The beginning of the year is often the time when people check out church (‘It is a new year, thought I would give it a go’), join church (‘I have moved and want to make this my church’) or leave church (‘I am making a life change’).
As such, it is reasonable that one consider ‘What should I expect of ‘Church’?’.
In the last update we considered ‘What is Church?’ and suggested that church was a place for believers (whilst still open to not-yet believers) and a place where God’s people gathered as a family in Christ. Expectations of church then are important because they help a person decide whether this church is doing what it should be or not.
There are a couple of ways to arrive at an answer.
It could be that one seeks a church where it meets a long list of personal requirements (e.g. teaches the Bible correctly, people my own age and stage, accessible to public transport, near my home or work, evangelistic culture, people are friendly, music that suits my style…the list could go on an on). Alternatively it could be that one seeks a church based on what God expects of his Church. What would that list look like?
1. A place where people want to listen to God.
Colossians 3:16-17 is very helpful.
‘Let the word of God dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God,and in whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’
One of the blessings of being the people of God, is that God has made himself known to us. His clearest revelation occurs as he speaks through his word. Colossians encourages believers to dwell in the word and to do that when they teach and admonish one another. And the way they can do that is wide and varied (i.e. singing, speaking and doing). Whilst one can individually grow in the word, what is interesting here is that dwelling in the Word occurs in the presence of others for mutual benefit.
In the local church, God’s word comes in the public reading of scripture, in preaching and teaching (1 Tim 4:13) and through songs believers sing to one another (Col 3:16).
A church should be a place where members depend upon God, listening to him together in humility, allowing the Word to do a rich work among them.
2. A place where people depend on one another.
Often the New Testament speaks of believers as a body of many parts serving together (Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12:12-31; Eph 4:4). Whilst each member serves, they serve differently using different gifts and skills that they might each have to offer and the result is that all benefit and God is honoured.
In the local church, word ministry (service) happens most intentionally and spiritual needs are met – at times to correct, at times to rebuke, and at times to encourage but hopefully always with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim 4:2).
A church should be a place where each person has their spiritual needs met by others whom they depend upon and that likewise others might find their spiritual needs met by each person. That is a big ask.
3. A place where people want to regularly meet.
The author of Hebrews encourages believers to regular meet and to not give up meeting together and to do so until Jesus returns (Heb 10:25). There is a ‘habit’ which he wants established that encourages those of a church family to give priority to meeting over that of others things (as good or fun as they might be). The assumption is that members want to be there, or that they see the importance of meeting together. This raises the bar on a time which can often be thought to be so routine and regular and therefore not as important.
The local church is more than an occasional reunion or a special birthday gathering but rather a regular family get-together – but one with the expectation that you should not miss it!
A Church should be where people meet regularly and with purpose.
4. A place where people want to talk to God.
When the apostles in Acts were helping to plant churches and establish people in faith they keep a close eye on the ‘must do’s’ over the ‘should do’s’. Believers met, ‘devoting themselves to the apostles teaching, to the fellowship, the the breaking of bread and to prayer’ (Acts 2:42). The church grew. As it did they choose others to help in the work yet ensured that they did not fail to give ‘attention to prayer or the ministry of the Word’ (Acts 6:4). Disciples increased.
One of the great privileges that believers have is the open access to God with the promise that he will listen to the prayers of his people (Matt 6:7-11). Like with our reading of the Word, one can individually pray to God, but that should not limit prayers and definitely not at the expense of praying with others. In fact, corporate prayer is modeled by the apostles (Acts 1:14; 4:24) and believers are called to do it together (Matt 18:20).
The local church, in a way that the universal church can not do, can be a place where specific prayer and praise can be offered and particular needs or concerns can be brought before God.
The church should be a place where people exercise the privilege of prayer together.
‘What should I expect of ‘Church’?’ Expect it to be a place where people listen to God, depend on one another, regularly meet and talk to God. Sounds like a good place.
To be honest, there are times when I turn up to church, not thinking these things at all. I am so thankful for the many who, in love, help me to see how wonderful it is to be in our church family.
Let’s be people who expect of our church what God wants of us – and play our part in making it such. Next update: Why leave a ‘Church’?