Seven Lies You’ve Been Telling Yourself About Church
Church is so boring…
Or is it?
I recently finished the short, but loaded, book How Church Can Change Your Life by pastor and author Josh Moody. In less than 100 pages, Moody responds to ten common questions about church—objections like the above—posed by Christians and non-Christians alike. He covers subjects such as Jesus’ view of the church, the purpose of baptism and communion, and why believers should not be duped into believing they can “be the church” through podcasting sermons and listening to Christian radio, while privately meditating in their pajamas.
Moody’s book made me think more deeply about common objections I’ve heard from friends, family, and others regarding local churches, along with the lies that fuel these objections. Here are seven lies that you may also have encountered, whether personally or from other people, about church:
Lie #1: I don’t need to attend church to be a growing Christian.
While it may be true that a person can trust in Jesus Christ for salvation apart from attending a local church, it is much harder to see how they can take up their cross, follow Christ, and grow in spiritual maturity apart from engaging with and committing to the Bride he so values and loves.
The church is Christ’s bride (Revelation 21:2), his body (1 Corinthians 12), his assembly of believers who gather to worship him in unity and to be his fragrance to the rest of the world (Ephesians 4:1-16). While there is spiritual value in parachurch ministries, campus initiatives, and Christian conferences—both for introducing people to Jesus and for growth in the Christian life—they cannot and should not act as replacements to the local church. Jesus, himself, expressed an intimacy with his body that specifically points to the gathering of his people in the doctrinally-sound, Bible-rooted, commitment-based, leadership-valued setting called the church.
Why are so many of the Epistles penned to local churches? Because the local church was and is the establishment of believers that Christ said would be built upon the gospel of grace (Matthew 16:17-19). While a person certainly does not earn salvation through church commitment—it is by grace we are saved through faith alone—the Christian most certainly proves his or her love for Christ by valuing what Jesus values and loving what he loves.
Lie #2: Church is only for Christians.
Christian, if you believe the lie that church is only for Christians, then you have come up against two other roadblocks that need removal. One, you’ve not yet grasped the purpose and power of the Word, as proclaimed through worship services, to convict and transform rebellious sinners’ hearts. Two, you’re missing an enormous opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ by inviting others into his house!
Perhaps you’re reading this, and you’re not a Christian. It’s important that you see this lie exposed: Church is not only for people who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. The local churches around your region are most certainly filled with believers (I would hope so!), but it is pure joy to these congregations when you walk through the doors. Every Christian was at one point a first-time church-goer, so every person there knows how it feels to be new. Every new endeavor tends to feel awkward and scary, but you won’t grasp on to a good thing unless you give it a chance in the first place!
Church is not only for Christians. It is a spiritual hospital for the weary and heavy-laden sinner and, we pray, the sinner-turned-saint through the power of the gospel.
Lie #3: If I don’t feel comfortable the first time, that means it’s not the right church for me.
Pastor Colin once asked our church, “What’s the point of worship services?” He gave some commonly-expressed answers like, “To learn the Bible,” “To fellowship with believers,” and “To enjoy some music that leads me to worship.” In some sense, these responses aren’t wrong; they’re merely incomplete, he said to our congregation.
The point of meeting together in the local church is ultimately to meet with Jesus Christ. So the best question to ask ourselves after a worship service is, “Did I meet with Jesus today?” This high purpose, then, exposes common objections from the church-shopper mentality that is so common in our culture today:
- If I wasn’t emotionally moved by the music, then it’s not the right place for me.
- If the pastor didn’t entertain me or keep me from being bored, then it’s not the right fit.
- If people didn’t seem genuine and vulnerable, then it’s not a good match.
- If the atmosphere was too casual or too formal, then I just can’t make it work.
But did the congregation meet with Jesus? In other words, was the Bible faithfully read, preached, sung, and prayed during worship service, so that the Word of Christ was dwelling richly within the believers gathered there (Colossians 3:16)?
If you don’t feel immediately comfortable the next time you attend a local church, ask yourself why. If you can honestly say that the Word of Christ was proclaimed truthfully in all aspects of the service, then challenge and suspect your other objections. Of course, there are legitimate reasons not to choose a certain church, and these should be weighed carefully against the Word and alongside wise counsel. But if your reason for not going back misses the main point of meeting with Jesus Christ, it is probably worth examining and perhaps even disregarding altogether.
Lie #4: The measure of a good church service is how much I enjoyed it.
The next lie springs from the previous one: Church is not about your enjoyment of the service but your enjoyment of Jesus Christ.
Is your goal merely to consume interesting information when you attend worship service or Sunday School? Is your goal to listen to some well-played music that fits your definition of what is church-appropriate and what sounds good to the ears? Or is your goal higher and deeper and far beyond either of these things?
The local church meets to express its affection for its head, Christ our Lord. If this affection is lacking, then we are missing the point. Christ gave himself up for his church to cleanse her from all unrighteousness and to present her blameless before God the Father. During worship services, Sunday School, or any other gathering of believers, we express back to our Father how beautiful and glorious his Son is to us; we cannot help but give voice to our love for Jesus, the one who lived, died, rose, and ascended for our salvation while we were yet in sin.
Love for Jesus Christ is the measure of our worship.
Lie #5: Authenticity and vulnerability in people means I’ve found the right church.
While openness and authenticity are certainly important relational hallmarks within the body of believers, it seems that these hallmarks are often placed on a pedestal, to the neglect of more primary hallmarks of a healthy church body.
According to Scripture, a healthy church body:
- Teaches and admonishes one another with all biblical wisdom (Colossians 3:16)
- Encourages and builds up the church through works of service (Ephesians 4:12)
- Values unity and spiritual maturity in order to reflect Christ (Ephesians 4:13)
- Follows the way of love, rooting service and gifts in this love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Should we not look for hallmarks of authenticity and vulnerability, then? Of course we should! For these hallmarks bear witness to the healthy identity-placement of each member, as being rooted in the acceptance and love of the Father and not in the approval of other people.
Truthfulness, confession of sin, loving confrontation, and the relaying of spiritual struggles mark a church body that is indeed walking in the light before the Lord and one another (1 John 1:7). But if these hallmarks are present at the absence of the Word of Christ dwelling richly, then the foundation for such relationships is missing.
As the strength of a house’s foundation is proven when the wind comes, so the strength of the church’s foundation is tested when sin and struggle arise (and they will arise). A body rooted in the Word of Christ—and not in authenticity for authenticity’s sake—has a solid foundation upon which genuine love relationships can grow and withstand the darkness when it appears.
Lie #6: A bad experience at a church means that all churches will end in bad experiences.
This statement generally carries with it a sensitive history. That a person would feel this way is understandable; it is hard to trust again after you’ve been hurt, especially by those who are Christians and whom you believe should know better. Hurts range from minor offenses to intense betrayals; but, either way, hurt is hurt, and often it is this relational tension that causes people to believe that they cannot trust the church again.
Moody includes some wonderful encouragement in his chapter “Should I go back if I have been hurt by the church?”:
You want to join a church that not only says they follow Jesus, but actually does follow him. That means the Bible should be taught from the pulpit. That means that gospel of Jesus Christ should be central to the church’s life…Listen, no one in church claims to be perfect. In fact, the whole structure of a biblical church is proclaiming the message that only in Christ can we be saved…To be in church with other Christians means that you are called to love them. That does not mean that you are called to like them. A lot of people get hurt in church life because they misunderstand this distinction…Guard your ultimate center of loyalty for no one else but Jesus. (pp. 58-60)
The enemy of our soul desires to use our hard, divisive church experiences to keep us from knowing first-hand the unity of the body of believers. He will take every opportunity to convince us that it’s not worth the risk to be vulnerable with other believers, who have the potential to cause us more hurt. This lie can prevent us from entering the very place that Christ often uses to bring healing to such painful wounds.
Lie #7: The church is measured by the quality of its congregation.
Finally, the church is not measured by the quality of its congregation but by the commitment of its head, Jesus Christ. Coming to worship was never about us being better, getting our act together, and earning our way to God through the consistency of our attendance and our outward goodness. Church isn’t about us being “good Christians,” but about needy Christians running together to Christ.
There are one too many churches that leave people feeling confused about God, bad about sin, and heavy with the weight of “do better this week” on their shoulders. On the flip side, others leave attendees with a false sense of confidence in their own goodness from wishy-washy theology. A local church that has forsaken the beautiful gospel and turned its focus to entertainment, self-help, or legalism has lost its power and denied its first love, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The church was never about us being good people, earning God’s favor, or being entertained. It was and is about the power and presence of Jesus Christ stirring up his gathered, chosen people to be amazed by his covering grace, comforted by his immoveable love, and guided by his infinite wisdom, all in worshipful response to his completed work on the cross for our sake and his glory.
To meet with Jesus is the highest good and goal of the church; and through that filter, the lies we are tempted to believe will dissipate.