Earlier this month, I wrote that recognizing our true identity helps us to Love the Church–the bride of Christ, the embassy of heaven, the testimony of God, Jesus’ Body, the family of the Father. And, lest we leave loving the Church at a level of knowledge, the discussion that follows explores some of the ways that understanding is lovingly activated. Just as James says faith without works is dead, so love without action has no life flowing to it. Verbal declaration without affectionate service only fools the speaker (1 John).
So, we recognize who we are are as followers of Christ and members of His Body. Now how do we actively love the church? In short, how do we love anything? Put in the time. Learn. Be curious. Invest cash. Speak love. . .
- Show up. Be there. I appreciate this reminder from Dane Ortlund this week:
Staying home to “watch church” is like staying home from a friend’s wedding to watch the ceremony virtually. And keeping your wedding gift with you.
Your presence and solidarity and love and hugs and eye contact and singing are needed. It’s not just about passively receiving something. It’s about being an embodied part of the celebration. The whole event is diminished by your absence. And you have a gift to give. (Facebook 6/17/22)
2. Become a member. Membership is a declaration that you are in or you are out. It is a commitment the Christian makes to attend, love, serve, and submit to a local church. Membership provides the believer with discipleship, affording the context for consistent growth to become more like Jesus.
Does the Scriptures really talk about membership? I remember asking this question as a young college student. While membership is not explicitly commanded, membership roles seem to be a understood (see 1 Timothy 5 regarding widows.) The New Testament refers to some people being inside the church and some people being outside (1 Cor. 5:12-13). The Epistles, written to local churches, offer dozens of “one-anothers,” expanding our understanding of how church members should practically serve: Love one another, serve one another, forgive one another, bear with, esteem, submit, show hospitality, honor, and many, many others. . .
3. Come early. Show up before everything starts. Loving the Church means showing up, ready to engage with people and serve however possible. This is a hard one for me. It means planning ahead, sometimes even skipping my cup of coffee. I don’t go to the movies very often, but when I do, I want to make sure I’m not missing the first few minutes of the show. How much more when I’m headed to church looking for ways to care for others?!
4. Be friendly. “I don’t think I know you” is a simple way to start a conversation. Spend the first few minutes after the service looking around for someone new. Or, maybe you are new, and you are just finding a way to connect. Is it awkward? Sure, often. Will that lady scold you for not knowing she has been at the church for 11 years? Maybe, but that’s OK. You will know next time! This is also hard for me sometimes–I talk about myself more easily than I ask questions about others. Having a couple of questions ready can be so helpful when conversations take work!
5. Sing. After the admonition to “Fear not!” the second most common command in Scriptures is “Sing to the Lord.” Singing together in church demonstrates a love for the Church in a number of ways: you are learning the truth of Christ in the lyrics (hopefully), and singing them back to one another. You are singing the testimony of your life in Christ and rejoicing together as you see others doing the same. You are able to delight in Jesus’ work in a way that stirs your heart to greater affection both in the moment and as you meditate on the words in the days that follow. But you say you can’t carry a tune. That is totally fine. Sing for Jesus, and we can harmonize together regardless of how toneless you are. Let ‘er rip!
6. Know what is going on. There is no chapter and verse for this one, but read the bulletin, sign up for the email, check the Facebook feed. However your church news come to you, be aware what is going on and engage!
7. Support your leaders. You absolutely are not going to agree with everything your leaders say or plan, but you should not be a thorn in the side of the pastors. Pray for them. Imitate their Gospel way of life, thank God for them, submit to them–they watch over your soul. (Hebrews 13)
8. Find your spot to serve. What gifts and skills has the Lord given you? What needs to you see around you? Loving the Church means being faithful to find ways to build into her. You may not teach or play the piano, but what do you have in your hand? Can you take a college student to lunch, give a ride to a senior, speak of Gospel hope to your pickleball club, mow the lawn, make some quilts for the nursery, arrange the flowers, play the violin for Sunday worship? Can you be a buddy for a child with special needs so her parents can go to church together? Can you turn coffee filters and packing peanuts into an underwater adventure-land for Vacation Bible School? What is in your hand?
9. Pray for the Church. These are dark and challenging days. Plead with the Lord for the purity of His people, for the clarity of the communication of the Word. Pray for your neighbors to join you, for the community to crave the communion they witness. Thank God for His Gospel displayed in marriages and for its efficacy sustaining the Singles. Love the Church by praying for that she lights the way to Jesus.
10. Give to support the work of the Church. Giving is expected of God’s people (Lev 22, 2 Cor 9:7). It demonstrates our dependence on God as both a reflection of stewardship and worship. How you handle your money will reveal where your treasure is. Giving provides for the work of the Church and the care of those in need.
You might say, I don’t feel like it: That is when you need it the most. That’s when I need you to be here the most. I need you to remind me that nothing else in life is more important than remembering who Jesus is and what He has done to transform His people. That’s when you need the Body the most–to remember you have been bought with a price to glorify God. As my friend Gunner wrote in What if I don’t feel like going to church? “This isn’t a solo hike. It’s a holy caravan” (p. 28). We need Jesus–together.
You might ask: what if I want to leave my Church? You have the freedom to do that—within certain parameters–life changes, family needs, geographical transitions, and significant theological disagreement are all examples of times when certain changes might be considered. But always, always, always after many conversations have been had with your leaders. Regardless of the situation, don’t ghost the Church!
You might ask: Isn’t it legalism to say that you should be at Church? It is only legalism if you say doing these things will bring you salvation. It is not legalism to do what you don’t always feel like–that is faithfulness. It is not legalism to work hard at something. Any runner, football player, or musician will remind you: practice doesn’t make you inauthentic—it makes you better, even when its hard.
As with any relationship, affection grows with the devotion of frequent time and attention. How is your love these days?