Recently I took my son to soccer practice. Now, I’m no soccer guy, but he’s eight, he loves it, so I’m in. He’s in a developmental league with practices on Tuesday and Friday nights with games on Saturday. It was time for practice to start, the whistle blew, and out of the hundreds of kids that should have been there for the program, there were only a percentage. I believe 4 out of his team of 10 had made it. I was talking to one of his coaches who was scrambling to rearrange the drills planned since there wasn’t enough critical mass to even have the type of practice they planned. I asked if this were regular, for attendance to wane so much after a few weeks. His coach said it was not always like this, but it seems to be getting worse. I laughed and said, this is how I feel sometimes at 10:15 on Sunday morning. I find myself thinking, “Where is everyone?” It certainly does seem that people are less committal today in general.
How does this mindset impact the church? I’m here to argue that local church engagement is not optional and it should not be an after thought. I used to tell High School seniors all the time, find a church and then see if there’s a college close by you could attend. They looked at me like I was crazy. I wasn’t joking with them. The church is that important.
At the church where I pastor, we have a membership covenant. I wanted to take a few of these items from our covenant and address the question, “What are reasonable expectations for commitment to a local church?”
Attend regularly (Hebrews 10:25)
Show Up: At the risk of hearing the cries of, “legalist,” let me just say it: you need to show up. Regularly. Unless you are providentially hindered, Sunday’s need to be a day that is set aside for worshipping with God’s people. It’s become all too easy to see if Lord’s Day worship fits into the calendar rather than seeing what fits around worship. There is a cumulative effect to corporate worship. Rarely will you be wowed by a particular service, but just like getting training for a run, playing an instrument, or learning a language, the regularity or normal practice is powerful over time. Hebrews 10.25 could not be any more clear, do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together. There is a protection that is afforded by the body of Christ. Not by accident in Hebrews, this admonition precedes the 4th “Warning” in the book. Don’t make yourself an easy target by disconnecting from the local body. Be there. Even when you don’t feel like it.
Join: I understand there is a crowd that has an allergy to joining a church. I try to be understanding. Some have been burned by churches. They have been “hyper-shepherded” (read: micromanaged), some have had their trust broken, some have seen rank hypocrisy in leadership, others are weary from being overworked. There are reasons why some push back on signing on the dotted line. But please understand, the church is God’s idea. The local church is an expression of something much larger, the Universal Church. The underlying assumption of the New Testament is commitment to a local body. John Stott in his typically witty and slightly overstated way said it this way:
I trust that none of my readers is that grotesque anomaly, an unchurched Christian. The New Testament knows nothing of such a person. For the church lies at the very centre of the eternal purpose of God. It is not a divine afterthought. It is not an accident of history. On the contrary, the church is God’s new community.
Help your leaders know who they are responsible for by clearly committing yourself. (Hebrews 13.17).
Serve faithfully (1 Peter 4:10-12)
We need to attack this from two different perspectives. There are institutional and individual opportunities. The church (institution) takes a small army to operate. Children’s ministry alone consumes many man hours and volunteers. Depending on your context, there are usually plenty of opportunities available for serving from set-up, clean-up, food service, volunteer coordination, and the list could go on. At your local assembly, see if there are needs you could meet. Or maybe, you see weaknesses you could help shore up.
There is another piece of the serving puzzle. Sometimes people look around and assume that everything is done so they are not needed. Nothing could be more untrue. The individual opportunities never end. As long as there are people, there are places to serve. I was greatly helped by The Trellis and the Vine in helping me think about serving not simply as a list of jobs. It’s not so much about where you serve but who you serve. Find a human being, speak with them, pray for them, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly “one anothering” starts happening.
Give joyfully (2 Corinthians 9:7)
It takes money to have a church. Churches have bills to pay too. Being at a smaller church, I am involved at every level of the budget, though I do not have access to individual giving records, I am very aware of our giving, spending, and financial health. When things get tight in your personal budget, charitable giving is negotiable. I understand that. The church doesn’t have a collections department. But churches do make plans based on history, the economy, and giving records. When giving is erratic, it is challenging for churches just like any business. I understand a certain amount of this is inevitable, but I would simply encourage you to give consistently as best you can.
I love the perspective of Paul in Philippians 4. He receives a financial gift from the believers in Philippi. He’s glad for the gift, but he’s more excited for THEM, the givers. He was glad they had “revived their concern” for him.” (10) After explaining that he has learned how to live with much or little, he says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (13) In context, he’s speaking about living with much or little. Sorry everyone, this verse is not about scoring touchdowns, climbing mountains, hitting home runs or winning spelling bees. After his declaration of contentment in Christ regardless of riches or poverty, he notes, “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.” (Philippians 4:14) His excitement is that they were concerned and gave, not that he was getting rich. As a pastor, I’m excited when our people give. It shows me they are engaged in the work.
Don’t take the church for granted. After all, remember “…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)