When my husband, Josh, and I sold our Toyota Solara to buy an SUV, I knew exactly what I wanted.
“It should be a Honda, Toyota or Hyundai, in a dark color,” I told Josh. “Lots of trunk space and decent on gas mileage.” We looked at several cars before we found the one we wanted. It had everything on my list.
Then, a week after we bought it, the air conditioning broke.
Many Christians today look for a church like they’re shopping for a car: “It needs to be Baptist in doctrine but contemporary in worship; not too big but not too small; with a great singles group and plenty of programs to get involved in.” We all have criteria for a church family, whether based on personal experience, doctrine or denomination. But sometimes the criteria cause us to lose focus on what the church is really about.
When we think about church, many of us picture a building—maybe the church we attended in childhood or the one we attend now. But to God, the church is not a building. The church is you and me. When we “shop” churches looking for the perfect fit, we forget that the church is not about programs, but about people: imperfect people saved by Jesus Christ.
Just as my “perfect” car broke the week after I bought it, we often settle on the “perfect” church only to find broken people within its doors. People might not greet us the way we wish. Maybe the college group isn’t as fulfilling as we hoped. Or maybe the worship isn’t on point every Sunday. We can get so caught up in the “extras” that we miss the point of church entirely.
The apostle Paul helped launch the first churches outside of Jerusalem following Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. All of Paul’s letters in the Bible were written to actual churches (the church at Ephesus (Ephesians), Philippi (Philippians) and Corinth (Corinthians), for example) or ministers (Timothy and Titus). In his letters, he instructed each church in how they should live, love and treat one another. The churches in Paul’s day were full of imperfect people just like churches today. But throughout the New Testament, we see Paul advising these congregations to give, love, serve and work together regardless of how “the church” had treated them.
My home church split in half when I was 15 years old. For four years, my family tried many different churches until we found one that reflected our doctrinal beliefs. I could have grown up very jaded by the church, but instead, I discovered several principles that have helped me assimilate into my church family despite what happened in my past:
- Start serving. If we look for churches like we’re shopping for a car, we only look at what church can do for us—not what we can do for the church. It is by getting involved and serving our brothers and sisters in Christ that we understand what ministry is truly about. There are many ways to serve, whether it be refreshment teams, nursery, the worship band or in a Bible study! Service is best way to imitate Christ, who came to earth as the ultimate servant.
- Get to know the church ladies. As I mentioned in a previous PI post, my spiritual mentors were integral to my growth as a Christian. These mentors were older women in the church who may not have shared my place in life, but helped me grow in my faith. These ladies helped me learn what it means to be a Christian woman and how to walk by faith.
- Find a Bible study…or start one yourself. If we just come to church, sit through a sermon and leave, we will feel very disconnected and unfulfilled. Instead, get involved in a Bible study or Sunday school. If there aren’t any options that work for you, start one! Chances are there are other young women in the church who feel just like you do.
- Disciple and be discipled. While being discipled through sermons, studies and mentorship, it is important to remember that we are also called to disciple others. It’s part of the Great Commission that Jesus issued in Matthew 28:20! As we receive God’s Word and learn to walk in it, we must turn around and share that good news with the girls who need to hear it. This is another great reason to start a Bible study or invite girls into your church.
Church is what we make of it. It won’t ever be perfect, because WE aren’t perfect! But it can be made better by people who see what needs to change and actively make those changes happen. If you feel unwelcome, be welcoming! If you feel lonely, start a Bible study! If you wish the music had more variety, get involved in the worship team!
And remember in everything that the church is more than a building—it is a group of people who all share a common heart and common mission.