This recent blog by Gloria Furman was featured on the Gospel Coalition website. I was encouraged by what she wrote and hope you will be also!
10 Ways Ecclesiology Encourages Me
by Gloria Furman
As the wife of a pastor and mother of three little kids, I know how challenging it can be to get everybody out the door to go to church gatherings.
I can also empathize with those who struggle with being “present” once you’re there. I recall one morning at a church gathering where I spent the entire time either caring for my colicky baby in the bathroom or collecting pieces of borrowed clothes for another child who had multiple accidents involving bodily fluids in children’s church.
It’s tempting to dive into feelings of futility on these occasions: “Was this morning all for naught?” or even to utter the more faithless despair, “What a waste!”
Personally, I tend to blame my attitude on my circumstances. But the real battle wages in my heart as I fight to cherish corporate worship and engage heart-and-soul in church activities.
As a natural-born sinner, I’m allergic to worshiping the Lord in all things at all times.
As a supernaturally born-again saint, I’m prone to love the God who loved me first.
Praise God that when the dust settles from the war with my flesh that he has the victory!
God’s Word instructs us: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).
Here are just ten of the things I remind myself of when I’m tempted to downplay the importance of corporate worship and ecclesiology in my life:
1. God is glorified in my public profession of his supreme worth. I can’t think of a single joy that out-joys this privilege when I consider the grace of God that allows, commands, instructs, invites, and enables me to participate in worshiping him and giving him the glory he deserves.
2. Being part of the church is who I am as all the saints are united to one another under Jesus our Head. The Bible describes me as a brick in a building, a member of a family, a sheep in a flock, and a priest in a priesthood. Remembering who I’m saved to be in the context of the body of Christ helps deal with my prideful independence. I need to be part of the body; isolating myself from the body is to my detriment.
3. The Holy Spirit’s indwelling means that my contribution to fellowship has tremendous value for others. The Spirit of God personally leads me to love my brothers and sisters through the Scriptural “one another’s.” The body needs me, too; isolating myself from the body is to the detriment of others.
4. My particular season of life as a mom to young kids is a blessing not only to me but also to others. Among other things, this time is a visual, tangible, audible (and sometimes olfactory) reminder of our helplessness and need for our heavenly Father to care for us in every way. This unique season is not an inconvenience to me or to others, but a gift that serves to point us to depend on God for everything we need.
5. Participating in corporate prayer allows me to lift up the needs of the body and of the world before our heavenly Father who cares for us. Praying with the church mortifies my pride and engenders humility as we seek the Lord’s will together for individuals in our midst, our city, and the world.
6. Corporate worship is a venue to participate in the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. It helps me to remember the plural “you” when I hear, “Christ’s body and blood were given for you.” Witnessing baptisms strengthens my faith as I consider what a public profession of identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus truly means. Many of our brothers and sisters risk their physical lives in their profession of faith and baptism.
7. My participation in corporate worship is a safeguard against lackadaisical private worship. How well I know the ease of sliding into nonchalance regarding private prayer and Bible reading when the days and nights are full! Coming together with the body of Christ to worship the risen Christ reminds me that worship is not about me.
8. I can’t witness to the unbelieving world of my unity and love unless I am united to others in brotherly love. Our love for one another tells the world about Jesus’ love for them.
9. Studying the sermon’s Scripture passage ahead of time during the week helps me to be a better expositional listener as I hear the Word of God preached. The Holy Spirit blesses my meditation on God’s Word and keeps me from becoming “dull of hearing,” even when I’m distracted at times by my baby’s cries.
10. Corporate worship is a taste of heaven as the nations gather and publicly adore Jesus together. More tastes of heaven? Yes, please!
Gloria Furman (@gloriafurman) lives in Dubai with her husband Dave, a pastor at Redeemer Church of Dubai. They have three young kids. Gloria is the author of Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home (Crossway, 2013) and blogs regularly forDomestic Kingdom.
Various surveys and polls over the past two decades have shown in statistical form what normal powers of observation have noted for quite some time. When asked about their level of participation in church, the typical survey or poll has shown that only about forty percent attend with any regularity. On the local level, we have seen trends that show that for the children and pre-school ministries in our own church, the average attendance for the little ones comes in just about on target with the national numbers–about forty percent attendance for children lining up with that same percentage for the adults who bring them!
A couple of important observations come out of such data.
First Observation: Whereas I have great confidence in the numbers compiled from our own weekly attendance records, that level of confidence is not there with the national surveys and polls. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, it has long been discovered that people lie to those asking them questions about their participation in spiritual endeavors! For example, those same surveys indicate that 17% answer that they tithe in their giving to their churches, but the actual numbers in the realm of all charitable giving to spiritual causes comes out to only about 3% leaving a gap of 14% between the reality and the wishful thinking of those responding.
When that criteria is applied to church attendance, the 40% number reveals a highly optimistic view of actual practice. Hard data from churches indicates a much more sobering situation with the percentage falling closer to 20%, half of what is reported in polls! Many suggestions have been offered for the disparity, but perhaps the most telling one is that people want to think of themselves as more connected, more engaged, than they actually are. Why? Because they know they should be far more committed than they are.
Second Observation: The culture has introduced a destructive perception that church engagement is just one of many options available each weekend, even for those who say they believe in Christ, perhaps even trust Him as Savior, but have little interest in following Him into the vibrant life He has designed for them within the body of Christ. Confessing faith in Christ, a majority of those who call themselves His disciples have largely abandoned the church except for the occasional appearance to keep some sense that they have not rejected His plan altogether. Church attendance falls way down the list of priorities when other opportunities present themselves as sports events, travel, even household chores often push commitment to the body of Christ to the side.
A Word of Hope: A positive cry is rising up around the nation. The call to come follow Christ the way He outlines it in Scripture is reaching college campuses, singles populations in major metropolitan areas, among young families who are realizing that they need greater connections than they currently have to others heading in a godward direction.
The biggest objection in every generation is that the church is full of hypocrites so why get locked into a dying institutionalized religious system? And can anyone deny that stinging accuracy of that charge? But does it stand to reason that the answer is to abandon, neglect, deride and eventually reject the body of Christ? For all the blemishes on the Bride of Christ, she is still His choice. He still intends for there to be a marriage of the Bride to the Lamb of God and like it or not, the church is His bride!
So the call goes out. Study the Word and discover afresh the beauty He intends for His bride and determine for yourself to become an active, engaged, reforming influence within the church. We need to depend upon and trust Christ. We need to believe that His way is the best way. Therefore, we need to accept the fact that His way calls us to be the church He longs for us to be.
If you have bailed out, when do you plan to jump back in? What will it take for you to return to your calling from Christ to be one of many “living stones” chosen by His grace to be called His people? Many have stated correctly that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. True. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. However, the Scriptures never give any indication that a follower of Christ does so apart from a body of committed believers who love Him and each other as they seek to grow up together to spiritual maturity.
So before you dismiss this challenge as the ramblings of an out-of-touch pastor, consider the exhortation of the following great passage from the book of Hebrews to a Christian culture in the first century that was already witnessing the same trend we see today. And after you consider this passage, search the Scriptures for yourself and see if it is not true…Christ Himself calls you to belong, to serve, to grow and to be sent from the local assembly called the church!
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near (Heb. 10:24-25).
So…where are you going to assemble with others tomorrow morning? And will you commit to engage there and find the sweet satisfaction of a whole-hearted commitment to follow Christ in everything…even in the church?