The man and his wife summed up their varied church experiences with, We have yet to find a church we care to join.” I looked each of them in the eye and asked, “So, what kind of church do you think God intends for you to join?”
I wasn’t referring to denomination. They had not complained about denominations or the various doctrines of the several churches they had attended. In fact, the diversity was so great that I wondered if either of them noticed or cared about such matters.
The husband spoke up for both of them. “We would like a church that is filled with love and loving people. It should make religion exciting to us, but it should not have very many or very long services.”
That couple wanted a “bargain” church. Our human nature craves a bargain—to receive much and give only a little; but human nature certainly is not God’s nature. God gave much when He gave His only Son, and He asks comparatively little of us in return. Yet I see an ever-growing trend, even in God’s people, to want more while giving less of self.
Have Churches Changed?
Much of what we accepted as ordinary in the churches 30 or 40 years ago is now considered exceptional, if it exists at all. When I first became a believer in 1953, the pastor of my church frequently preached for an hour on Sunday mornings. No one expected less. Afterwards he always gave an invitation to receive Christ, and no one fidgeted while we sang every verse of the invitation hymn and inwardly prayed for a response.
We also had long Sunday evening services. They often included three or four musical presentations: a brass quartet, a men’s quartet and a women’s trio. The congregation sang not just one or two verses of a couple of hymns, but every verse of half a dozen hymns.
We looked forward to the mid-week service when we could pray for corporate and individual concerns. When we met we didn’t talk so much about our problems as we did about blessings from God and about people to whom we had witnessed. There were many spoken doxologies for answered prayers.
We canvassed door-to-door and we held big outdoor evangelistic meetings where the tent was filled every night almost to capacity. We took special offerings for missionaries in need and helped at the local rescue mission.
We thought of our church as God’s little oasis in a spiritual desert. It was an inviting haven where we were willing to give of ourselves to God and others for His sake. Someone put it very well by saying, “The church is the only institution founded to serve those who are not yet members.” The members of my first church in Denver, Colorado certainly lived that philosophy.
Churches Like That Still Exist
Such churches go beyond the “good old days” because they still cling to the “good old ways.” Though they may be scarce, such vibrant, Christ-centered congregations are still oases in a spiritual desert of godlessness and materialism. We dare not take them for granted. We must preserve them with our prayers, commitment and encouragement; but there is a price to pay.
There is no such thing as a bargain in church or anywhere else. You get what you pay for. If people complain about not getting anything out of church, it’s because they put nothing into it. Nothing in, nothing out. A church is like a bank. You cannot make a withdrawal unless you first make a deposit. But church investment is better than any bank. You can never outgive God in time or substance. The more you put in, the more comes back to you in enthusiasm, deeper understanding and Christian fellowship.
In order for God’s people to put more into church, a few guidelines are in order:
Set a Standard For Attendance
Successful church life depends on standards and policies—decisions made in advance. We cannot successfully govern business transactions by waiting to see how we feel about a given matter. Why do it with church attendance?
Make a commitment to regular church attendance. Before you allow yourself to be absent, ask yourself: Would I stay home from work or school as easily? You can choose to go or not to go. A third choice is that you act on a set policy that you will go to church unless____, and those exceptions should be kept to a minimum.
At times you may have out-of-town guests who may not want to attend church, and your time together is precious. It is an occasion to show your guests what you really value. Tell them even before they arrive, “We attend worship every week. Our times of worship are____. If you would rather not accompany us, feel free to make other plans for those times.” Often your guests will not only attend church with you, but your commitment will make an important statement to them.
If you plan to leave town on vacation or for business purposes, ask your pastor to recommend a church of like faith and practice where you are going. When you arrive, contact that church and explain that your pastor recommended it. You can be sure you will be welcomed and treated with affirmation.
If the church you visit introduces visitors, stand up and tell the congregation what church you came from. That will strengthen the bond of fellowship between sister churches. You might also send the church bulletin back to your home church. If you visited a church recommended by your pastor, he will be encouraged that you followed his advice.
Attend Church With Zeal and Promote Enthusiasm
Church requires active participation, but most of us go into a passive mode as soon as we take our seat in the pew. To avoid this, think of yourself as an active component of the worship service. Begin by praying for the pastor and for those around you. Don’t be reticent about the responsive readings or the hymn singing. If possible, sit close to the front and establish eye contact with those who are on the platform. Your attentiveness, smiles and nods of agreement will cheer those who are leading worship.
Set a Standard of Financial Support
Support your church and other worthy causes by policy, not merely by opportunity. Most people support their churches by putting money into the offering once a week. If, however, you find yourself unavoidably away a great deal, plan to mail a check for a specified amount once a week or once a month. After all, your church keeps on ministering whether or not you can be there.
To be an effective giver, set aside time once a year to review your assets and determine what you can do for God. Budget your giving, then take advantage of extra giving opportunities to show your love and thankfulness to the Lord.
Make Your Church Your Ministry
Be a worker for God in your church. As a member, you have a proprietary interest in its welfare and success, and you need to participate actively in some aspect of its ministry.
Nothing in Scripture restricts leading in worship, teaching, evangelism, or even preaching, to ordained clergy. Some of the most effective church ministry is accomplished by lay people. Those who are not professional clergy often have the best opportunities for evangelism because they have more contact with non-Christians. An unchurched person might discount a clergyman’s words as something spoken out of “duty to his job,” but he might find a lay-person’s words more credible because they were spoken outside of such an obligation.
Church work can be pleasant and gratifying. Some of the satisfactions are similar to those of parenthood. As parents take joy in watching their children grow in responsibility and love for God, you will find that same sense of fulfillment as you watch your church and its ministry grow.
One of the joys of lay ministry is to teach Sunday school at virtually any age level. There is no greater delight than seeing someone’s eyes brighten with understanding as you explain a scriptural truth. Church musicians and lay worship leaders experience similar joy upon noting a worshipful response in the faces of the congregation.
Many church members miss those satisfactions. They shrink from any active role because they feel shy or absolutely tongue-tied in public. Are you like that? Those in charge of the church nursery, the kitchen or the office usually will be quite willing to put you to work. If you are only able to nod yes, they will find something helpful and meaningful that you can do as your ministry to God and to your fellow church members.
Love Is Also a Ministry
Love your church. If you give of yourself to your church, it will be there for you when you need it. You will find a great deal of love, but you must not be afraid to open your heart first and give love. No church is perfect, because churches are made up of imperfect people. The more you care for people, the more you can be hurt or disappointed by them. On the other hand, the more love you show, the more people will respond.
If you love your church, spread your love around. Tell the pastor and the whole church that you do. Better yet, tell outsiders and invite them to a service. Nothing gets others involved like friends who are enjoying themselves and love what they are doing. Your enthusiastic love for the Lord and your church can be a spiritual magnet.
Find your own church good, or find a good church! Make the commitment to belong to it, and let it belong to you. Work for God in it and through it, and He will work His joy and fulfillment in you.