Scripture is very clear about the what, who, and why of God’s Church.
The "What" of God's Church:
In the broad sense, it is the universal family of God—His children whom He has bought back from slavery and penalty of sin through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ.
“For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:13
Additionally, the Church also includes the individual, local fellowships of the redeemed that are scattered all over the world.
“To the Church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” 1 Corinthians 1:2
The "Who" of God's Church:
The “who” here refers to the central, unifying figure of the Church—Jesus Christ. He is its foundation. In Matthew 16, Jesus asks His disciples who they believe Him to be. They tell Him that there are many who think He is John the Baptist or a resurrected Old Testament prophet. When pressed once more by Christ to answer the question of who He truly is, it is Peter who answers correctly and definitively, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).
Jesus affirms Peter’s words by saying, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in Heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (v. 17-18).
These verses have been misunderstood and misinterpreted, particularly by the Catholic Church, which has taken this to mean Christ is making Peter the first leader of the Church, its first pope. But it isn’t upon Peter that Christ is building His Church, but rather it is the confession that Peter made—Jesus Christ is God. This is the bedrock, the foundation of the Church. We are Christ’s.
The "Why" of God's Church:
The Gospel is the centerpiece of the Church. Additionally, it is important to remember that the Gospel is more than just the message of salvation. In A Gospel Primer for Christians, Milton Vincent explains,
Therefore, the Church (both universal and local) exists to make Christ known and to daily live out His Gospel. This is the identity we must embrace or else we risk devoting ourselves to a false purpose.
I mention all of this because it is imperative that we understand that for the believer, the Church is not just important. It is essential. The Church is not something we are to be half-hearted about or participate in when it is convenient. Christ expects us to make His Church a priority in our lives.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 1:24-25
“And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13
Christ gave us the Church for encouragement, accountability, admonishment, instruction, service, maturity, and more. Since the Church is so vital in our lives as Christians, we need to make the most of each time we gather together. Each time we meet, we must approach with hearts full of fervent desire and focus, rather than distracted indifference.
So, how do we do this?
What are practical ways we can rightly direct our minds and hearts to God’s Church as we worship and learn together?
1. Be Prepared
Let’s be honest—Sunday mornings can be hectic. Rushing into church feeling worn out, stressed, or anxious is all too easy to do. Maybe you struggle to wrangle the kids out the door in the morning. Often we can sleep past an alarm because of little sleep or a late night before. There are endless obstacles and interruptions that can have us arriving at church on Sunday morning with a heart that is overwhelmed rather than one that is ready to worship. These things are bound to happen. But they will happen less and carry less of an impact if we are mindful about truly preparing for Sunday.
A wise Bible teacher once told me, “Sunday morning begins on Saturday night.” He went on to explain that if we want to glean the most from our time of worship, then it starts much earlier than when we walk in the door and sit down in the pew. Just like a farmer must prepare the soil before planting, we need to prepare our hearts and minds beforehand to receive God’s truth and worship Him as He deserves.
This preparation will flesh itself out in various ways:
Life happens, and there will still be Sunday mornings that are just a little crazier than others. However, if we are mindful to guard and guide our hearts by reasonably preparing ahead of time, we can help those crazy mornings occur less and less. Then we can arrive at church with a calm and quiet heart that is ready to serve, learn, and praise. Since church is our priority, then preparation must be, too!
2. Be Present
I love music and have been blessed to serve in our church’s music ministry over the years. One thing that has really made an impact on me as I stand in front of my fellow believers as we sing songs of praise, worship, and adoration is how often people’s faces do not match the words they are singing. Their mouths are moving but their minds are elsewhere.
Singing or humming a little tune absent-mindedly is one thing, but if are consistently absent-minded or distracted as we worship God in song, there is a problem. It doesn’t matter if the songs are your favorite. The songs aren’t for you—they are for Him! It doesn’t matter if you feel your voice is inadequate. He made your voice and both desires and deserves to hear your praises! It doesn’t matter if you feel that singing just isn’t part of your personality. God’s grace is big enough to overcome your preferences and personality!
If all that wasn’t enough, God commands us to sing praises—with joy and thankfulness!
“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise!” Psalm 95:1-2
“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16
How can we sing with joy and gratitude if our hearts and minds are not actively engaged?
The same is true for the teaching and preaching of God’s Word. One of the primary purposes of the body of Christ is to equip the saints with the truth of the Scriptures. If we sit through sermons and walk away unchallenged or unchanged, then we again have a problem. Often, the issue is the listener, rather than the messenger. Scripture is always profitable, and we if are actively tuned in the teaching of His Word, we should always be able to glean at least one truth to consider and act on. The simplest but most useful tool for me to keep my mind engaged in preaching is to take notes. I’m far less likely to allow my mind to wander or become distracted if I am listening to understand and write things down. Sometimes my notes are extensive and detailed, and sometimes they are a simple outline. For me, the point is not what I write down but that the action aids me in keeping my focus where it needs to be so that I can be challenged and encouraged in my faith.
When we come to worship God, He deserves our undivided attention. This means we must continually do the hard work of removing distractions and engaging our hearts and minds in Christ.
3. Be Humble
In our modern, Western church, its become common to view the Church through the attendee’s experience. People look for a variety of programs for all ages, music that suits their personal tastes, and people with whom they can be friends. And while these things are not wrong in and of themselves, they are not the purpose of the Church. They are not even necessary. We do not join or go to church to be entertained, find friends, or be served. We are part of the Church to be servants—we serve God and we serve each other. So often we can become disillusioned by a church because we feel our needs are not being met. But Scripture tells us a different story. Consider the early Church in Acts 2. Here we see the first assembly of the New Testament Church, and this is how they were described:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42
This verse shows us the essential marks of a good church—devotion to rightly teaching the Word, godly fellowship and hospitality, and an emphasis on prayer and communion with God. This verse also reveals the attitude with which we ought to approach each gathering as the body of Christ. These believers were humble and came to serve rather than to be served.
This goes beyond being part of a specific ministry. Humble service is more than teaching a Sunday school class, working in the nursery, or singing in the choir. It’s not just a box we check off each week. Real service in the Church is doing life together. We serve when we come to church actively looking for people to encourage. We serve the Church by expressing our gratitude to our pastor and elders and praying for them and their families. We serve by offering to take a visitor or new member to lunch to get to know them better.
Christian service is love with work boots on. This requires us to be involved and invested in each other’s lives. We have to let down our guards and do away with pretense. We have to let ourselves be known and seek to really know others. This is the only way we can do as Paul instructs us in Romans 12 to use our gifts for the good of the Church and live in a way that pleases God.
If we only go to church looking to be served and catered to, we miss God’s design and purpose for the body of Christ, and we do ourselves a great disservice as well.
I hope this series has been profitable as we’ve considered the spiritual disciplines of mediation, prayer, and our life in Christ’s Church. These habits of grace are not meant to be drudgery but rather a delight! They are tools God uses to deepen our faith, conform us to His Son, and draw others to Him!
How are you cultivating fruitful habits of grace in your life today?
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