As I near the end of my time in the States at Freedom House, I though it would be fitting to talk to you a little bit about local church. It grieves me to no end to see people with great potential in God not know how to stay connected to a local church. They get offended, bothered with issues of style, set unrealistic expectations, and don’t know how to sow their influence in the community in healthy way.
Then they usually exit quietly out the back door; off to another congregation in search of perfection. We all know that it will never be found and then the cycle begins again until they can eventually end up cynical and disallusioned. Let it never be! Here are 10 short tips that I thought of that might help you or someone you know, not only survive the local church, but THRIVE!
1. Realize it’s not about you-Come to church thinking, “what can I do to add value to someone else’s life today?” Think about how you can connect with God and his people in a deeper way and not how someone can better cater to your needs.
2. Sow what you desire-If you desire friendship and community then you will have to sow (put some work into) friendship and community. Don’t stop giving in the areas you desire to gain and you will eventually get what you are looking for. If you want your church to be better, then what are you sowing for it to be better?
3. Don’t let offenses fester-If you have an offense, go to the person and bring it out in a spirit of reconciliation. If you let it fester, the person will sneeze wrong and it will aggravate you. He who repents first is the most mature. Offense is inevitable in the local church. Survival is dependent on how you process it and deal with it.
4. Pick your battles-Learn to give when it comes to personal preferences and style and stand firm when it comes to integrity and following God’s word. Everyone avoids a fault finder and complainer, but if you are a true friend, you will always be heard even if you have to “throw the grenade on the table.” Find a church that has a similar core heart to yours in the beginning then stick with them. Don’t leave over issues of style-including music, decoration, timing of services, buildings, etc…
5. Get connected-Find a way to connect to events where you can connect with people. Small groups, outreaches, and serving are great ways to meet a practical need and meet other people. Most people who get picked off by the enemy are not connected in any way other than Sunday morning.
6. Feed yourself-Keep a fresh personal connection with God where you come to His table to be feed each day. Don’t come to church once a week to be fed and starve yourself spiritually each week. Sunday morning is a bonus meal.
7. Have realistic expectations-New Testament leaders are held to a higher standard, but we are all still humans and will make mistakes. Learn to give people the benefit of the doubt and believe the best about your leaders especially when you are tempted to start “surmising” why they didn’t talk to you this Sunday or return your email in a timely fashion.
8. Keep your eyes on Jesus-He is the only perfect one. If my eyes are on Him then I will be immune to anything that would ultimately try to pull me away from my faith. Scandals, crisis, opposition, and aggravation will never ultimately pull me away from God.
9. Buy into the vision, don’t rent it-Trust takes time to build, but there comes a time when you have to stop “renting” the vision. Take the reigns and hold on tight and put your effort into making this thing work. If you’re riding the brakes, then you are renting the vision. If you can’t buy in, then are your expectations of how things should be realistic? If so, pray and maybe God will move you on. If you find that “everywhere Johnny goes, Johnny has a problem, then Johnny is the problem”!
10. Zealously pray for your leaders-Today’s leaders are under a whole new strain and load. They must where many hats and juggle many different things. If they decline to “do your thing” then you won’t be offended if you are praying for them to have God’s wisdom to know what direction the church needs to move in. Don’t criticize their spouses and children, pray for them.
These are just a few thoughts and are not meant to be exhaustive. That’s where you come in! What would you add? What has your experience in the local church been like? Have you had to overcome in some areas in your own life to live in community?