20 years ago it was possible to be unreachable. 20 years ago, if you left your house or your office, others would have to wait until you returned to talk to you. Now, most Americans who are out of diapers have a mobile phone and reasonably priced (eh, arguably) phone and data plans. We can call, text, Snap, Tweet, Facetime or Facebook practically anyone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And yet experts say we are lonelier and more isolated than at any other time in history. We are excepting this pseudo connection in place of true intimacy. Let’s face it. It’s easier than face to face interaction. We don’t have to coordinate with anyone else’s schedule, we don’t have to shower or set foot outside our home, and we can multi-task – communicating in the carpool line or while watching the our favorite show. It feeds into our need to be doing and blowing and going all the time. We don’t have to slow down. And we don’t have to get personal. If someone annoys us or we disagree with them, we can just stop typing. And we don’t have to see the real hurt, disappointment or frustration that might be on the other end of the conversation. But that works both ways. When we want someone else to see and experience with us our pain, or joy, or excitement, the phone can’t compare with a living, breathing, touching person. We are left feeling empty and alone.
In the same way, we can fool ourselves into thinking that technology (and other things) can take the place of the local church. It has become trendy to say that we are “spiritual” but don’t need the church to have a relationship with God. We can pray alone, read devotionals online or in a book, and watch preachers or uplifting programs on TV. And while all of that is true, and I am thankful for the ministries that help us pursue God in the everyday, we were never meant to live out our callings in isolation from God’s church.
I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago on what the families of special needs individuals wish the church knew. You can read it here. In researching that post, I spoke with many people that consider themselves “church-wounded”by someone or a group of someones in their church. People who have been so hurt that they chose to separate from the body of Christ. I will be the first to admit that there is not a perfect church. The old joke says that if you ever find one, it will be imperfect the minute you join. Since there is no perfect person, no perfect staff member, no perfect preacher, there will never be a perfect church. Staff members screw up. Congregants sin. Members hurt other members. In this wicked world, it happens. If you stay in relationship with ANYONE – church member or not – long enough, it will happen. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need the fellowship.
The church is God’s design for our own edification and the furtherance of His gospel message. Hebrews 10:24-25 exhorts us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” When we enter into relationship with God, He makes us members of a family. “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5) We are members of one another. And just as it can sometimes get sticky and difficult to be a member of your biological family, it can occasionally be trying to be a member of the family of God. But it can also be rewarding and wonderful and educational and life-giving. Ephesians 4:15-16 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” If I’m an arm, I can’t function at full capacity without you – the ligament that holds me in place. We all need each other, staying in the thing and working together to carry out Christ’s commission in our world.
Jesus loves the church so much that He often referred to her as His bride (ex. Ephesians 5). Because Christ loves the church, I love the church. I love MY church. I AM the church.