“We don’t go to a church right now…”
We hear it frequently from counselees. On our online intake form, we ask potential clients to tell us what church they are attending. Partly it’s to know their denominational background but what we really want to know is if they are plugged into a healthy and thriving local body of believers.
Some are in transition- new to an area, or left one but actively seeking another. For a variety of reasons, many are not looking at all. While some express a tinge of guilt, few people voice an urgency to remedy the situation.
Why is this important?
We have found that clients who are long-term wanderers or loners in church life have more issues than those who have a church home.
You might be saying, “Hey, I know lots of messed up people who are in church.” Yep, that’s true also, but I want to emphasize three important words I used in the first paragraph: “healthy” and “plugged into.” More on that later.
Many counselees have been wounded by church leadership and have abandoned the search for a new one after enduring many failed fits and starts. Some contend that all they need is Jesus and that they can stay home, read the Bible on their own, and watch one or more of their favorite television preachers.
A common theme that we hear is that they love Jesus but have lost the desire, or do not see the need, to develop a relationship with a local body of believers.
I sympathize with the sentiment and church leadership has attacked my wife and me in seasons past. However, upon departure from one body, we have never been lone wolves for more than a week or so at a time. We have always implicitly understood the importance of fellowship and relationship with other Christians.
I’m a Melancholy in Inclusion, which is a loner temperament, so social interaction at church does not drive my push to stay involved. We both want to obey God’s directive in this area.
Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (NIV)
The writer of Hebrews exhorted believers that they should not give up meeting together and that some had gone down that path. There is no specific commandment from Jesus to be in a church, but Scriptures abound which indicate it was dear to Him (Mark 1:21, Mark 6:2 Luke 4:16, Luke 6:6, Luke 13:10).
Paul also made it a point to visit and preach in synagogues when he entered new towns.
Jesus Loves His Church
Personally, one bible verse epitomizes the value that Christ placed upon the church and gathering of the saints: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Hebrews 5:25 NIV). He gave himself up (emphasis added), laid down his life for the church and husbands are expected to do the same for their wives.
In healthy churches, there is biblical teaching, accountability, opportunities to mature in spiritual gifts and allow the grit of human relationships to refine our hard edges. Proverbs 17:17 (As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another – NIV) can apply in any life situation but indeed yield great fruit in the church setting. You can also step up serve in that local body so that it will be helped and you will be blessed. That’s part of God’s plan – be served in a Church but also to serve there.
A church is not the building; it is the body of Christ. Our experience as Christian counselors reflects the reality that those who are alone for long stretches of time can easily stray off the narrow road that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). These travelers can fall easy prey to a controlling person or group. Many have difficulty discerning because there is no accountability, what is the voice of the Lord, their own voice or even the promptings of demons who love to devour those outside the herd.
If you’ve been spiritually abused, that was not God’s will for you. If you’ve been hurt in a church and have pulled away, get help. God is good, and He wants you part of a healthy herd. Churches, even the best ones, are led by men and women of God who have their own issues and imperfections.
Seek out competent Christian counseling and maybe deliverance to help you get past the pain and plugged back in. Your spiritual well-being and progress along the road to eternal life really do depend upon it.
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