A few years ago, Aileen and I walked into a gym for the very first time. We were unfit, we were determined to do something about it, and we had an inkling that a gym was the place to go. We spoke to the club’s manager, arranged an appointment, and groaned our way through an hour-long assessment. He then assigned a trainer, who assured us he would help us melt away a few pounds and put on a bit of muscle. It actually worked! We worked with our trainer, followed his plan, and soon saw our bodies respond just the way we had hoped.
If the gym is the natural context to pursue physical fitness, the local church is the natural context to pursue spiritual fitness. The church is God’s gymnasium. As a Christian man, you are running a race and, if you mean to run it well, you need training that will help you reach and maintain peak performance. It is in the local church that you encounter the trainers who instruct and guide you, that you follow the training regimen God has planned out for you. It is here that you work out alongside peers who are training for their own race so you can be inspired by their labor and so you can motivate them in return. If you are going to “Run to Win,” you need to prioritize your church.
The Purpose of the Church
The local church is central to God’s plan for the world. In fact, in many ways the local church is God’s plan for the world. Much of what God means to teach the world, he teaches through the local church; much of what he means to display to the world, he displays through the local church; much of what he means to accomplish in the world, he accomplishes through the local church. No ministry can outshine it, no program can replace it, no power can topple it. The local church is God’s plan, and he has no backup.
God means for each Christian to be involved in a local church, and his Word knows nothing of Christians who will not be part of one. The local church welcomes into membership those who believe and puts out those who have abandoned the faith, so that each church is a community of Christians bound together by their common profession of faith.
For unbelievers, the local church serves as an outpost in enemy territory. In a world that is in outright rebellion against God, these assemblies offer the good news of reconciliation. Unbelievers are welcomed into worship services so they can experience Christian worship, hear the gospel message, profess faith in Christ, and be baptized in his name. The church exists to evangelize!
For believers, the local church serves as the spiritual health club, the place where we are trained to run our race. It is here that we learn about God so we grow in knowledge, that we worship God so we grow in love, that we are ministered to by God’s people so we grow in godliness, and that we minister to others so we grow in humility. It is here that we come under the care and oversight of elders, the trainers God has specially called and equipped to model godliness and to call us to it. The church exists to edify!
While each of us competes in an individual pursuit and strives toward our prize, we do not run alone, for alongside us is a company of brothers and sisters, each laboring to win their own race. Thank God for the local church!
Prioritize Your Church
If the local church is central to God’s plan for his world, it is equally central to God’s plan for your life. And for that reason I must ask: What is your relationship with the local church? Are you part of a church? Are you involved in it? Are you contributing to it in meaningful ways? You cannot expect to thrive or even to survive without it.
This may be hard for us to admit. We are men! We are strong and fierce and independent! But God means to teach us that we are not as strong as we might think. In fact, we are so weak that we desperately need the help of others. We need to be strengthened by the elderly, we need to be taught by the disabled, we need to be encouraged by the children, we need to be stirred by the unloved, we need to be humbled by the feeble. It is in the local church that we learn to run well.
To run well, you need the worship of the local church. It is in the weekly worship services that you sing your praise and worship to God, that you read the Bible with others, that you hear a preacher exposit a text, that you join in prayer with other Christians, and that you celebrate baptism and the Lord’s supper. These are the ordinary means of grace through which God is pleased to nourish and strengthen you, to equip you for the race.
To run well, you need the service of the local church. You need brothers and sisters who will model godliness before you, who will encourage you through times of trial, who will remind you of the gospel when you’ve sinned and repented, who will lovingly rebuke you when you’ve sinned and failed to repent. You need them to exercise their spiritual gifts for your benefit and your edification. You are weak and deeply dependent upon others.
To run well, you need to serve the local church. You may be tempted to approach church hoping that you will get a lot out of it. It is far better and far godlier to approach church asking what you will be able to give to others. Who needs you to serve them this morning? Who needs to be encouraged by your presence, by your fellowship, by your words? Instead of asking, “How will church meet my needs?” you ought to ask, “Whose needs can I meet?” The benefit of church is not only in what you learn or what you experience, but in how you serve. Though it may seem counterintuitive, you actually run your race better when you spend time training others, when you invest in them and help them to run well.
Do It Now
When it comes to prioritizing church, good intentions may get you started, but it will take conviction and habit to keep you going. Let me offer a few practical tips.
- Find a good church. If you already attend a healthy church that proclaims the gospel, thank God for his provision. If you are attending an unhealthy church or not attending at all, I’ve written about some helpful resources you can use to find one in your area.
- Go all-in. I recently read that nearly two-thirds of all people with a gym membership never actually attend their gym. At one time their intentions were good, they determined they would get fit, and they signed on the dotted line. But without conviction and habit they quickly stopped. Many people are much the same with church–they have their church, but attend only occasionally and serve only sparingly. On its own, a gym membership cannot get you a fit body. You need to actually go the gym and to take advantage of its equipment and programs. Likewise, merely choosing a church will do no good for your soul. You must participate in the church and take advantage of what it offers. Find out how your church means to disciple believers and commit to their program.
- Structure your life around church. There are many desires, responsibilities, and hobbies that can interfere with church attendance, not the least of which is amateur sports. Make church your highest priority on a Sunday morning and, as far as possible, allow nothing to interfere. It is far better to stop chasing the dream of your child earning a football scholarship and to join him in pursuing godly character and Christian service in the local church.
- Lead your family. As a husband and father, you bear the ultimate responsibility to ensure your family has committed to a healthy local church and that they are actually attending. Be the one to commit to the church, be eager to attend and to serve, be the one who wakes the family on Sunday morning. Listen attentively to the sermon, worship with your whole heart, open your home to others, and expect that your family will be blessed by a father who takes the lead.
Run to Win!
Human beings have developed places where we can train our bodies and train our minds. God himself has given us a place where we can train our souls, where we can learn to run the most important of all races. It is through the local church that he dispenses his most precious gifts of grace. If you are going to run to win, you must prioritize your church.