Church is such an interesting concept. I mean, for starters, the word has so many different meanings and connotations for different people. For some people, the word “church” brings on a sense of peacefulness and happiness. For others, it brings on a sense of nausea. Even for those who follow a church-going religion, church can have so many different meanings. It can be a sacred, holy place where you should be on your best behavior. Or, it can be a fun, lively place where you can be your goofy self. It can be a place where you feel obligated to go, a place where you go to out of habit, or a place where you look forward to going to every week. It can even be a place that you avoid, because you really don’t think that it’s necessary to attend.
Some people see it as a sort of club where they can be around like-minded people, perhaps even using it as a gathering place to discuss how wrong the rest of the world is. For those who are not part of religions involving churches, it can be a building that they sneer at when they drive by, because they see it as an ugly, misguided, or useless place. And for some people, church is simply a place that they politely ignore because it doesn’t apply to them.
However you see church, there is probably a long story behind it. When I think about church, I tend to have positive feelings. You could say that this is because I’ve had a lot of positive church experiences, or because I was raised with church as a normal part of my life, but I think that the biggest reason is that I know the inventor. I know and understand what church is meant to be, because I’ve read about it in the Bible, the way that it was when it was originally created. I just so happen to think that the Biblical model of church is pretty awesome.
Simply put, the Biblical church is a group of people who believe in the God of the Bible and who are commissioned to share the love of Jesus with the rest of the world. As children of God who are wholly forgiven and purified by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the church can live free from sin by depending on God’s grace instead of their own obedience or rule-following. The church is not meant to be a place of judgment, rules, secrecy, or exclusion. Instead, church is meant to be a place of unrelenting love open to all people, eager to help those in need. What a beautiful picture!
Unfortunately, churches often fall very short of this image. Over the years, many churches have turned into their own worst enemy, pushing people farther and farther away from God instead of drawing them closer. But there is still hope! There are still many churches out there that understand God’s plan for them. If we can learn to see church in a healthier way, then maybe we can one day get to a place where all churches will reflect God’s love the way that He intended.
Although no church will ever be perfect, they can certainly still be healthy. Healthy churches come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Ever since my husband and I moved to Riverside County about a month and a half ago, we have been searching for a new church to be a part of. We have discovered that every church has its own unique style and personality, and that some churches fit us better than others. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that! In fact, I think that it’s vital that healthy churches exist in many different forms, because that means that many different types of people will be able to find a church that suits them. For Cory and I, though, it has been a bit difficult to find a church that we really feel at home in.
In Orange County, we attended a wonderful church called Saddleback. Saddleback Church is a very large, well-known church with eight different campuses in Southern California. We were part of the college-aged ministry called Crave, which met at the campus in Rancho Capistrano, and we also served in the children’s ministry at the same campus on Saturdays. Sometimes, we attended church with my family at the original “main” campus in Lake Forest. No matter which campus we attended though, the feeling was pretty much the same; we belonged. Being a part of Saddleback Church was an awesome experience. This is definitely one church that understands its purpose to share God’s love with everybody!
Now that we don’t live very close to any Saddleback Church campuses, we are discovering just how great we had it there. We haven’t yet found any churches near us that suit us as well as Saddleback did, and I realize now that I never truly appreciated my church for how great it was. If you are part of a church that you love, then I encourage you to really enjoy it and don’t take it for granted!
I am sure that we will soon find a church out here that is filled with as much love and is as welcoming as Saddleback is. As much as I love that church, I know that the Church is really all of God’s children around the world, and that church is about relationships with God and other people. I am sure that we will find a church that understands this as much as our old one did.
There is just one more thing that I want to point out about church, and that’s the reason why being part of one is so important to me. I know a lot of Christians who don’t attend church, and their list of excuses for it are about as long as my arm. One of the most common reasons I know of is that “you don’t need to go to Church to be a Christian.” I also know a lot of Christians who attend church because they feel obligated to. But both of these approaches are missing the most important reason to attend church; because it makes your life better and helps you to grow!
I do not believe that I need to go to church to be a Christian or to love God, or especially to go to Heaven when I die. If I believed any of those things, then I would have a woefully poor understanding of the Bible and of God. No, I go to church because I see a difference in my life when I do. Regularly attending church strengthens my relationship with God, allows me to build relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and helps me to become more and more like Jesus. All of those things make my life better and bring me joy!
Church is not a mandate from God, it is a gift and a tool that he lovingly gave to us to help us during our time on Earth. Jesus didn’t die just to save us for eternity, He died to save us for life! What I mean by that is that God doesn’t just want to be in our hearts, He wants to be in our day-to-day lives. Jesus wants us to put Him in control of our lives because He loves us and knows what’s best for us. We cannot receive God’s best for us if we don’t live with our eyes and hearts set on Him. Going to church is just one way that we can receive some of the blessings that God wants to give us. Some of the greatest friendships I have ever had were with people who I met at church, and some of the closest moments I have had with God were in the presence of fellow believers. I love church because it brings me closer to God and it helps me to become the person that He made me to be. And that simply feels good.