Disconnected? Here are six questions you must ask if you are not connecting in church.
More than anything, a pastor desires for his members to walk in obedience to the truth and to thrive in the church under the preaching of God’s word and the ministries it produces. The result of being in a good church with sound doctrine, accurate preaching, and Spirit-filled believers who encourage one another towards love and good works should be a healthy church body. But what happens if you are simply not connecting in church? What happens when you are not connecting with others in your current season of life? The lack of involvement in the church for some members is actually very real and at times very pervasive in the church at any stage of life. This is why I decided to write on the subject and give some biblical advice and at the same time ask some very important questions we should all be willing to ask ourselves especially if you are struggling to connect in the church.
1. Do you have an unrealistic view of church?
One of the easiest things to do in the church is to view it with a critical judgmental eye. Of course, I’m not referring to the faculty of discernment, but rather to a pharisaical nitpicking that the apostle Paul summarized as biting and devouring one another in the church (Gal. 5.16). If we are loveless, if we do not serve, if we do not praise, if we are not generous, if we are not selfless, if we are not encouraging, if we are not edifying; we will easily slip into a sort of Christian cannibalism where we learn to devour our own in the name of doctrinal specificity or spiritual superiority. The reality is that it is far too easy to be negative in the church because the church is filled with sinners and flawed people with clashing personalities, preferences, practices and perspectives. We must never forget that the reason that we are all gathered in such a diverse assembly is because we are intended to live out the Christian faith under our new identity in Christ (Gal. 2.20; Col. 2.10; 3.1-12). As the apostle Paul said himself, ‘to live is Christ.’
Too often people come to church believing they have found the perfect church but as we have all heard often enough, there is no such thing as a perfect church. The truth is, the church is more like a hospital than an art gallery. We are there to serve, not merely observe. We are called to lay down our lives in the often-complicated work of ministry and not merely to be spectators looking on as others enter the fray. If we are waiting for perfect believers, perfect leaders and perfect churches before we get involved, that day will never come. We must always remember that the church is in a militant state where ministry means messiness. The Church is not always a sterile environment. It is often contaminated with the viruses of sin and dysfunction and in order to be a part of it we have to accept the fact that we will not come away unscathed. Unless we realize these aspects of the church in this age, we will have an unrealistic ideal of what church is.
2. Do you have an unbiblical view of your role in the church?
There can be nothing greater for the elders of a church to hear than for new members to express a desire to serve the church in whatever capacity is needed. At the same time, with time, that well meaning sentiment can often wane and believers can become stagnate in their service to the church and lose sight of their role in it. This can lead to an attitude of get, not give, be served, not serve, be loved, not love, be connected, not connect, etc. Of course, the leadership of the church must facilitate opportunities for believers to find meaningful ministry and help in their walk with Christ. Yet, if we believe our role in the church is to primarily sit by and “see what happens”, we will become spectators rather than members and partners in the gospel. Membership is designed to be partnership. The Greek word, koinonia often has this meaning. In Philippians, Paul uses both the noun and the verb form of this word to describe the church’s partnership with him in the advancement of the gospel:
Philippians 1:4–7 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.
That is our role in the church as well; partnering with the church so that the gospel will be advanced through the various ministries of the church. As long as this is our heart i.e. to see the gospel advance, our roles will be seen to be meaningful regardless of the role we play. Euodia and Syntyche may not have been pastors, teachers or missionaries from Philippi, but Paul saw their partnership as essential nonetheless (Phil. 4.2-3).
3. Do you take the “one-anothers” in Scripture seriously?
The one-another ministry of the church is rooted in the example of Jesus himself:
John 13:13–17 13 “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
It is on the basis of this selfless example on the part of our Lord that we are to engage one another in love. In fact, later in this chapter Jesus made it clear that it was our love for one another that would prove to all that we are in fact his disciples (John 13.35). As the world looks in and sees that we serve one another with an unfailing love, with a selfless motive, and with gladness in our hearts because we are living in the light of the glory of God, sinners will be convinced that we are like Christ and they will see his life in us. All subsequent one another ministry should be viewed as an ethical imperative for all believers to imitate Christ who lowered himself in a way we will never fully comprehend until we see him in all of His eternal glory. When we understand all of this, then we will realize that the path to connecting with others begins by serving one another in love. It is not possible that we fail to connect in the church when we are focused on being the servant of all. That is the strange thing about Christians; we are drawn to humility because we see Christ in it (cf. Phil. 2.1-5). Therefore, when we commit to serving one another we will not fail to draw brothers and sisters into our company.
4. Do you have unresolved issues in your heart?
This is a crucial question that we always must examine within our hearts and in light of Scripture (cf. Mt. 6.14; 2 Cor. 2.10; Eph. 4.32). There are few things I appreciate more in ministry than to see the steps of church discipline followed biblically and with integrity, having faith in the process. We often allow things to develop between believers in the church when we do not directly approach those with whom we may be at variance. If we fail to deal with relational friction in the church biblically, this can develop into deep resentment, bitterness, and strife, which kill our ability to thrive in the church as we ought. Nothing will undermine our fellowship like unresolved issues with others. If we are not right with others we will not be right with God, which in turn inhibits us from making progress in our walk with Christ and cripples our ability to connect with His body (cf. 1 Pet. 3.7; 2 Cor. 2.10-11; Gal. 5.16).
This also means we will have to be honest about where we are in our church. We have to determine what the issues are. Do we disagree theologically? Do we have a problem with the vision of the church? Do we struggle with the leadership of the church? Are we at odds with culture of the church? In the light of all these questions, our greatest need is not only to identify these issues, but also to ask ourselves the most crucial question of all, are we handling such issues in a truly Christlike way? An obvious and important test in all of these things will be to ask ourselves if we have a biblical case for issues we may disagree with. In other words, if there is no good biblical reason why we are finding fault with a church, the probability is that we need to examine our own heart to see if we are being overly critical, unteachable, prideful, or rebellious. It could be that God may want to grow us in our Christian maturity. All of this needs to be prayerfully evaluated in the light of God’s counsel (cf. Rom. 12.1-3; Phil. 1.9-11).
5. Do you engage during the preaching?
On numerous occasions I have been ask for advice regarding the decision to leave a church. One of the things I start probing for is the nature of the preaching ministry and whether or not folks are receiving from their pastor. There is often no clearer sign that it is time to go than when believers are mainly grieved, stumbled, and disappointed by the preaching ministry of the church. When the preaching ministry of the church fails to produce edification and encouragement in the lives of the sheep, discouragement, resentment and bitterness quickly begin to fill the void.
This however, is a two-way street. Doctrinal error not withstanding, are you doing all you must do to profit from the preaching in your church by way of notes, meditation, prayer, and application? Do you concentrate on the preaching or are your thoughts often wandering and your mind aloof? If the pastor is doing his job, then he will truly desire to see the minds of the church enlightened, their hearts encouraged, their holiness challenged, and their lives transformed by the preaching of God’s Word. Is the preaching time mainly the time to endure the next 45 minutes to an hour, or is it a time of spiritual feasting? We must pray that the preaching of God’s Word will affect us and profoundly so.
6. Do you take the ministries of the church serious?
Finally, do we take the ministries and stated meetings of the church seriously? Recently, two books came out with opposite titles. One, was entitled Extraordinary and the other was entitled Ordinary. Both books were trying to emphasize truths about the Christian life. The reality is, both books, at least their titles, contain truth. The Christian life contains both elements of the extraordinary and the ordinary, which God has ordained for our good. There is nothing ordinary about communion with Almighty God! There is nothing ordinary about possessing the very Word of the all-knowing God of the universe! However, in the same breath, it is the extraordinary God himself who has ordained very ordinary means that are designed to transform us into the glorious image of Jesus Christ. But we often mistake the ends for the means. We think God will only use the most miraculous supernatural means to sanctify us and we end up disappointed when the ordinary comes. Christianity is a religion of truth and the truth is, God has chosen to work in our lives through church services, Sunday school, singing, reading, sharing, participating and an entire host of ministry expressions that serve the greater purpose of sanctifying us and conforming us in to God’s image. If we do not learn to take the regular means of grace seriously, we will quickly become disillusioned by the most extraordinary promises of God. The advice here is simple, be faithful in the small things and God will give you much. Do not despise the smallness of ministries such as small groups, prayer meetings, membership classes, mid-week services, weekly evangelism, business meetings, men’s groups and ladies’ studies.
There is no question that some churches can seem cold, boring and even loveless; but we all bear the responsibility to engage the church in obedience to Jesus Christ our Lord. The church is God’s idea not ours (Eph. 3.9-11). It is only by God’s sovereign grace that we have any interest in Christ and His Church. It is therefore an inestimable privilege that we are allowed to participate in the ministry of the local church. May God give us the love of Christ in our hearts that we too may lay our lives down for our brethren in the church. For if we truly love the brethren as we are called to do, we will not fail to connect with others in the household of God.
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.