Aspects of Christian living: Fellowship with other Christians
God is a social God; this is true even within His very nature (three Persons in one God), and He has called us to live sociably in relation with other people within our families and in society at large.
When we become Christians it is so important that we should meet regularly with other Christians. In this way we can encourage one another, we can learn from one another, we can remain accountable to one another.
In different churches, Christians usually meet to worship God on a Sunday. Some congregations meet on Saturdays, and some others meet on different days altogether.
Sincerely, I have had real trouble finding a suitable church because different churches tend to subscribe to different variations of the Christian message. The core message will tend to remain the same: faith in Jesus, salvation through Him alone. However, beyond this different churches might emphasise or de-emphasise different parts of the Christian message.
Sometimes Christians will say: “These differences should not really matter! We Christians should unite around what we all agree on!”
In theory, this might sound good but in practice, in my life it does not work. I believe it is wise to spend time praying very, very very hard before committing to a church (as you would pray before committing to a spouse).
Speaking candidly, being committed to a church where you cannot fully subscribe to the doctrine (that is, the beliefs of that particular church), or being committed to a church where you cannot sincerely submit to the leaders, can cause immense pain. It will often be the case that these issues will only surface after months or even years of committing yourself – just like with a bad relationship. On the other hand, some extent of compromise will certainly be necessary in any church setting, as we are all still imperfect human beings.
I think that it is important and wise to carefully evaluate the church before committing. I believe that the single most important person to evaluate is the senior pastor or minister. I believe that the difference between an excellent church and a “joke” church is ultimately decided by the depth of the senior pastor’s private commitment to pursuing intimacy with God, intimacy with God’s word the Bible, and passionate and desperate prayer. If these features are missing in the pastor’s life, then what you have is a joke church. BIG FAT FACT!
Trust me on this, it does not matter how many people already attend the church; how well known or highly respected the church is; it does not matter how flashy the website is or the multimedia (and I say that as a web designer – I have nothing against websites!), how glossy the weekly bulletins; it does not even matter how “nice” the pastor is (or appears to be) or how prayerful the congregation is.
If the senior leader is a joker, then the church will be a joke. Simple.
(Yes, the fact that the senior pastor might even be a genuinely wonderful person does not actually stop them from being a joker as a church pastor.)
Am I being unfair? Being a pastor is very intensive, there are so many roles, responsibilities etc etc. That may be true, but if a pastor thinks that prayer is one thing that they can safely “delegate” altogether to the ministerial team or whoever else then… I shake my head.
You can have a ministerial team, you can have a separate prayer pastor/leader with the responsibility to seek direction for the prayer life of the church and implement radical initiatives. However, if the senior pastor himself/herself does not pray passionately and desperately then….I shake my head. Why is the pastor the most important person? Because they ultimately administer church discipline; they define the atmosphere in the church.
Well if it is private, how do you know the pastor’s commitment to depth with God? Well this can be what takes months and months to find out. However, in this, as in many other things, actions speak louder than words. If the pastor pays plenty of lip service to prayer, talking endlessly about how important it is, giving the idea that he or she is personally deeply committed to prayer – and then goes and cancels the Sunday prayer meeting, or places the prayer meeting at such a time that it will clash with the main service, then please, please, please hear the pain resounding from my experience – take to your heels and run away as fast as you possibly can. If you also are a “joke” Christian, then the likelihood is that you will fit into such a church just fine! If however, like me, you are not a joke Christian, but aspire to be all that you can be for God, and you actually endeavour to read the Bible throughout the week, then please believe me, in such a church you will cry, and seriously! If you don’t want to believe me, please be my guest! Go ahead and find out for yourself! Or perhaps you think that as a person you simply need more practice in crying…This might turn out to be one of those things that can never make sense until you have experienced them for yourself.
If I were to start to recount all the “exciting” things that I have personally experienced in some of these joke churches, then please trust me, I would never stop. From experience, I can tell you that for me, it is much much better not to attend church at all than to commit to one of these, just like it is infinitely better to remain single than to ally myself with a “joker” of a husband in a “joke” marriage.
Tosin, how can you say this to new Christians?! I am not trying to discourage new Christians from the faith. If I were, I would not be dedicating my time to writing all the articles for this blog. What I am trying to do is to give people honest and pragmatic advice for building the best foundations for their relationships with Christ. I know that many people have been forever “turned off” from Christ by what they have experienced in church. The best way to avoid these bitter experiences is to steer clear of these kinds of churches in the first place. Frankly, pessimistic as it may sound, I think most churches are joke churches. I think this simply because most Christians of our day do not seem to take prayer very seriously at all, and disregard the importance of striving passionately after God.
When you do find a church with a genuinely holy and spiritually committed and mature pastor – a real person desperately pursuing a real relationship with a real God – who does not try to build the church through cheap gimmicks or his own personal charisma (or both!), then church can be the most exciting and refreshing place to be; when there is real love flowing between the members, real concern, real sincerity, then it can be an immense joy and genuine privilege to belong to. This does not mean that things will be perfect in such a church; everyone including the pastor will always be growing, and will always have areas to work on. However, the difference in experience between the two kinds of churches – Tosin sighs! I think it is worth persevering and I am so glad that God has enabled me to persevere in this! 😉
With all that said, an official church is not the only means of meeting together as Christians. There are also house fellowships, so called because they meet in homes rather than in official church buildings; there are also small prayer groups which can be from any size from two members upwards. If you are a new Christian, it might be an idea to find one or two Christians you can really trust (who are more experienced than you are) to pray with, read the Bible with, and then perhaps they can gently direct you towards larger meetings or fellowships of Christians.
Word image of heart by JohnHain on Pixabay