We seem to be hearing a cacophony of messages about the church.
We hear that the church, the gathering of committed believers led by Christ, is important. It matters.
We also hear devastating stories from within the church. Abuse and cover-ups, pride and favoritism, exclusion and judgment. I have experienced some of these firsthand. I have been through church splits, watched close Christian groups splintered by unhealthy people, have walked with someone as they put up boundaries with an incredibly unhealthy “Christian”, and have watched with breaking heart as people walk away from Christ because of people, unable to separate the two.
Church hurts because people hurt. Sin hurts people – one of the big reasons God, in his holiness, calls us OUT of sin and into healthy relationship with one another. Because I have been in so many different denominations, across four different states and multiple cities, I have seen the bad – but I have also seen the good. And the good far outweighs the evil, contrary to what social media is telling you.
When I was a journalism major writing ledes for news pieces, one of the things we learned is that bad news always does better than good news. Media’s engine is bad news. Scandal gets the clicks. Even when I design my own blog post titles, I’ve learned that if I phrase them negatively: “We Can’t Afford a Vague Christianity” instead of “Why Clear Christianity is What We Need” – the negative title will get the attention and clicks. Negativity sells.
Now, I am NOT saying that the sins of the church are just “negativity”, like all we need are some good vibes to fix them. We need repentance, true lament, and a refining. The new great awakening is coming – the church is being sifted. And at the same time… there is a truth many of us are skipping over and in some cases, choosing to intentionally ignore. That truth? The church is still good. And if you’re a Christian, you’re part of it! You’re part of making it even better.
When Jesus ascended to heaven he gave the church (his disciples; church is just the Dutch-English word for assembly of believers) some instructions. He said to stay put and pray for the Spirit, then to GO and make disciples (Matthew 28). After this, the disciples receive the Spirit (Acts 2), begin preaching, and three thousand people join their ranks. What now? The apostles – the guys who spent three years with Jesus learning His ways, learning how to communicate His truths, communicating His message – focus on the most important things for these new believers: the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.
- Apostles’ teaching: This teaching would have been the Old Testament taught through a gospel lens; some translations say “doctrine” instead of teaching. The apostles were mostly ministering to Jews, but as Gentiles were added, they had to be more clear on what the Judeo-Christian ethic is and how the gospel changes our lives. The books of Ephesians, Philippians, Galatians – many of these were written to non-Jewish Christians to disciple them in Christian life.
- Fellowship: David Guzik says the Greek word here “has the idea of association, communion, fellowship, and participation” – it means to share in something. Not just to share in Jesus and a vague belief in him but to share in the actual life experiences. Yes, the good AND the bad. We “carry one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:2 (Do we want we fulfill the law of Christ? We must be connected enough to other believers to carry their burdens).
- Breaking of Bread: This refers to the communion or Eucharist ceremony to commemorate Christ’s sacrifice. Christians would gather together to center their lives and hearts on Jesus.
- Prayers: The word here is plural – not just prayer, but prayers. This was most likely a formal kind of worship and praise to God in addition to corporate prayer.
This was the format of the first church. Remember: these people were just as sinful as us. They struggled like us (the warnings in the New Testament are to them!). They hurt one another and had to be rebuked for favoritism, bigotry, quarreling, and pride. In other words… they were fallen humans brought into community by Christ, meant to be refined in that community. Christ assumed there WOULD BE a community and prayed specifically over it (John 17).
What I am about to write is particularly for those who have not experienced abuse in the church. Those who have experienced true abuse (not correction, or rudeness, or exclusion. These may happen alongside abuse, but they are not in themselves abuse and should not be called such – doing so demeans abuse and abuse victims) need healing, support and oftentimes, professional help. I am addressing those who have simply removed themselves from the church since Covid or before.
I want to ask you a question: What if I, a visible minister of the gospel, told you that I don’t think I need the accountability, vulnerability, prayer and teaching of a church community because I can be taught online, I have some Christian friends, and I study my bible every day?
Would you feel comfortable being discipled by a leader who disconnected herself from community and accountability?
Would you trust me if I was being taught by whoever I found on YouTube?
Should I be ministering and leading people if I have effectively decided I don’t need to be under any authority or be subject to any correction in my life or theology?
I hope you would have a problem with that. I hope you would find it uncomfortable. I hope you would wonder why I have not connected with other godly people, or why, when there are church options almost everywhere in America, I find myself so critical no one can measure up. I hope that would raise red flags for you.
Now, here’s the doozy: You also are a minister of the gospel. You also are called to speak the truth of God’s word to your city, street, and children. You also are a leader in the church. You also have a particular call on your life by God, in Christ, to love your fellow believers even when it is hard.
We all want to follow Jesus – right? And Jesus said to LOVE our enemies! If we can’t even love our fellow believers (love does not mean endorsement of sin) how can we believe ourselves sinless when it comes to loving our enemies? Sometimes, your fellow Christian feels like your enemy. And we’re called to love her – by Jesus Himself.
Church can look different than the American way. I’ve been a part of a house church. I’ve been in tiny churches and larger churches and tbh, I’m not a megachurch fan (that’s a topic for another day). The question you have to ask is, am I participating in a Christian community that has all four of the elements of the early church? And if not – what biblical reason can I give for this decision? I am not saying we must be in church whenever the doors were open. I am affirming a fundamental of the church, a truth that’s lasted 2,000+ years: Christianity cannot be done in isolation. This is not just about you and God. It’s about God, through you, blessing your Christian family, and that family blessing the world.
In every painful church situation I have been in – and there have been many, I just can’t share them publicly – I came out on the other side still championing the church because I went in expecting fallen humans to do fallen things. I also expect Christ to redeem the hard things he calls us to do. I expect that following Jesus will sometimes mean I struggle and suffer. I expect other believers will hurt me and fail me just as I hurt and fail them. But I also expect, based on the very words of Jesus, that He will bring life, overcome darkness, heal, raise up, unite, and redeem. And how can that happen if the people who are his hands and feet just… quit?
So here’s my appeal. Don’t quit. Or stop quitting. Rise up, be part of the family, and I think – I know – you’ll find a life in Christ that blows the doors off a YouTube sermon and convenient “faith”.