What Should You Expect from a Local Church?
In previous articles we examined the questions “What do you expect from a local church?” and “What should a local church expect from you?” In the first article we considered misconceptions some have of the local church and, thus, misguided expectations. We flipped the question around in the second article to ponder our own personal obligations to our spiritual family. In this third and final article we ask, “What should you expect from a local church?”
While our first consideration in serving the Lord should not be the benefit reaped, it is obvious that we are not only sources of blessing but recipients of the same. So, if the local church is what it ought to be, what benefits might we rightly expect?
1. Help. It is notable that when the church first began, various needs were documented by Luke including decades-long poverty and persecution. Widows, those who overstayed their Pentecostal pilgrimage, those who likely suffered social ostracism for their faith in Christ found themselves in want. And the church responded with an astounding level of sacrifice and support (Ac 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 6:1-7). When life deals a backhanded blow and its necessities are cut off, Christians rally around each other and eradicate destitution.
But not all needs are material. Perhaps even more importantly than alms is the spiritual support we have when distraught over life’s mental assaults (Ac 4:23-31; 8:2; 9:36-43; 12:12; etc.).
So many in this world have no one to truly rely on, but God gives us extended family who are there to care for us in our distress. This is a great blessing but one often overlooked by those who have not yet encountered the cold-blooded cruelty of life.
2. Accountability. This is not a negative idea of spying, snooping or meddling. Rather, it is the advantage of objective eyes seeing trends and dangers hidden to us. We are “one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Rom 12:5). Vitally connected, we cannot look upon the vulnerabilities of each other with indifference. “And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). If we are honest, surely we would admit that we are not the self-sufficient, got-it-all-under-control people we might fancy ourselves to be. We need others looking out for us, and we must not react in a haughty manner when someone comes to us with genuine concern for our spiritual welfare.
3. Wisdom/mediation. When the Corinthians were at each other’s throats and suing one another in court, Paul pointedly asked: “Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” (1 Cor 6:5). Unfortunately, there are times when brethren get crossways with each other and in the emotional fog lose sight of fairness and equity. Associating with wise Christian brethren is such a blessing, for they have learned not only God’s word but how to apply it dispassionately in difficult situations. I need to be around people like that.
4. Examples/inspiration. Most humans seem to learn more effectively by observing something being done the right way. To hear a good Bible student teach is easier than examining an issue from scratch. To see successful parenting in action is more impactful than reading a Dobson book. Sadly, not all congregations have such mature members, but when they populate a local church it is a tremendous blessing. But we must proactively take advantage of them and not take them for granted. In addition to his written instruction Paul urged the Corinthians to “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
5. Stand for truth. It is sad to hear of congregations where the leadership has compromised on truth in favor of some faddish notion or practice. Christians rightfully expect that elders, deacons and others view the local church as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Paul cautions Timothy: “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith, and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (1 Tim 4:6). This, of course, takes work, attention and wisdom in identifying harmful trends, unsound ideas and pointless discussions leading to controversy.
6. Opportunities to learn. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt 5:6); Peter directed, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Pet 2:2). It should never be that Christians who desire to learn are left hungry. Sermons, classes, articles, gospel meetings, personal studies, etc. are all offered as meals for the soul.
This article is not exhaustive, but perhaps enough is said to help us realize how blessed we are to be part of a larger caravan pressing toward heaven together instead of solitary nomads trying to make sense of it all alone.