your church family and find out more about them, being interested and invested in them, I guarantee you will be challenged and encouraged. And not only will you be encouraged, but you will likely encourage them too by being interested and invested in them.
So how can you practically live out the implications of this in a God-centred way?
First, be others-centred and not self-centred.
If everything is about you, then of course you will become frustrated when the people around you aren't quite on the same wavelength as you, when they don't have the same banter as you, and they aren't meeting your needs. But the reality is that it's not about you; you're not the center of the universe. Christ is, and as a Christian, He calls you to be others-centred and not self-centred.
Your attitude toward your church and church family should reflect the God whom you serve, a God who serves us at a great cost to Himself. So rather than asking, "What can these people offer me?" Ask, "How can I serve these people?" Ask, "How can I build these people up? How can I serve?" Can you offer someone a lift to church? Cut their grass? Grab a coffee with them outside church? Help to babysit for that young mum to give her a break?
Secondly, intentionally seek spiritual growth with them.
Ephesians 4:1 exhorts us to live in a manner worthy of our calling, but the context is not just individual based but rather is for the church as a whole. We are to bear with one another and grow together in Christ. Here we are reminded once more that the Christian life is more than just you and Jesus. There is a corporate aspect to it; we are to help the body of Christ grow in Christ and in turn be helped by the body of Christ to grow.
We were never meant to do Christianity on our own. So, ask for help from your church. Maybe hang out with some of the older Christians, and learn from them. Read the Bible together, pray for them and with them regularly, do mission together, and grow in Christ together.
And then finally, pursue Christ.
The reality is that church will be hard at times; it's a community of sinners trying to love and serve each other, and on this side of eternity, the struggle will be very much real. It is no surprise that the New Testament is full of instructions about how we are to love and serve each other because we need the reminders. But this is not done in our own strength; it is grounded in Christ who has given us the Spirit, our helper. So, meditate on Christ who is love by His very nature and embodies it and who freely gives of Himself. Meditate on His Word so that your heart is shaped and motivated by the love of Christ–cultivate a love that will love Him and His people.
In your church struggle I hope this will be helpful to you as you seek to love your church family. Love them all: love the difficult to love, the socially awkward, the young, the old, the "I have nothing in common with you," the extrovert, the introvert, and everyone in between. Start now with God's help, and here's a thought: you are in one sense practicing for eternity where you will be spending forever with them.