“I love Jesus; I just don’t care for the church.”
“I don’t need the hypocrites in the church to help me follow God.”
“My relationship with God is private; I don’t need other people to tell me how to worship my God.”
I know people who have said these statements. At some point, they have been by the local church, and they see the body of Christ more like a den of lions than a flock of sheep. They have been wounded by those who claim to know the grace and forgiveness of a holy God. These men have experienced pain in one of the most intimate relationships designed by God for his children—a relationship intended to be so close Christ describes it as different parts to one body. I would guess you know women like this, too. You may even be one of them.
If you know someone like this or this description fits you, take a moment to re-consider your relationship with the beloved bride of Christ.
FOR YOUR GOOD
In today’s modern world, many of the benefits of belonging to a church can be experienced apart from the church. Access to good teaching is readily available with the click of a screen. Fellowship with other believers can be had apart from a commitment to a local church family. One can share her faith without being a church member. One can have prayer meetings and Bible studies apart from the church.
But have you ever considered that being under the spiritual leadership of a godly minister of the gospel is a gift from God, a gift given uniquely to the local church? Submission to a pastor who knows you, loves you, and shepherds your soul is a gift specifically given to Christians. Pastors have no authority and no charge over those who are not in their congregation. On the contrary, a commitment to a body of believers and the elders of that church afford one spiritual guidance and protection.
A former pastor of mine once described the role of the elders as standing guard around the walls of the church and providing air cover when enemies comes near. Their role is one of protection, guidance, and help. To intentionally refuse to submit to a local church is to forfeit this protection God intends for you. Perhaps healing for you will come in the form of a godly under-shepherd tenderly caring for your soul.
FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS
If you have isolated yourself from the church, you may be hurting more than just yourself. Have you considered you may have a story to tell that would benefit other believers? Perhaps you have a story of forgiveness in the midst of hurt and sin, a story of reconciliation with those who hurt you. Perhaps your story would benefit a fellow sojourner as you demonstrate a vivid and colorful picture of our reconciliation to God through Christ. Perhaps God intends to use you to help others in the church see more clearly their unintended sin.
Your choice to keep the church at arm’s length may rob others from benefiting from the road you’ve traveled. One of the beautiful aspects of the church is the conglomeration of people who have nothing in common but Christ. These fellow heirs of the kingdom you might otherwise never have reasons to know may be encouraged, edified, or convicted by your story. You may be forfeiting the joy of being a part of God’s sanctifying work in another’s life.
FOR THE WORLD
As Jesus reclined at table with his disciples following the last supper, he left his disciples with this parting counsel: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
God’s fundamental missions strategy for the world is simple: Christians loving each other in local churches all over the world, telling others the good news both by word and in relationship with other believers. As unity around the gospel within the body increases, the light given off by the church to a dark world grows brighter. God intends for you to be a part of that light, Christian. As you work to heal from your hurt and link arms with other believers, your own life is a testament to the gospel of grace. God has a plan for your life to help others know him. What a privilege! Don’t neglect the joy God holds out to you in this opportunity.
God is offering you a gift in the local church—both for your good and for the good of others. The statement “I love Jesus; I just don’t care for the church” does not make sense when we understand the church is a gift given to the people of God for the glory of God. As we love Christ, we love his beloved bride.