4 Surprising Reasons You Need Church (and Church Needs You)

This isn’t that article that simply tells you what the Bible says about going to church and then expects you to run to the nearest pew. Sure, God’s got a bunch to say about why you should join with other believers on a regular basis, and they’re all solid reasons. Read those articles first.

But let’s take a look at some purely practical reasons that gathered worship makes so much sense. You didn’t think God would make such a big deal out of something if He didn’t intend it to be beneficial, right?

Here are 4 reasons you need church (and the church needs you):

1. You’d probably just end up wasting that time anyway.

Let’s just be honest here. When people skip church (or don’t go at all), Sunday morning doesn’t magically morph into a productivity bonanza or a God-focused retreat. We laze around, read, cut grass, watch Netflix, rush our kids to fifty different sporting events that we let them sign up for, or just sleep in. Maybe we throw some Bible in there, but that’s only if we feel super guilty.

Sure, we have lots of plans of what we’ll do with this “freed up” time that we’re not spending in church, but that rarely ever happens. Usually, we just veg out or stress out.

That’s not to say that going to a bad church won’t waste your time; it would. But when you put yourself in the company of other real worshippers, you’ve focused your mind on something far grander than your binge watching session:

“The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.” Psalm 99:1

Earth-shaking, world-changing God? Yes, please.

Worship with others pushes us out of the continuity of regular life and our mundane plans and brings us face to face with our Creator. We worship best together.

2. You need to know that other people struggle just like you.

On our own, we humans have a tendency to assume that no one is suffering or struggling in the same way we are: “This job is the worst thing ever.” “No one else gets completely derailed by these ads on the Internet that keep popping up.” “My life has to be the lamest ever.”

We get trapped in our myopic view of the world because suffering and shame bend us inwards (the Elijah syndrome, 1 Kings 18:22). The more we struggle, the more we just want to hold it in and hide it away.

Church puts you face to face with other sinners just like you. Sure, you may look around at first and think that these people don’t struggle like you, but they do. They’re liars, misfits, and hypocrites—all in the process of being transformed.

You need close proximity with other believers (both mature and newbies) to pull your focus outward, away from your own struggles. That’s the point where you realize you weren’t meant to carry all this weight alone:

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

You can go it alone, but that’s an awful lot of baggage to lug around yourself—especially when you don’t have to.

3. You need the mess (because you’re part of it).

Most of the time, people like to say they don’t need more drama in their lives. And if there’s one thing you can say for certain, it’s that church has drama. There’s loads of it.

But don’t be so quick to brush it off simply because of that. After all, there’s lots drama in your house, too. Why? Because people are there, and the equation is pretty simple: people = drama. You can’t escape the messiness of life simply by avoiding church. Since drama is pretty much a guarantee, the real difference is in what we do with it.

Honestly, you need some sanctified mess.

Not all churches are healthy when it comes to dealing with “junk.” This is true. But what happens when messy people get thrown together under the transforming power of Christ is something amazing:

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

When it comes to the mess being put right, “we” always works better than “me.” On your own, you rarely have the courage and endurance to do what needs to be done. Just be honest. You get tripped up along the way. You don’t follow through with that “sure-fire goal” you had to change. You’ve got no one to spot for you.

Together, though, we messy people can push each other toward being more like Jesus.

4. You stink at some stuff.

Not all of us are naturally gifted at sharing what we’re passionate about. Not all of us can teach and explain difficult concepts. Not all of us know how to organize something. We’ve got skills, yes, but we’ve got weak areas, too.

For that reason, you’ll never see a big company like Google plug a master accountant into the app development team or a marketing guru in with the code crunchers. You can pretty much bet that the results would be less than awesome because people had been placed where they just don’t fit.

We Christians have skills, too. Yours are solid, but not the same as mine or anyone else’s. When we try to go all solo-warrior in our Christian walk, we’ve pretty much said we can handle the whole Great Commission ourselves. All of it. We’ve got everything we need to reach the whole world for Christ—no church required.

Then again, you’ve got to admit that some Christians just have a way with sharing truth from the Bible. Some can pray like nobody’s business. Some have no qualms about spouting their faith even to hardened atheists. And others write songs that just get it. These are messy, awesome Christians. And we go great together.

By yourself, though, you’re just an eyeball:

“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (2 Corinthians 12:17–18)

No Empty Labor

On the surface, Ecclesiastes paints a pretty morbid picture about human labor. Here’s ol’ Solomon’s pep rally:

What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? (1:3)

So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. (2:20)

And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (4:4)

Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. (5:15)

Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun–all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. (9:9)

I’m sure you can relate. Day by day, you swim through a tidal wave of emails, swing a hammer, or stare at the same spot in the assembly line you’ve been looking at for months. You’re glad to have the work, of course, but no matter how much you get done, it’s as if you never really make any progress at all. Tomorrow, those emails will be there, nails will still need to be smacked in, and the assembly line will keep churning along.

Sometimes, all you can really think is this: The job pays for the car that you need to get to the job. “Chasing after the wind,” indeed.

In some sense, nothing brings us more face to face with the Fall of humanity than work. In toil we see how the earth no longer produces like it once did (Genesis 3). In bitterness we see how “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (1 John 2:16) can get us stuck on an endless uphill treadmill. In sorrow we can easily get burned (and burned out) by life “under the sun.” If our eyes can see no farther than “this world,” our work has nothing to offer beyond a paycheck.

But under the Son, labor takes on a completely different dimension—a Kingdom dimension. No, that doesn’t mean work suddenly becomes always awesome. It means that we recognize work as part of our calling, our marching orders to make Jesus-followers wherever we are. The true labor isn’t in email or hammers or assembly lines; it’s in throwing out nets and harvesting grain. We are where we are as a sliver of light to those around us.

Christ answered Solomon’s questions from all those years before. Carpenters, fishermen, tentmakers, shepherds, clothiers, tax collectors, soldiers, priests, and beggars, all found what gain there is in labor. It’s not empty toiling under the sun at all. It’s Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

It Looked Better in My Head

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 

Your calling looks better in your head than in real life. Inside, safely tucked away in your synapses, the visions of what God wants to do through you come with puppies, double rainbows, and guilt-free cheesecake. It’s amazing how perfectly our brains can sand down the obstacles ahead, plaster over the voices of dissent, and generally build a future much like the highlights from someone else’s life.

With such a build-up, it’s easy to see why we get disappointed. After all, stories like these are all over:

  • The country preacher has a vision to reach rural America with the gospel, to burn so brightly that a whole community is changed. But the church never grows. He sees nothing dramatic happen and finally moves on.
  • A woman faithfully loves and serves her unsaved coworkers for years. She pours hours of prayer into the thing, hoping that at least one will really absorb what she’s been sharing with them. But all she seems to take with her when she retires are the pictures from her cubicle.
  • A Christian missionary community, after years of serving the poorest in their adopted country, finally has a breakthrough when a local leader professes faith in Jesus. Days later, militants attack the area and murder the new convert, his family, and many of the missionaries.

And maybe something like that has hijacked your calling, too. You started out strong, pushing forward even when turbulence hit. You just knew God would work all things together for your good, and you had that verse, Romans 8:28, firmly planted in your noggin (and maybe scribbled on a Post-It Note on your mirror—just to be sure).

But along the way, the future you had imagined became more and more distant from the slog-it-out reality. You doubt that God was ever really in the thing to begin with, and, so, you try to forget that something ever happened, that something got you excited and charged up in the first place.

Don’t write off your calling just yet.

The thing about God is that He’s big, really big. And He sees much farther, clearer, and better than us. From our perspective, we can’t always see progress. But usually that’s because we’re trying to see the land ahead from a valley.

The truth is that we may not see progress in the short-term, maybe not even in our lifetime. But we’ve been called to faithfully serve where Christ puts us. We get bogged down when we imagine that all our service and work should produce results that we can experience. Our joy comes from seeing things happen, and not so much the serving.

But God never promises that we’ll see what He’s up to—at least, not while we’re camping here on earth. He’s called us to look out “for the interest of others,” both believers and the unchurched. Whether we see something happen or not.

Seeking Adventure

At thirty, Jesus strode out of the desert and got a jolt of clarity. The Holy Spirit flashed down in the form of a dove. God spoke illuminating words of confirmation. And Jesus immediately found Himself doing exactly what He was supposed to do.

I’d take something more subtle.

The angst of entering my third decade has nothing to do with dissatisfaction or disillusionment. Unlike the mopey protagonists of literary fiction or the sullen heroes of popular fare, I have no desire to live someone else’s life or to grow fangs, sprout wolf hair, or sparkle in the sun. I love my life.

Like other Millennials, I make family time unimpeachable. I grew up with microwaved pasta in front of the TV; my kids get a dinner table and homemade bread. We spend all weekend together without someone rushing off to work, and I probably love VeggieTales as much as my two year old—maybe more.

So, what’s the nagging sense that there’s more?

Before God yanked me out of the mess I called my life, I yearned. The great adventure is stumbling under the weight of a daily cross with a gleam of white in the distance. I know that now. But I remember believing that the yearning should stop after salvation stormed in. It hasn’t.

If anything, my pursuit of the ineffable “it” has only become more intense. When I finally stopped covering my eyes so that I could see Christ, the immensity of a God-filled universe slammed into me. Instead of a mote in the vastness of space, I became a mote with the Creator’s attention. It’s an immense shift, but not one the removes the scale of all things.

I seek Him, and that’s an adventure that never ends.