Why the Local Church?

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Over the past two decades, I’ve spent in ministry, I’ve often encountered people who want to follow Jesus but can’t handle church, and people who have been hurt, abused, or repeatedly let down by those who claim to be Christians.

Because of these, and other factors, everyone seems to be asking, “Can’t I just have Jesus and not the institutional church?”

In his novel Pilgrim’s Regress, C.S. Lewis uses the character Mother Kirk to allegorize the role of the church in the life of the believer. Kirk is the Scottish word for church and “mother” is the role Lewis saw for the church.

The rumors the main character, John, first hear of Mother Kirk are that she’s a little bit crazy. When he actually encounters her along his journey, she offers to help him along the way. But he refuses her help saying he couldn’t be put under anyone else’s authority and that since he’d made it thus far, he could certainly do it on his own. Plus, she was obviously insane.

Sound familiar?

But eventually—after he’s tried everything to complete the journey on his own—he comes back to Mother Kirk.

‘I have come to give myself up,’ he said.

‘It is well,’ said Mother Kirk. ‘You have come a long way round to reach this place, whither I would have carried you in a few moments. But it is very well.’

John had tried everything within his own power and reason to reach the end of his journey, but Mother Kirk could have led him there so much sooner if he’d just given up his own will. And that is what the church teaches us and calls us to do. The church isn’t our salvation, but it does play an important role in guiding and connecting us to the one who is.

The New Testament clearly conveys God’s desire for people to be meaningfully and deeply rooted in a local church community. The church is meant to be a group of individuals – diverse across all spectrums including gender, race, socio-economic status, and age – coming together as a family.

In a very unique and profound way, God uses the local church to speak to us and shape us. Likewise, he uses each one of us and our individual gifts and wisdom to shape the church as part of our service to others. My participation with a church cannot be divorced from my influence on others and their influence on me.

God meets us when the local church gathers. It’s one of the sacred arenas in life that cannot be duplicated. How many times have you walked into church feeling like it’s the last place you want to be, but began to hear from God exactly what you needed that day? When we treat local church affiliation lightly, we miss this opportunity.

God’s idea and our opportunity is to go beyond treating the church purely as an individual or consumer. The church isn’t just a mechanical or spiritual device. It isn’t just a functional business entity. It’s a family with all the fullness, mystery, and beauty that can only exist within a sacred community.

The church is God’s Plan A, and there is no Plan B. Like any family, the church becomes the sum of what its individual members invest into it.

Can we learn to love the local church? We change things best when we love them first.



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