By Dennis Rainey
How important is a local church to the spiritual health of your walk with Christ, your growth in your marriage, and the spiritual maturity of your entire family?
That question may surprise you. With all the information available on how to strengthen marriage, prevent divorce, and stabilize families, we don’t hear much about the role of the church. Particularly in America, individual freedom and personal responsibility for spiritual growth are emphasized so much that it’s tempting to forget how much we need the church—and how much the church supports our family relationships. And we tend to forget how much the church needs us.
The reality is that no other choice you make, besides deciding to make Christ your daily Master, will have as significant an impact on our faith, your marriage and your family as the church you join and commit to.
I think it’s time to remind ourselves of why it’s so important to become a vital part of a local church.
Part of the body of Christ
Consider this: If you follow Jesus Christ, you are already connected to the church: “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired … Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:18, 27). And the church provides not only spiritual nourishment, but also strength and support that will help you honor your marriage covenant and build a godly family.
Many people bought into the idea that regular involvement in a local church is an optional part of their Christian life: “Isn’t God everywhere?” … “Can’t I study Scripture on my own or catch a TV service or watch a message online?” … “I can’t find a place that meets my needs.”
Of course, God can be worshiped anywhere and at any time, and television or online resources are beneficial. But God has made us part of His living body, and others need us as much as we need them in dynamic relationships that typically occur in a local church.
Hebrew 10:23-25 explains the importance of active engagement with other believers:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.
A family of families
This type of encouragement is crucial for married couples and families. Sunday school classes and small groups in a local church help you develop friendships with other couples in your season of life. These couples can help you, strengthen you, and give you the opportunity to help and encourage others.
In addition, you can develop relationships with older couples in the church who have already been through your season of life here. Their guidance and mentoring about marriage and parenting can make a huge difference, especially when you are working through difficult issues.
The beloved pastor Chuck Swindoll speaks to the benefits a local church provides to families:
“When it’s functioning correctly nothing beats the church for effectiveness. Babies are cradled, children are loved, teenagers are challenged, parents are instructed, seniors find fellowship, singles are strengthened, and families are nurtured . . . Above all, the church is a family; in fact, it’s a family of families.”
Trust me: You need a family of families. You need that family now, and you’ll need that family later. We were not designed by God to do life in solo.
Barbara and I are aware of situations where the husband goes to one church, the wife to another, and the children to a third. They seem to have overlooked the best interest of family unity or the spirit of true family worship.
In other situations, couples may attend their parents’ church. This sometimes works out, but I’ve also known of couples needed to break away and establish a new family identity. They felt stuck in the church of their youth—it wasn’t good for them, their marriage, or their children.
You also may have recently moved to a new state or city. The first year or two after moving are usually difficult for couples as they attempt to establish new friendships and connections. For followers of Christ, finding a local church is a necessity for establishing roots in a new community.
For most couples, spiritual value is the number one driving factor in choosing a church. You will need to consider other issues, too, and come up with your own tailored list. No church will be perfect, but this checklist of questions will help you consider areas that shouldn’t be compromised.
· Do you agree with the church theologically? On the major matters of faith, can you align yourself with a particular local church’s teaching and doctrine? For some couples this means breaking away from a church they’ve long attended because they realize it doesn’t match their core Christian convictions.
· Is the church alive spiritually, and does it feed both of you spiritually from the Scriptures? You won’t thrive spiritually in a dead church. You need a church that believes in the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority of Scripture—a body where the pastors and others preach and teach from the Word. Without these things you won’t grow.
· Does the worship engage you and draw your attention and heart to God? Many different worship styles involve a wide variety of music. Assuming a church meets other important criteria, its services should help you enter God’s presence in heartfelt worship.
· Is it a church where you can experience true Christian community? I believe all couples—especially younger ones—need to be part of a small group. Even in a relatively small congregation, you need a group of like-minded couples or a group led by an older mentor who will challenge you to grow spiritually and to build your marriage upon your faith in God. Don’t minimize this! You need Christian community.
· Does the church hold its members accountable to obey Scripture? A Bible-believing church will expect its people to seek to be like Christ in all of life. The church leaders will conduct scripturally appropriate and loving discipline with members when required.
· Does the church eagerly welcome strangers and have an “outreach mentality”? Nothing is worse than an ingrown church that is one large clique or a collection of smaller ones. How active is the church in evangelism? In helping the poor and needy? In supporting missions at home and abroad? All of these are good signs that a church is “outgrown,” not ingrown.
What if you can’t agree on a church choice?
This has never been much of an issue for Barbara and me, but I know it is for some couples. If this is a point of disagreement, pray about it individually and jointly for at least a week. If you still can’t agree on a decision, I believe the husband should prayerfully make a choice, then encourage his wife to trust God and follow him in that decision without becoming embittered. It’s amazing how our perceptions can change once we decide to accept rather than fight against a choice.
As newlyweds, Barbara and I made the mistake of visiting many churches rather than joining one congregation. We church-hopped! We didn’t disagree; we just couldn’t decide where to go. I’m convinced our spiritual lives suffered because we didn’t sink roots down into a body of believers and plug into a fellowship.
A couple that is not part of a dynamic, growing, spiritually alive church puts their marriage at an enormous risk. If you move to a new community and have to find a new church, make it your objective to find a good church within four to six weeks.
Why the local church needs you
In our walk with Christ, we are called to serve others (Galatians 5:13) , and to consider their needs as more important than our own (Philippians 2:4). This call should permeate every area of our lives, and God has given us the church as a setting to serve Him by serving others.
God gives to every believer special talents and gifts that are to be used in serving others (1 Peter 4:10-11; Ephesians 4:11-16). Where better to use those gifts than in your local church? It gives you the opportunity to teach, to encourage, to shepherd others in their faith. There is a place for every couple in the church, and it needs you.
The church also needs strong families. In his book, The Second Coming of the Church, the pollster George Barna, who has written extensively on the future of the church in America, observes,
“The only way in which the Church will thrive in the future is if families lead the process of directing and furthering their own spiritual growth . . .The future of the Church in America depends largely upon the spiritual commitment of families . . . As the Church continues to decentralize, the spiritual development of our families will make or break the vitality of the Christian Church.”
Barna continues, “For the sake of the future of the Church, we must ensure that spiritual development remains one of the key elements that our families integrate into the mix of activities and goals to which they are committed. However, we must go far beyond where our families are today in their spiritual commitment.”
I couldn’t agree more. What an incredible challenge for all of us—to take greater responsibility for the spiritual growth of every person in our homes and then to join together with other maturing believers in building dynamic local churches that will be beacons of light in our darkening world.
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