Why bother staying with the local church? It seems daily we see blogs, articles, and statistics stating why people are choosing lone-ranger Christianity. The local church is messy. It’s slow. It’s hard.
While I will gladly leave that discourse and its conclusions to much better writers, I want to share why, by God’s grace, I have stayed with the church. This is not a manifesto for or against a particular church or style of programming. Rather it is a personal invitation to see what I have found in over 36 years of struggling, stumbling, rejoicing, and living alongside the local church.
In my first blog on this topic, I discussed one major reason I have stayed with the church: the presence and influence of older believers.
In this post, I aim to highlight another reason I have stayed with the church. The reason is simple. It was really not something I did, rather it was done for me. The local church was prioritized.
While I have grown to embrace the local church, and am striving daily to pass on this love in my own household, it was in my parent’s household that I first saw the local church prioritized.
Though I don’t ever remember sitting down and having a direct conversation about it, it was a clear tenant in our household that we were part of the church. Not just that we were going to attend on Sundays, but we were part of a larger body. I learned it on Sundays and Wednesdays, yes, but also on Saturdays visiting widows with my dad, on Tuesdays with my mom as we went to help set up or serve a group of people. We were part of the local church. It was non-negotiable. It was not adjustable. The church was ingrained. The church was special.
I say the church was non-negotiable because it was non-negotiable. Whether I felt like it or not, whether I learned anything or not, regardless of how many gray hairs I gave my Sunday School teachers, we were going to be a part of the church.
However, this wasn’t due to a lack of trying on my part. As a youth, I can remember several times kicking and screaming at my parents. I disliked and feared the church. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t like the people there. I didn’t like button-up shirts. I had NFL pre-pre-pregame to watch and I was not going. Ten minutes later, I was in the car on the way to church.
Most of my anxieties growing up had nothing to do with the church itself, but with social or other reasons. There were a few times at my insistence that my parents decided to let me stay home (or even in the car) during my formative years. I regret every one of them.
As a parent now, I recognize what a struggle it must have been for my parents to prioritize the local church. I think back on every strategy they employed to keep us engaged (or just pacified). I think of every back-room conversation they must have had as I fought against them in my youth as I struggled with the social aspects of the church. It would have been so much easier for my parents to drop it.
Less arguing. Less struggle. Less.
I thank God every day they opted for more.
I write this blog not to brag on my upbringing or even laud the efforts of my parents. For them, I have no doubt, prioritizing the church in our household must have seemed like a weekly struggle simply to fall forward and not walk through the church doors with hands around each other’s throats.
I write this not for myself, but to highlight two modern day church issues.
One, I lived in a different time and place. Small town Oklahoma in the 80’s and 90’s didn’t fight my parents in prioritizing church. We had relatively few (if any) school or social activities on Wednesday nights, and scheduling anything on a Sunday morning was unthinkable. Our time was carved not only because my parents prioritized the church, but our community did as well.
Those days are gone.
That being said, my assumption is even if it came down to my budding MLB career or future as an Olympic goal keeper versus regular time spent with the gathered church, for my parents, there would have been no debate. We would be with the church. Even if we had to miss a gathering, the prioritization of the church would not have wavered.
Granted, hindsight is 20/20 and I cannot fully place myself in the shoes of other parents in an increasingly anti-church society. The choices are difficult, the time limited and the struggle real. While I will leave those discussions to more qualified writers, I would give only one piece of advice: however and whatever it looks like in your context, prioritize the church fiercely. Fight for her.
A second thing to be said: there are many parents who grew up prioritizing the church whose children did not stay. There are also many children who grew up in homes that did not prioritize the local church at all.
To this, I want to offer a supportive ear and a word of encouragement. This is one reason I wrote my previous article first. The spiritual growth of your child or lack of support from your parents is not fully dependent on you. However, you have been given a powerful tool in prioritizing the local church and that, ironically, is the local church. For the spiritual orphans and widows whose families dismiss the church, there are many spiritual fathers and mothers to come alongside. We have one family blood and it is that of Jesus Christ.
For the parents who continually urge their children toward the local church to seemingly no avail, take heart. Like me, your children are catching more than they are necessarily sitting down to learn. One of the greatest lessons your child may have learned is that you prioritized the local church. Place your kids in situations where they can be a part of godly community with peers as well as be invested in by other older spiritual family. Let the Spirit be the Spirit. You remain faithful.
Church, we need to recognize for many who do not have an environment of prioritizing the church, we must help them prioritize it. This does not mean keeping a Christian calendar busy or making sure they don’t get ahold of any “secular” music. Sometimes a busy church calendar is the greatest enemy of true growth in Christ. It means prioritizing Bible reading, listening to questions, walking alongside, investing and inviting. It is likely much simpler than we think.
The local church is messy. It’s slow. It’s hard.
But so am I. So are we. And we are loved.
Let us love one another with highest priority – as Jesus loved us.