Is church important? Why even go? There are so many people who go and we are all different, church can be tasking.
It is easier to think this way about church than it is to be committed to it. If you have ever struggled with these thoughts, or asked these questions, then Why bother with church? is for you.
Why Bother with the Church? tackles this question by answering six pertinent questions:
1. What is church?
2. Why do I need church?
3. What makes a good church?
4. How is a church run?
5. How do I survive church?
6. How can I be a good church member?
Sam Allberry, the author, is a pastor in England and has written other books as well. His goal for this book is to reverse the question by the end of reading. Instead of asking why bother with the church he wants the reader to ask: “Why on earth would I not bother with the church.” He writes: “When we get what the church is, and whose the church is, we really won’t want to go to the park (or anywhere else) on Sunday morning.”
So what is the church? First the church is a particular gathering. It is a gathering of a particular people for a particular purpose. The word for church is used in Acts 19:32, 38-39. It is a local assembly. “A church is a particular gathering of Christian believers-of people who have heard Jesus’ promise that in him, ‘the kingdom of God has come near’ and obeyed Jesus’ command to ‘repent and believe the good news’ by accepting him as King of their life, and trusting him as their Saviour who gives them eternal life.” This is important because not just anything can be called church then. When you run into your Christian friend in the grocery store that is not church. Meeting with your Christian friends at the local coffee shop is not church either. It is a particular gathering of God’s people under His rule.
Second the church is an outpost. “The church is the gathering in a particular location of God’s people, as his people, in his presence, to hear and respond to his word.” Third the church is a family and an embassy. The church is a spiritual family. It is also an embassy of the kingdom of God. The church is the vehicle through which God grows His kingdom and through the church God.s truth is spread.
As wonderful as these three things are the church is also the bride of Jesus. “The church is the beautiful bride of the lamb-of Jesus himself.” We do not often think of the church this way because the church is full of sinners, but this is the way Jesus views the church and one day the beauty of the church will be revealed at the great wedding feast of the lamb (Revelation 21:1-2).
These four things teach us that the church is not individualistic. The church is not a person who belongs to God in a particular location, it is God’s people. The church, as a collective whole, is the bride of Christ. We need church and the church needs us.
Why do I need the church? The first thing Allberry observes is that throughout the Bible God’s plan is to make a people for Himself. Many think they can be a Christian without church. But the New Testament challenges this thinking in two way (1) you can’t come to Christ without coming to His people (Galatians 3:26-28) and (2) you can’t serve Christ without serving His people (Matthew 25:40). There are certain things in the Christian life you cannot accomplish apart from the church.
To round this question out he asks “what do I miss if I don’t join a church?” Allberry’s answer is “Heaps.” The biggest thing a Christian misses out on when they neglect the church is God’s people (See Hebrews 10:25-27 and John 13:35). It is hard to serve, encourage, and love other followers of Jesus apart from the church.
The next question the book answers is what makes a good church. Sadly, not all churches are equal. There are many that should be avoided. This chapter is the best, and simplest, guide I have read on what a person should look for in a church. Focusing on Acts 2:24-27 Allberry gives four characteristics we should be looking for in a church.
The first is learning. The early church was devoted to the Apostle’s teaching. Any church we decide to go to must be devoted to teaching the whole counsel of God. Second, the early church had fellowship, or partnership. They were committed to one another. Partnership is a helpful would because it shows how the church was and should be committed to one another. Often fellowship brings up the idea of eating and “hanging” out together. The third thing to look for in a church is worship. “This church enjoyed making much of God.” Who is the hero of the Sunday service at a church? Is it God and His work for sinners or is it man’s work to be made right with God? This will show you the priority a church places on worship. The last thing is the early church experienced growth. They were growing spiritually and numerically.
These four things should be a priority for the church. But, as is pointed out, while these are simple it can make church really hard.
Chapter four might seem a little surprising because we do not often think about, how the church should be run. Every church should have elders and deacons. Another thing members rarely think about is the role of the pastor (elder). For some the pastor is similar to a CEO who keeps things running smoothly at the church and for others he is merely someone who makes hospital visits when that is needed. This chapter give six descriptors of what the job of a pastor is (all from Acts 20):
1. Serve God (20:19)
2. Teach people (20:20, 27)
3. Accept the cost (20:23-24)
4. Care deeply about the church (20:28)
5. Protect their flock (20:29-30)
6. Guard themselves (20:28)
Since the church is a family there will be times when discipline is necessary. Church discipline is viewed in a rather negative light but it is meant for the good of God’s children. This is important because “sin affects our fellowship with God and one another, and so discipline is to restore what has been disrupted.” Church discipline viewed in this light is a wonderful gift from God to His people. God wants His children to encourage one another for the purpose of restoration. Excommunication is the last resort, after a long process, in church discipline when the person will not repent.
Chapters one through four are the foundation for the last two chapters. Chapter five asks how can I survive church and the last chapter how can I be a good church member.
Church can be rather daunting if we do not understand what it is, why we need it, what makes for a good church, and how it is run. But, once we have the doctrinal foundation we are equipped to answer these last two questions. Allberry does a masterful job in laying the foundation.
How do I survive church? Church can be hard work because we are called to live in partnership with one another and die to our own needs and care about the needs of others. The first thing to overcome for some is that church is boring. We show up and we sing together, there may be odd things some churches do that others do not. We sit and we listen to a sermon that in some churches can be up to an hour long. It is different. But, when we realize that Jesus is present with His people (Matthew 18:20) and that we are there to encourage one another towards good works (Hebrews 10:24-25) then church takes on a new light. We go to church to participate in what happens not to act as spectators.
Another serious issue many people have is they have been hurt by the church. Unfortunately hurt will happen in the church because it is a hospital for sinners and when sinners interact with one another hurt is bound to happen. For some the journey back to church will need to be slow and in small steps, but the point is to work through the hurt and confess to your brother or sisters how they hurt you and work towards reconciliation.
Then lastly we need to know how to be a good church member. The first way is by attending. Fight to be at church, work your schedule so that you will be there no matter what. Come back early from vacation so that you can gather with God’s people. This was refreshing to read. It can be discouraging for our brothers and sisters in Christ when we see other brothers and sisters allowing anything and everything keep them from attending church.
Second get involved with the church. Join a small group or look for ways to get plugged in however that might look at your church. Third you can be a good church member by praying for your church. Pray for its leaders and members. Pray for the ministries of the church. Pray, pray, pray. Fourth serve in the church. The gifts and talents that God has given you are best used in the life of the church. Don’t waste them on lesser things.
Next, and fifthly, give to the church. When you give you will feel like you are a part of what is going on in the church. You have skin in the game if you will. Sixth, submit to the leadership of the church. There may be times when you disagree with leadership. If it does not involve sin, we should submit to their leadership and not run from it. And last be devoted to the church. It is encouraging to hear stories of people who have attended one church their whole life. I want to be that person, Lord willing.
Strengths: The biggest strength of this book is that it comes from a pastor’s heart. Allberry wants people to have the best that God has for them. They need the church and the church needs them. Allberry is from the Church of England but you cannot detect and leanings in his writing. He sticks to what the Bible has to say about the church. The last strength is he writes about the church from a positive perspective. Too many times arguments for being committed to the church can heap guilt upon people. But Allberry wants people to ask why on earth would I not bother with the church. That is the goal he set for this book and he accomplished it. The church is the greatest place, and family, on this earth. The church will exist for all time. Out Father is great to give us such a wonderful family.
Features: along the way this helpful series also answers other questions that are tangentially related to the topic of the book. These are helpful sections that can be read in the flow of the book or can be read at a later time. The questions asked are:
1. Hasn’t the church done more harm than good?
2. How should I pick a church?
3. What are baptism and communion for?
4. Can’t I view my small group as my church?
5. Should pastors and elders only be men?
6. Why are there so many denominations?
7. What is the future of the church?
Rating: Five stars
Who should read this book?
This book, as you can tell from the title, is geared towards people who are questioning if they even need church. Therefore if you are asking some of the questions answered in this book or are thinking about ditching the church you need to read this book. This book will also be helpful for new Christians. It is important that Christians from their infancy in the faith understand the importance of the church. Last, this will be a helpful resource for church leaders and pastors. It will be helpful for them to know questions that people are asking and will serve as a good resource to sit down with those who are struggling in their commitment to the church and go through this to encourage them on the Biblical path.