The Modern Pilgrims Progress Part Five- In which Pilgrim discovers he is lacking important tools.
Do you ever feel under-resourced, under-skilled and unprepared for the challenges you face, or the tasks God’s given you to do? Maybe you’re on the right path with the wrong shoes? Some days, I feel like I’m wearing stilettos on a gravel driveway. Lots of falls. Poor progress. The right gear makes a difference.
We accept this fact in everyday matters. Right clothes for a vacation. Right supplies for school. Right oil for our engines. So, why is it many believers try to make earthly pilgrimages without the correct resources?
Every day brings challenges. Some days worse than others. Then some worse than that. Without the right gear, we become pulverized pilgrims. Passion fades. Faith wavers. Hope dims. How can we avoid this? One of the most important tools God provides, is the strength that comes from relationship with other Christ-followers.
The first resource I recommend for victory in the journey, is the support of a local body of Christ followers. Whether it’s a house group of ten or a church of thousands, the Christian life is best lived in real-time community. Regularly. Authentically. In worship. In prayer. In ministry. In good times and dark times.
I adore my church. The building is lovely, but I mean my real church, the folks who gather there. My husband is recovering from knee replacement surgery. The speed of his healing is astonishing his tribe of medical folk. We tell them that he has another tribe praying for them and him.
Last Sunday for the first time since surgery, I relaxed in the warmth of our people, delighted to see him back to church. Excited to see their answered prayers walking with ease, after years of pain. Celebrating his victory with man-hugs. Teasing him about running marathons (he loathes running) and chasing grandchildren. So much love and laughter.
You might say, “You don’t know my situation. If you knew what happened at my last church……..” My old pastor used to say, “Noah’s ark probably stunk badly, but it was still the best thing floating.” Churches aren’t perfect because people aren’t. I’ve experienced my greatest hurts from church folk. Even so, I’ve never considered cannonballing off the side of the ark because of biting badgers, gossipy geese, or loud-mouthed lions.
If you’re not connected at all with a local body, why? If you are involved with a church but aren’t there most Sundays, why? Statistics show that people consider attending church once or twice a month as faithful membership. How do you build authentic relationships that way?
I know these are uncomfortable questions, but authentic relationships take time, consistency and commitment. Are you close friends with that familiar ticket taker at the theater or the cashier whose line you often wind up in at the grocery store? Sadly, that’s the kind of relationship too many people have with their church family. Cordial, surface relationships with no depth or accountability. They are missing a key resource for victorious living, unaware that the thing which they think is too complicated, painful or time consuming is the very thing that would lighten their load and sweeten their journey.
My next question if you do attend a church is, do you love it? If not, why are you still there? Obligation? Habit? Loyalty? Fear of the unknown? These are not good reasons to stay in a church where you don’t fit any more.
There are many reasons that followers of Christ don’t attend a church. The most common ones usually involve hurt feelings and full schedules. If you’re seeking a church where you’ll never get bitten by another sheep, it doesn’t exist. If you’re waiting for this or that to shift, to make time for church, your enemy will find ways to monopolize your time so cleverly, you won’t realize he’s even doing it.
Part of the problem is that many of us allow Satan to convert us into church consumers instead of kingdom investors. We need the right music and lights. Certain kinds of sermons, programs and service times. People must treat us a certain way, and on it goes.
Don’t misunderstand me. We need to find a good fit with a local body. Nobody should drag themselves to church. Plus, some churches are toxic. You might need to leave. Where we do fit though, should not be measured by our physical comfort level but instead by our spiritual growth rate. There are key questions to ask before you throw your lot in with any local body.
The most important one is, “Does this church believe in the inerrant Word of God and preach and teach it faithfully?” Be alert for sketchy theology like:
The Bible isn’t literal in everything it says but is certainly true in what it intends to teach.
God is too loving to send people to hell
There are many ways to God and Jesus is one of them
If you’re not experiencing healing and prosperity, it’s probably a lack of faith on your part
There’s more I could list, but you need to hear from the Holy Spirit yourself. He promised to guide every believer into all truth. Further, Pastor Ken (the husband) says, “If you’re not feeling challenge or correction from the teaching and preaching, at least occasionally, I’d be wary. It’s likely the Word is not being preached in all its fullness.” God intends his Word to comfort and convict.
I’ll ask you again, as I close, are you connected with a local body? Do you love them? If the answer is no to either of those questions, I challenge you to ask God where he’s already prepared a you-sized spot somewhere. Please don’t sit home another Sunday or go to your current church heavy hearted or grudgingly. We cannot be victorious in our journeys without the support of fellow believers. Next week, more questions to help find your God designed place of fellowship.