Every now and again I jot down a thought that I’d like to ponder but that I don’t intend to tease out into an article. After all, not every idea is worthy of a full-length treatment. Hence, today I’ve got a long list of brief, random (and unsolicited) observations and pieces of advice related to the local church. I hope there is something here that benefits you.
You are a contributor to your church’s strengths and weaknesses. Your giftedness makes your church stronger and your sins and weaknesses make it weaker. Whenever you are tempted to grumble about your church, you need to remember that even if you can be part of a solution, you are also part of the problems. Be humble.
It’s no cliché that Sunday morning begins on Saturday evening. Your experience of church will be much different if you stay up late watching movies you shouldn’t be watching versus if you go to bed at a reasonable time after refraining from sinful behavior. If you want to get the greatest benefit from the worship services, you need to plan ahead.
There are no perfect churches. Every church has its unique collection of strengths and weaknesses. Though it can often look attractive to leave a church because of its weaknesses, the new church will have plenty of its own. Count the cost before moving on.
One of the best compliments that can be paid to a Christian is this: You are a good churchman.
Make it your habit to pray through the membership directory. You cannot help but come to love people as you pray for them. It’s also a great way to get to know names and faces (not to mention to the names and faces of children).
It is very common—but rarely a good idea—to change churches amid a personal crisis or immediately following one. In times of great difficulty, it is usually best to allow the local church to be a source of stability. It’s wise to distrust yourself in your most difficult times. Stay put for now and only consider moving when life has stabilized.
If and when it does come time to leave a church, leave it well. Most of the time that will involve seeking counsel and affirmation from trusted people, notifying the elders well in advance, expressing your gratitude to them, and then leaving without taking anyone else with you and without undermining other people’s confidence in their leaders.
One unheralded ministry in the church is the ministry of arriving early. In many churches, it is often guests who arrive first and they can feel awkward if they are alone. Those who get there early have the opportunity to serve in welcoming newcomers and engaging them in conversation. Conversely, those who continually show up late miss out on many opportunities to serve others.
Another unheralded ministry is the ministry of singing loud. Our culture doesn’t really know what to do with singing and few people have been trained to sing well and confidently. If you have a good voice and know how to use it, you can bless the people around you by singing out your praises in as loud a voice as is appropriate.
Far too many Christians move from one city to another without first ensuring there is a good church in the new location. Always make sure you are caring for yourself and your family by identifying sound churches in your new place.
Few people want to be part of a church that doesn’t pray, but few people want to attend a prayer meeting. You should ponder this conundrum.
The Lord’s Supper is for sinners, not perfect people. If you come to church deep in a sin that you have no intention of giving up, you would do well to refrain from participating in the Lord’s Supper. But if you have sinned through the week and know the sorrow and shame of it, if you are repenting of that sin before the Lord and pleading for his grace, then by all means, participate. This means of grace is for you!
Baptism takes on new dimensions of meaning when you understand it as not only as a personal act of obedience for an individual but as an ordinance that has meaning to everyone in the church. It is a communal rite, not a personal one.
The greater the number of churches in a particular area, the more each church can create a very defined identity around lesser matters. The fewer the number of churches in a particular area, the more the churches there may be well-served by creating a broader identity around the most important matters.
Church membership matters. It is a great privilege and a great responsibility of the Christian to be formally connected to a particular local church.
It’s okay to be on the losing side of votes or decisions in the life of the church, especially when they are over relatively mundane matters. When the decision is made by the leaders or the majority of members, don’t sulk or whine. Instead, become an advocate of that decision. After all, isn’t God likely to work his will through a prayerful majority?
If you have a beef or concern with the sermon, it’s always a good idea to wait until a few days have passed before approaching the pastor. Also, be sure to distinguish between a bad sermon and a weak sermon—a sermon in which the pastor preached error and a sermon in which he simply may not have been at his best.
There is a lot of gossip in churches. Make the commitment that whatever gossip you hear will never be passed on. Make sure it ends with you.
Churches can inadvertently (or even deliberately) slip into a posture of competition toward one another. One way to head this off is to deliberately and publicly pray for other nearby churches. Pastors do well to integrate this into their pastoral prayers.
It’s okay to clap or raise your hands in worship. It’s okay not to. A lot depends on the customs of the church you are part of. But if it is a custom within your church, it’s probably worth giving it a try as a means of physically expressing your worship.
It is far better to arrive at church each week as a worshipper than a critic. It is far better to determine you will seek out and enjoy whatever good you can find in the church than to identify and nitpick every weakness. It will be better for you and better for everyone else if you come to worship eager to enjoy every blessing.
It is a blessing when the adults in a church take an interest in the children. It is a blessing when parents know that the Christians around them love to befriend and influence their children. So do your best to forge relationships with some of those little people.
Try to make your church the kind of place where young preachers can confidently preach their very first sermons. Though those sermons are probably not going to be very good, ensure those young men receive a lot of encouragement and affirmation.
There is entirely too much unnecessary church-changing. Of course, there are times when leaving one church for another is necessary and good. But there is also something to be said for enduring through a church’s times of difficulty and having a long, faithful ministry among a particular people.
While there are many good causes and many great ministries that need financial support, make the local church the main priority in your giving. And do that giving with joy.
When there is a loud noise in church—a child who cries out, a disabled person who causes a disturbance, a member who drops their water bottle on the floor—be the person who doesn’t turn to look at them. They’re already embarrassed enough.
The one ministry that always needs more people is the childcare ministry. Get your name on the list to serve it!
When you are on vacation or otherwise far from home, make it a point to visit a church. And, if you can, try to make it a church that is true and strong but quite a lot different from your own. You will learn a lot about how Christians worship in ways that are the same but different. You may even spot a strength or custom that you would like to take back to your own church.
When you are on vacation or otherwise far from home in a country that does not speak English, make it a point to visit a church. In all likelihood, there is someone in the church who speaks English and who can help you get settled. You will be surprised and encouraged by how much you can still participate and how much you can still benefit even when you barely understand a word. Worship is a universal language.
When visiting a church that is not your own, do your best to attend as an observer rather than a judge. Some elements may appear strange or even wrong, but if you pay close attention and ask good questions, you may find that each element makes sense within the context of that church.
As soon as a worship service ends, make it your goal to meet someone you have never met or to spend time with someone you barely know. You can catch up with your close friends later. The first two minutes matter most.
The older you get and the more your children move away from your home, city, and church, the more you will treasure sitting in church with your family. So learn to enjoy it while your children are young, rather than dread it or complain about it. These are the good ol’ days and the time will come when you will find yourself wishing they would return.