What Do You Expect from a Local Church?
When we answer God’s call to return to Him, we are immediately restored to His family, a place we once were in our younger years before we willfully sinned against our Father. But our transgressions alienated us from Him, and we were banished to “the power of darkness” (Col 1:13).
This renewal of fellowship with the Father also establish ties with His other children. We share Him with strangers from around the globe, people of all cultures and customs who have come to love and appreciate the same Savior as we.
But it isn’t God’s will that this relationship with other believers remains a nebulous, theoretical tie without substance or practical meaning. Rather, He wants us to actively seek out others with whom we can work and worship.
This is what we see in the early days of the church in Acts. What develops in Jerusalem is an interconnected community led at first by the apostles, then later by elders as the apostles disperse to other regions. As the gospel is preached from city to city other communities are formed in Judea, Samaria, the coastal plains and Syrian Antioch. From there churches sprout in the cities of Galatia and later the provinces of Asia, Macedonia, Achaia and beyond to Rome.
This fraternal oneness is a wonderful thing, but it does not happen without challenges. Even though all Christians acknowledge the one true God and we live under the authority of the Lord, we are at different stages of spiritual development. We come with the baggage of our upbringing, culture, opinions, preferences, worldview – all of which contain spiritually undeveloped values. Thus, it may be that our expectations for a local church are formed by our own psychological needs, features of the culture or even what “the church back home” did. What are some misguided expectations for a local church?
1. The church, including elders, deacons and preachers, should be perfect. A cursory reading of the NT should dampen such an unrealistic expectation. The Jerusalem church was plagued with charges of discrimination; the Corinthians were filled with “envy, strife and divisions” leading to lawsuits, socio-economic discrimination and other faults. Peter and Barnabas succumbed to ethnic prejudice in Antioch. The NT is not a sanitized version of Christian brotherhood but a realistic account of the spiritual struggles of real people being gradually transformed by the power of the gospel. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we expect everyone around us to be perfect though we know we, ourselves, are not.
2. The church exists for my convenience. American culture suffers from a growing list of self-centered perspectives on life, and these are gradually seeping into the thinking of Christians. There are various groups, causes and activities we may engage in at our convenience; belonging to the local Rotary Club or Knitting Society requires only casual investment. But it is a mistake to view the church and its work as just another self-satisfying social entity. Also, some see the church as one more obligation that siphons off precious time and resources. They remain on the periphery lest the obligation interferes with their other interests.
3. Others should make the first move. Passivity is a trait not conducive to a fruitful life in either the worldly or spiritual realm. The adage “good things come to those who wait” has limited application. But again, our society sometimes punishes genuine expressions of concern as intrusion or nosiness, so we keep our distance. Others are so insecure that they are afraid to initiate anything. There are some who will never start a conversation; they wait for others to speak to them first. If a need for volunteers is announced, the “someone will do it” mentality prevails.
In a sense, our entire faith is based on being proactive. God calls all men generically through the gospel, but it is up to each individual to listen, consider and personally appropriate God’s expectations. The gospel instructs us to grow, serve, evangelize and share, but it is up to us to determine how, when, where and how much. Passivity is spiritually fatal; it is the refusal to take responsibility and act where one is capable.
4. The church should know my challenges even though I hide them and remain aloof. Mind-reading is a divine ability, not a human one. If we want people to know and care, then we need to build rapport that involves conversation, association outside of worship and ministering to each other. We need to let others into our lives and thoughts and be unafraid to let our vulnerability show. Posting the mundane and trivial on social media is not a substitute for developing personal relationships. That that takes time, concern and sacrifice, but the dividends will truly enrich our lives.
5. The church should teach my children. Our collective Bible classes are supplemental aids to every parent’s individual responsibility of teaching their own child about God and His word. But supplemental help isn’t much good if children miss 50% or more of the classes offered. Given the large percentage of children from Christian homes who fail to develop a lasting faith, every avenue of assistance should be avidly pursued in addition to our personal efforts to teach our children about the Lord.
In short, our expectations for the local church may be woefully inadequate or misguided. If so, we find ourselves frustrated rather than fulfilled.