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STUCK! Chapter Five: Who Do I Need?

01 Aug

I’m an introvert. I’ve gone through the personality tests (Enneagram, Myers/Briggs, Briggs & Stratton, etc.) and I test out as an introvert. An “expressive” introvert. But an introvert nonetheless.

What that means is that people pretty much exhaust me. I force myself to go to parties and social gatherings, but only because my dear wife is an extrovert. She loves people. Me, not so much. I’m quite happy being by myself with occasional meetings with my wife and maybe a few grandkids.

I’m overstating this a bit, but introverts like me like quiet, peace, solitude. We spend a lot of time reflecting, listening to soft music (except for early Chicago), and avoiding crowds. My daughter, who is also an introvert, says she’s going to get us t-shirts that read, “INTROVERTS UNITE! BY YOURSELVES! IN YOUR OWN HOMES!”

I would be perfectly happy living in a cave (with good internet service, of course). But that’s not God’s best for me.

Just Jesus and Me!
One of the popular songs when I was a young believer was entitled “Just Jesus and Me.” It came at the height of the “Me” generation and fit in quite nicely with young adults who wanted to “do their own thing.” And we certainly didn’t need the stuffy environs of the church to pursue “our own thing.”

It seemed that the overemphasis on individuality and self-awareness quickly led to a kind of self-idolatry. And an ignorance of the Scriptures. Afterall, don’t we  read in Genesis 2 that Adam, before the fall and before the creation of Eve, was declared by God as “lonely?” What?! Wait a minute! He was in the Garden, which had not yet been affected by sin, and was in perfect fellowship with His Creator. And he was lonely?! Yes. And God saw that it was not good.

We need human relationships. And, therefore, we need the church. Now by “the church” I don’t mean the universal Body of Christ. Every believer belongs to that by conversion. I mean a local church, a group of believers to which one belongs and to which one contributes.

The Church — Why Bother?
Philip Yancey, who’s written more books than C.S. Lewis and Joel Osteen combined , wrote a small book years ago with the title The Church — Why Bother? It seems to me that there are four reasons to bother with a local church.

The first reason is that I want to join Jesus in His building project. He said that on the rock of Peter’s confession of faith in Him, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt. 16:18). Now, one may argue that He was referring to the “universal” church, but how is the universal church seen in this world? Through imperfect, yet authentic, local churches.

The second reason I want to bother with the local church is that the overall tenor of the New Testament focuses on the community of God’s people as gathered in local places. They are certainly not without their problems, but we have the Corinthian church, the church in Ephesus, the church in Philadelphia, etc. Geographically planted local churches are encouraged, admonished, rebuked even by the New Testament writers. Much of the New Testament is useless if one remains outside Christ’s work in the local church.

I’ve heard Twenty-First Century Christians say, “Oh, that we were like the First Century Church!” But wait a minute! Do you mean like the Corinthian church (which was failing miserably in both discipleship and evangelism, see I Cor. 5)? Or the Galatian church (which had abandoned its freedom in Christ and was returning to an unbiblical Judaism)? Or the Ephesian church that had left its first love (Rev. 2:4)? Of course we should seek to emulate the very best of the early church and also recognize where it often went wrong. But we should be involved, connected, committed to what the Lord Jesus is doing in the local church.

The third reason I want to bother with the local church is that there is much work to be done in both growing believers in and winning unbelievers to the gospel. I’m not sure the local church should be a place of evangelism, although I’m convinced the gospel ought to be made clear whenever the Word is preached to God’s people. Evangelism is to happen outside the walls of the local church. And not just by paid staff! Every believer, the Apostle Peter tells us, is to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (I Pe. 3). The believer in Jesus who doesn’t give a whit about the lostness of others is in dire need of repentance!

And it is in the local church where we are to practice the ordinances (some churches call them “sacraments”) ordained by God’s Word: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptizing one’s self or taking communion at home in one’s pajamas isn’t the biblical pattern.

Discipleship must happen in the local church. We need intentional, risky relationships which we develop in order to build up God’s people and help one another grow in Christlikeness. Of course that is not confined to the four walls of a physical building we call the church. True discipleship happens through connections that believers pursue with the family of God.

The fourth reason I want to bother with the local church is that God has ordained spiritual leaders (elders and deacons) who are tasked with caring for my soul! If I’m disconnected from a local church, I’m removing myself from their encouragement, influence, and correction. Formal membership may not be outlined in the New Testament, but it is quite clear that every believer is to use his or her gifts to build up others, to pray for and submit to godly leaders, and to practice the priorities modeled for us by the early church. Those priorities are set forth in Acts 2:42 where we read, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

In short, we need truth, friendships, worship, and prayer to thrive in the Christian life. And that’s to be found in the local church.

HOMEWORK:
1. Read Yancey’s little book Church — Why Bother? Write out a one-page defense of the church after you’ve read his book.

2. Find a friend in your local church with whom you can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your church. Many today are staying away from the church because of what is called “church hurt.” Reach out to someone who is making that choice and seek to win them back to the local church. Pray with your friend for your church’s leaders and your church’s mission.

3. Adopt an elder or deacon in your church and covenant before the Lord to pray for him every day. Meet with that person and find out what some of their needs are.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2022 in STUCK!

 

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