Does church matter anymore? Maybe you don’t like the idea of the church, or someone else’s idea of the church. But author Danny Franks will bet you a decades-old mission trip T-shirt that you’d love the church as she was intended to be. This series examines the community and mission that only the church can offer and why the church is worth fighting for.

This Part 4 of a four part series on Why Church Matters. Access the rest of the series here:

Tuned Out & Turned Off | Who Loves Ya, Baby | God’s Plan A | Coup in the Pew


 

 

It was a Sunday morning I’ll never forget.

 

I was serving on the staff of a small country church, and trouble was a’brewing. We had scheduled a business meeting to follow the worship service. (Pro tip: don’t.) If the preceding deacons’ meetings leading up to it were ANY indication, it was going to be a doozie.

 

My wife and I had already decided she would take our two young sons outside if things got heated, and within just a few minutes, she had to do just that. The moderator yielded the floor to a deacon, the deacon made a power grab, and a church member angrily jumped to his feet and accused him of “lying to the people.”

 

I don’t even remember what the topic of business was; I just remember the deacon asking the church member if he’d like to “take it outside.” (Where I had just sent my wife and kids.) The church member took him up on the offer, and the deacon resigned on the spot before punches were thrown or the vessel on his forehead exploded.

 

Church fights. If you’ve never experienced one, count yourself blessed. But the chances are good that you’ve had ringside seats to more than your fair share. In the little town where I grew up, church business meetings drew more of a crowd than the amateur wrestling matches at the local armory. People knew where to find the real action!

 

Besides the literal black eyes that can result, the local church has received many metaphorical shiners over the years. When churches are known more for their disunity than their sense of community, it’s no wonder people are more interested in getting out than coming in.

 

That’s why this series of posts takes such a high view of involvement in the local church. While I believe business meeting brawls are a pathetic display of our old, warring nature, I also believe it’s in the best interest of the Christian to fight for what really matters in the church.

 

If the church is God’s Plan A, as we said in the last post, then the church is worth fighting for. It’s the primary tool God uses to take the gospel message to the ends of the earth, so we shouldn’t abandon it because of some bad eggs we meet along the way.

 

If Jesus died for the church, we should live for the church.

 

But the key is fighting for the church, not fighting in the church. Fighting for the church means we tackle the issues of real importance, and that starts with knowing who you’re fighting alongside.

 

Finding a church worth fighting for

Let me be clear from the beginning: There are no perfect churches. You’ll never find a church that shepherds you perfectly, encourages you flawlessly, and disciples you effortlessly. Believers make up the church, and believers are messy. You’re messy. I’m messy. The people we choose to do life with will be messy.

 

That said, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give some real time in prayer to choosing a church. Maybe the church of your childhood is doing great and there’s no reason for you to leave. Maybe a move or a job transfer has forced you to look for another church. What are the things you should look for?

 

The first non-negotiable is the preaching of the gospel. If a church gets the gospel right, other things tend to be right as well. Are the sermons just a collection of moralistic tips for living a good life? Is Jesus just one option among many? Do they preach a “Jesus plus ________” theology? When churches teach you to find the voice inside and live your own truth and follow your heart and be a snowflake, that may sound loving and freeing. But in fact, those messages lead you away from the message of Jesus. They are the most damning messages a church can deliver.

 

A church that loves you will be a church that lifts Jesus high. They’ll be willing to offend you with your sin and shock you with grace. They’ll point you to the cross and the resurrection as a continuous reminder that you do nothing to earn your salvation or keep your salvation, but it’s all a work of Jesus.

 

Second, you must ask if you’ve found a church with a compelling vision. Is Scripture informing their strategy to reach their neighborhood and the nations? Are they worried more about coddling you or commissioning you? A church that takes the gospel seriously will be a church willing to raise you up and give you away. Find a place where your growth is cultivated, your spiritual gifts are known, and those things are utilized for the greater mission of the Great Commission. It will be difficult to fulfill God’s calling on your life without a church that will challenge you to live the life of a disciple of Jesus.

 

There are many more questions you can and should ask as you’re fighting to find the right church: Is the doctrine sound? Are the leaders accountable? Will I be accountable? Is it a church marked by generosity to those on the outside? Is it a church open to those on the outside? (Josh Harris wrote a helpful little book on all of this entitled Why Church Matters.)

 

Fight for mission

 

Maybe you’ve had your fill of churches that are more worried with what goes on inside than what’s happening outside. I call that the Stained Glass Syndrome: Christians spend so much time navel-gazing and planning men’s bacon breakfasts, they forget the world beyond their windows is dying without Jesus.

 

I realize you have to be careful of showing up at a church with a pre-planned agenda. But the mission of the gospel is God’s agenda, and it’s worth the constant, gentle pressure he might be calling you to apply to a stagnant congregation.

 

Look around your church. Is it known by its mission to the community? Are your fellow believers marked by growth in grace? Is it a place that gives back to the community and doesn’t just talk mission but lives missionally? Are you ready to be the salt and light Scripture calls us to be?

 

Start with where you are. Maybe you know of a single mom who could use some help with creating a resume or fixing a leaky faucet. Perhaps God has allowed you to cross the path of a homeless person who just needs a friend.

 

Serving your community with a community allows your gifts and passions to mix with the gifts and passions of others. We are all parts of a whole. Someone can encourage others all day, but they can’t lead. Someone else might be able to teach the Bible, but they struggle with empathy or compassion. And when those on the outside experience that kind of unified grace from those on the inside, the world will start to look at your church differently.

 

Live the gospel message

 

The gospel—the message that while we are more wicked than we could ever imagine, we are more loved than we could ever dream—is the lifeblood of any church. A church can have great sermons, a band that rivals U2, and programs out the wazoo. But if it isn’t driven by the gospel, it has nothing.

 

Loving other people the way God describes love can transform any spiritual community. It turns a cold church warm and makes it attractive. It takes hard messages, full of truth, and makes them more palatable because of the kind spirit with which they’re delivered. The gospel message, the radical love of God, infuses life into a dead church, inflames vision and fuels mission, and catalyzes believers to be the church, not just go to church.

 

That’s why—as a part of the body of Christ—we have to fight for the gospel. Fight for dependence on Jesus, not ministry initiatives. Embrace the work of the Spirit within us, not the tradition that’s behind us. Encourage fellow believers not to trust in what’s pragmatic and safe but to run toward the risky, unknown, dangerous mission God gave us.

 

Church fights matter. They matter more than you’d ever believe. In an increasingly post-Christian culture, we have more at risk than ever before. It’s a daily battle to live lives marked by scriptural truth, doctrinal humility, and personal holiness.

 

But it’s a battle worth fighting, and it’s worth fighting together. I’m not worried about the future of the church. The end of the Bible says she’s going to turn out just fine. She’s a big deal to Jesus. She’s his bride. We’re his body.

 

He died for the church. Are you living as the church?


 

 

This Part 4 of a four part series on Why Church Matters. Access the rest of the series here:

Tuned Out & Turned Off | Who Loves Ya, Baby | God’s Plan A | Coup in the Pew