As we prepare to worship God tomorrow, it may do us good to pause for just a few moments to consider the local church. What is the church? Why has God called us into these little communities? Does the local church really matter? It does! The local church is foundational to God’s plan for his people. In their book Church in Hard Places, Mez McConnell and Mike McKinley offer 6 reasons that the local church matters.
The local church is the way God intends to accomplish his mission in the world. “It is primarily though the local church that God wants to make himself known.” Of all the evangelism strategies in the world, of all the ministries in the world, none is more central than the local church. It’s interesting to note that Paul considered his ministry in an area fulfilled not when every person was reached, but when churches had been planted (see Romans 15:19-20). “Paul knew that the churches there were how the gospel would spread into all of the individual neighborhoods. Local churches do local evangelism.” The church is God’s plan, it is God’s mission.
The local church should matter to us because it matters to God. The church is Jesus’ body on earth (see Ephesians 1:22-23) and it is made up of all kinds of people from all walks of life. “Together we represent Christ here on earth through our local body of believers. Therefore, the church is central to the purposes of God and is of benefit to the world around us—even today in our increasingly hostile culture.” The church exists for God’s glory and showcases it in a unique way. “The church is built for Jesus, by Jesus, and on Jesus. It is simply unthinkable then to separate Jesus from the local church. If the gospel is the diamond in the great salvific plan of God, then the church is the clasp that supports it, holds it up, and shows it in its greatest light for the world to see.” If it matters so much to God, it needs to matter to us just as much.
The local church is where the believer grows. It is primarily in the local church that Christians learn doctrine, receive reproof, and train in righteousness (see Ephesians 4:11-13). The local church provides opportunities for growth that are available nowhere else. McConnell says, “In a scheme [a neighborhood] like Niddrie, people need the concerted time and effort that only a local church can provide. Very often people will turn up on our doorstep having heard the gospel through some parachurch ministry. Yet they almost always have large gaps in their biblical knowledge and Christian behavior. Without a local church committed to patiently teaching and training them, these people will flounder indefinitely.” We all need a local church if we are to become like Christ.
The local church is the place where believers must submit themselves to spiritual authority. Many people from many walks of life struggle with issues of authority, though this problem is especially prevalent in the schemes of Scotland. Mez says, “they will not accept criticism or input from anybody they regard as an authority figure.” This attitude needs to be dealt with immediately. God calls Christians to submit to spiritual authority within the local church (see Hebrews 13:17). All believers are called by God to put themselves under the care and oversight of elders. “A culture that despises any kind of authority needs to see healthy models of leadership and submission. And the place for people to see this modeled is in the local church.”
The local church is the best place for spiritual accountability. We have probably all encountered people who believed they were called to ministry or who even carried out some kind of ministry even though their lives were a mess. This happens where people do not have proper spiritual accountability. “All Christians need the spiritual accountability and discipline that being a member of the local church brings. It stops us from drifting. It offers a context for encouragement and rebuke. It provides a community to stir one another on to love and good deeds.”
The local church is the place from which discipline is biblically administered. The task of disciplining disobedient or unruly Christians belongs to the local church. This is a difficult task but one given specifically to the church as a means to show the deepest love and concern for the spiritual care of believers (Matthew 18:15-17). Discipline belongs to the church as one of its important functions.
As you prepare to worship God tomorrow, consider his mercy and his grace in giving us the local church.