What you miss when you turn your back on church

It happened again last week: I came across someone’s comment that they no longer attended church. This was not from an unbeliever or someone who had never been a churchgoer. This was from a professing Christian who had attended church regularly for years and then decided to forsake the practice. This commenter did not say why she no longer attended, but there seemed to be just a bit of vitriol in her response. Perhaps someone had offended her or something happened that she didn’t care for. People seem to be leaving the church in droves for such reasons.

I’m always grieved when I see this kind of thing. It’s necessary at times to leave a particular church, but you miss a lot if you give up church all together, such as:

1. God’s gifts to the church.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” (Ephesians 4:11-13a, ESV). Yes, you can gain from hearing a good radio or Internet sermon. But that’s not the same as being personally pastored or shepherded by the man God has raised up to lead your congregation. Hebrews 13:7-17 gives more instruction about our reaction to church leaders: remembering, imitating, obeying.

2. Getting equipped. The purpose God gave those gifts mentioned in the first point was “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

3. Being fed. I Peter 3:1-4 instructs church leaders to “feed the flock.” Yes, we should feed ourselves in the Word during the week, but we shouldn’t neglect the “family dinner” available to us every week at church.

4. Being a part of what God is doing through the church. “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 3:10). That’s an amazing thought, that God teaches things about Himself to “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” through His interactions with the church.

5. Your place in the body. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul goes to great lengths to explain that the church is like a body. We’re not all eyes, else how would we hear or smell (verse 17 and following)? We each have different gifts and functions, designed to work together and minister to each other. When we remove ourselves from the body, we leave an empty place and we miss the function of the others.

6. The care of a church family. “God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” Most church members could tell you stories about being ministered to and cared for my other members.

7. A place to use your gifts and be ministered to by others. This overlaps with #5 a bit. But the Bible lists several types of spiritual gifts that God distributes to His children, among them, teaching, administration, giving, mercy, helps, and others. We’re to use them to minister to each other. Sure, they’re not restricted to the four walls of the church: we use them at work, with neighbors, online, etc. But church is the primary outlet. You miss being ministered to by others and and you miss the people you’re to minister to. As our church read through the book of Acts over several weeks, I noted several times people strengthened people (14:22; 15:32, 41; 16:5; 18:23). And I thought, “Wait a minute: isn’t it Go who strengthens us?” Yes. But He often uses people to strengthen, to encourage (often paired with strengthen in Acts), to comfort.

8. Biblical one anothers. Again, these can be done outside the church, but the context of most of them is within the church.

Wash one another’s feet—John 13:14.
Love one another—John 13:3; 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8; I Peter 1:22; I John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11.
In honor preferring one another—Romans 12:10.
Don’t judge one another—Romans 14:13.
Receive one another—Romans 15:7.
Salute one another—Romans 16:16.*
Greet one another—I Cor. 16:20, II Cor. 13:12, I Peter 5:14.
Serve one another—Gal. 5:13.
Don’t provoke one another or envy one another—Gal. 5:26.
Bear one another’s burdens—Gal. 6:2.
Forbear one another in love—Eph. 4:2, Col. 3:13.
Forgive one another—Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13.
Teach and admonish one another with song—Col. 3:16.
Comfort one another—I Thess. 4:18.
Edify one another—I Thess. 5:11.
Exhort one another— Heb. 3:13; 10:25.
Consider one another to provoke unto love and good works—Heb. 10:24.

9. Biblical conflict resolution. In Matthew 18, Jesus gave instructions about how to handle when other people sin against you. If you just leave the church without settling these manners, you do a disservice to yourself and the other person. Some people go from church to church to church with a trail of unresolved conflicts in their wake, until they finally stop going all together.

10. Exercise in forbearance. No church is going to be perfect. How could it be, when each is made up of sinners who are not yet perfect? We all still struggle with our flesh and will til we get to heaven. Sometimes our fleshly natures irritate each other. Sometimes we need to confront each other, as in #9. But sometimes we need to depend on God’s grace to forbear each other. If we leave due to others’ irritating us, we miss out on this (difficult) grace. “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3, KJV). “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:12-15, KJV).

11. Accountability. Jesus gave an illustration about the danger of judging by showing how ludicrous it was to try to help someone get a speck out of their eye if you’ve got a 2×4 in yours. Most people get the idea that we usually have bigger issues than the person we’re judging, and we need to take care of our own faults. But we overlook verse 5: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” We’re supposed to help each other with the things that cloud our vision.

12. Obedience. “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 10:24-25). I know some use these verses like a club, and they shouldn’t. But they are in the Bible.

Sure, there are times one can’t attend church: illness, exhaustion, travel, grief, etc. Some people can’t attend church due to long-term physical issues. We should still be the church to them and minister to them.

And, yes, some Biblical teaching about the church refers to what we call the church universal: everyone who has ever been and will be a believer. But most of the New Testament epistles were written to small local assemblies where these things were to be practiced.

And yes, attending church is not a guarantee that everything will go well with your life. But there are people there who can help when things do go wrong.

And going to church is not a substitute for a personal relationship with Christ. If we go to church all our lives and miss that, we’re in trouble. Not all churches teach the gospel or the Bible. It’s important to go to one that does. We don’t become righteous by attending church every time the doors are open: we need to repent of our sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. But a church made up of people who have done that can help each other along the way.

A few days ago I read in Seasons of the Heart:

How unhappy it is, my dear friend, that the little family of Christ should be so torn with internal animosities and feuds at a time when the state of the world seems to render it peculiarly necessary that all its members should be bound together in the unity of the Spirit an the bonds of peace. At no period in the history of the church can we discover so many and such powerful efforts of the prince of this world and his adherents to destroy its purity and its very existence as at the present time. (June 21 entry, Susan Huntington)

And that was in the early 1800s! Susan concludes:

But thanks be to God–He is showing us, by the effusions of His Spirit on various places, that He still remembers His church and will not suffer the gates of hell to prevail against it. And blessed be His name for the assurance that none shall be able to pluck His children out of the Savior’s hands or prevent His giving unto them eternal life! My friend, let us pray for each other. And may He, who is the believer’s hope, finally present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy!

The church has always been full of problems. Most of the NT epistles were written to correct some of those problems. We’ll always have differences with each other, some due to personality, culture, stages of growth and maturity. Perhaps some differences exist to encourage us to thoughtfulness, understanding, seeing things from another’s viewpoint, grace. But some are due to blind spots. We can help each other with those blind spots if we’re open and humble (Matthew 7:1-5).

I’ve never read Phil Yancey, but I saw this quote attributed to him and it affected me so much. I’m not sure where or when he said it: “I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.” I’m also not very familiar with Jackie Hill Perry, (though I want to read her book) but she once Tweeted, “Do you know who God used to heal me of my church hurt? The church.”

The church means a great deal to Christ, so how can we dismiss or ignore it? “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). If Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, and we love Him, can we forsake the church He loves so much?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday,
Kingdom Bloggers, Tell His Story,
Purposeful Faith, Let’s Have Coffee,
Share a Link Wednesdays, Grace and Truth)

 

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36 thoughts on “What you miss when you turn your back on church

  1. Thank you SO much for this post, Barbara! So well said! I have been thinking about this problem for awhile and had come to some of the same conclusions, but you have said it clearly, succinctly, and biblically.

  2. I’ve gone through seasons when church was difficult and when church was easy. But so far I’ve always been grateful to at least have a church community to worship alongside. Thanks for these encouraging insights here today, Barbara. The Philip Yancey quote about grace is so good.

    • Thanks so much for visiting and commenting, Victoria! it’s hard to get back into the habit – kind of like first day of a new school jitters. And every time we’ve moved and looked for a new church home, it’s taken months of visiting several to find the one where we felt God wanted us. But I do hope you’ll find just the right one for you.

  3. Thank you, Barbara, for your passion on this topic. Church has been one of the most challenging parts of my spiritual journey and it is also one of the most important parts. Not only do we NEED the sandpaper of the church gathered–the church needs us. And Eugene Peterson’s wisdom always helps me: “Sooner or later, though, if we are serious about growing up in Christ, we have to deal with church.” Amen!

    • I like that quote! And good analogy with the sandpaper. I have thought of certain individuals in my life history as sandpaper, but in a sense we’re all supposed to help each other with our rough edges. Maybe the problem is we want to go somewhere and feel warm and cozy rather than convicted and corrected.

  4. I love Philip Yancy…great quote!
    I know of one family who worship in their own home with about 2 other families…they “do church” in their home, because their little girl (now in her 20s) was not believed in our former church (a church Dave and I were definitely a part of for 15 years until we began to see some very disturbing behavior from the elders and the fact that they no longer “believed” in having a pastor among other disturbing things) about being sexually molested by a sunday school teacher who babysat for her in their home. I won’t go into details, but one of the elders, who is a lawyer assured this family that he would take care of thing. I actually am a mandated reporter but did not know of this situation until years later after Dave and I had left. Barbaraj, I do not blame them for leaving. A crime was committed and NOTHING WAS DONE!!!!! Once the little girl received counseling and we learned of this tragedy I did report him to the state. Let’s just say he is no longer allowed to work with children and lost his foster care license. I was disgusted and honestly there’s more to it that I won’t go into but my current pastor whom we trust beyond anyone but Christ himself, has called that church “an abusive church” So YES sometimes one must leave a horrible environment when TRUTH is not preached. Sorry for the rant. This was a great post and I agree with all of your points. But honestly, my friends who have been so hurt by leadership, they are fine and staying in the Word and yes I’ve invited them to our church but they just are not ready for corporate worship anywhere yet.

    • Sadly, that situation has become entirely too common. It’s really a travesty that for too many years the church felt they should cover up such things, and so many have had to endure terrible consequences. Maybe you know that the Southern Baptist Convention has been having meetings, hearing testimonies, etc., about abuse in the church. I hope other denominations do as well. As sad as I am to know these things have happened, I am glad they are coming to light now so people can be more aware and change their thinking and those who have been hurt can be ministered to and those who have done these evil things can be dealt with.

      And yes, I agree that’s the kind of church one definitely needs to leave.

      I commend those parents for doing church on a smaller, safer scale rather than forsaking it completely. It would have been understandable if they had all turned bitter and turned away. But it’s good they saw the benefits of gathering with other believers in a way that worked best for them.

  5. I am hearing more and more about the number of people leaving the church and as a result, churches are actually closing. It is disheartening in many ways until I look closely at myself and remind myself that I am one but one person can share the Gospel. Many of the people who do go to church are strong and ready to do the hard work. I pray daily that I continue to be a person who lives a life honoring God and loving others.

    • Yes, we each can only do our part. That’s another of the great things about both the local church and the larger body of believers – we each have different strengths and weaknesses and can complement each other.

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  7. It is not a coincidence that “sin abounds” in our culture as church attendance diminishes. Great article. Almost all people who “get offended” at a church also “get offended” with other groups in which they are involved. For instance, getting offended by your family member does not mean you walk away from them.

    • That’s true. Some people do get offended too easily and then don’t handle it in the right way. On the other hand, some have been sorely wounded by the church. I hope to encourage them not to give up on it all together but to keep searching til they find one that ministers to them and that they can minister in.

  8. These are great points, and I agree that church is so important. I struggled with church for years and it has only been in the last few years that I have found a church I truly feel part of but it is such a blessing and I’m glad I didn’t give up!

  9. Great, and important post. I wrote on this subject a while back for similar reasons. These days it seems we encounter more and more professing believers who don’t have the right attitude regarding Church; they don’t understand its purpose, why we are told t fail not to assemble. You point out the need for/ important of church attendance beautifully. Thank you for sharing. God bless you!

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  11. Thanks for this post, Barbara. I agree that attending church on a regular basis is important in a believer’s faith. Our family has recently come out of a situation where we had to leave a church we were members of for over 4 years. While I would’ve been happy staying at home and not attending any church, I also recognized that I was speaking from hurt and pain. I think one of the biggest reasons why people leave the church and do not return is because church leaders fail to take responsibility for their sin and wrong-doing. At least, this has been my own experience. I also wonder if the line ‘no church is perfect’ has become a way to justify sin and wrong-doing within the church. Sure, it’s true. But if it’s just left as an excuse instead of a gateway to allow the Holy Spirit to change lives and hearts, then people will continue to leave. This is something that has been on my heart for several months now. While I’m not ready to share these kinds of thoughts on my blog yet, I appreciate being able to share them here. Thanks for linking up with Grace & Truth this week.

    • Thanks so much for sharing. That’s true – we can use the “no church is perfect” line as an excuse not to grow, just like we can use “nobody’s perfect” to excuse our personal sin. Thanks for mentioning this aspect. We know that as individuals we need to continually examine ourselves, confess sin, and grow in the Lord, but we don’t think about doing that as a church.

  12. Another great post, Barbara. It breaks my heart that so many are leaving churches for the slightest reasons. I find with my kids generation too there is an attitude of “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” followed by a generalized statement that goes along the lines of “The church is so judgemental (or demanding, or boring, or insert whatever else). Such a spiritual battle for the hearts of our young people.

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  14. I miss church right now, but I just can’t find one to which I feel I belong in our community. We visited churches only to be ostracized and left alone. No one welcomed us or called us. We felt very lonely sitting in the pews. No one reached out to us outside the church, invited us to share dinner or lunch afterward or had anything to do with us socially outside of the church. I saw them go to lunch together or heard them invite each other to eat dinner at their homes or to special events, but no such invitations were ever extended to us. This happened church after church. I want to feel like I am part of a community. I keep praying for a church to which we feel loved and where we fully belong but have not found one yet. In the meantime, I stay home, study my Bible, and pray.

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  16. Barbara, I found this wonderful article because Mary Hill highlighted it last week. This is great. I love all your points, and the Yancey quote and tweet message at the end are amazing. I just wrote about reasons to connect with a local church on my blog last week. Praying messages like ours encourage believers about the importance of the church.

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