So far in this series of studies on the Kingdom of God we have looked at the King and his Kingdom, the blessings of the Kingdom, both now and in the future, and have begun working through the requirements of the Kingdom. Of these requirements we have looked at the one law (repentance and faith) and are now progressing through the numerous guidelines on discipleship. In this study we look at church involvement and are reminded that we should not forsake the gathering together of the brotherhood.
Of first importance in the Christian life is our personal walk with the Lord. If we fail here then everything fails. So Bible study, prayer and right behaviour must be our first priority. Next in importance is church involvement. We must make it a priority in our life, to work to make our church a dynamic, effective, caring group, to make it a little taste of heaven in a world falling apart - a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.
Most churches have some formal means of gaining membership. This is not a compulsory step. We can be deeply involved in a church without formally taking out membership. Yet it is a helpful step to take - it confirms our allegiance to our church and can mark an important stage in our Christian life.
Church attendance is about worship. We join together to meet with Jesus, and when we meet him we worship him - we adore him. We adore him in our praise, thanksgiving, prayer, and in listening to his Word. Regular attendance is essential. It is just not possible to build up a caring group of Christians when members haphazardly turn up for church, cf. Matt.18:20, Heb.12:18-24
We should try to develop a habit of regular attendance for the key meetings in our church.
i] The main church meeting. This is the main Sunday meeting when all church members should do their best to attend. Although the "Lord's Day" is the most appropriate meeting day for believers, it could be any day if the circumstances warranted it. We should pray in advance for the meeting, participate in the service - join in, sing heartily and do something like read a lesson or lead in prayers. We should even take the trouble to let our Christian friends know when we're going to miss a Sunday. It's the most important activity in the week, so we do need to treat it that way.
ii] The small group meeting. It's hard to develop close friendships with a large group, so it's very important to join a small Bible study group, supportive fellowship, growth group, discipleship group, prayer group, youth fellowship, or nurture group. Most churches have such groups and by joining in we grow in fellowship with our fellow church members. We will need to attend regularly, join in with the discussions, comment openly, express our views, prepare for the meeting and be willing to share our feelings.
Getting to know our fellow church members can be difficult. With many people we may have to make the first approach. It's not that they don't care about us, it's just that we're all a bit shy.
To be able to pray for each other, work with each other, communicate, care ..... we have to know each other. So we must make it a priority to get to know the people we sit next to Sunday by Sunday. The local Church prayer list/parish directory is always a great help.
Some friends once told me they had to leave a certain church because no one cared enough to even invite them for morning tea. It was a friendly church, but it never went any further.
We have to care for each other - in the simple things of life as well as in the times of tragedy and the like. We must be supportive, caring, and involved. Jesus said ..... we must "bear one another's burdens", "Love one another", Jn.13:12-17, 34, 16:19-24.
One of the more important doctrines on the church is called "The Priesthood of all Believers". This truth teaches that each member of the church has a role/a work/a ministry to perform. The work of perfecting the church, of teaching, caring, counselling, ruling etc., is not the sole domain of a professional minister. Each member has a part to play, Rom.12:1-8, Eph.4:1-16, 1Cor.12-14. It may take time, but sooner or later we will find that we have certain skills/abilities that will be very useful for our church. The simple rule is - use what we have.
This is always a touchy subject as so many say that "the church is always on about money". The truth is Jesus is always on about money, "you cannot serve both God and Money" he said - Matt.6:24.
The rule of thumb accepted by most Christians is that we should tithe, i.e. give back to God one tenth of all the blessings he gives us in this his world, Num.28:26 etc. Yet we will do well to note that Jesus demands our "all" ..... It is a wise practice to start right now and develop a habit of giving. A tenth is an excellent figure to work on. A middle-class family on a tight budget can reach 20%, but this is a bit unrealistic.
It is a good thing to plan our giving. Give some to the church - say 5% - some for a special project, some to a missionary society etc ..... Let us be responsible givers.
Remember, a tithe is only a guide and our circumstances may dictate we give more or less.
Each church has a way of organizing itself and a way for members to participate in day-to-day administrative affairs. So we do need to play our part, 1Tim.3:1-13.
Every Christian church should work to make their group an effective community of believers, a group of Christians who are close-knit and who are organizing their lives in such a way so as to have spare money, time, talents, energy etc. to use in the service of Jesus. We usually describe this way of living as the "simple life-style". It is simple in the sense that we try to extract ourselves from the complexity of our urban consumer life-style, Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35.
Such a life-style has many different aspects to it:
i] We need to be careful about the type of job we have. It should allow us to serve Jesus the way he wants us to. It may just be something to give us a living so that we can work for Jesus in our spare time or it may in itself be a special job for Jesus. The trick is not to get caught up in the capitalist treadmill type of employment where the god of money demands our all.
ii] We need also to get away from the "Consumer Dream" - new house, car, furniture, boat, pool ..... dream, dream ..... Best to keep it simple.
iii] Finally, the relaxation of sports and hobbies must never dominate.
In these ways it's possible to have spare money, time, energy etc. to use for Jesus. This is called resource management. By reducing our personal use of resources, we are able to redirect those resources toward specific Kingdom initiatives in our church fellowship.
Many Christians, of course, have gone much further in trying to develop a simple life-style. They practice communalism. This just may mean they own certain goods in common e.g. a chain saw etc., that they all use when they need it. The group may have set up a common store where they buy everything in bulk. Some Christians have even gone as far as actually living together. Owning a common house or a block of land with separate small dwellings on it. They may even farm the land together or run some type of cottage industry; holding all things in common as did the early disciples. We do need to remember though, that such utopian life-styles often founder on human selfishness. Best to just do what we can within the limited moment we possess from God. He has given us this beautiful world to enjoy and he can take the little we give in return and multiply it a hundredfold.
We must make it our aim to become part of our local Christian community and help develop a life-style in our group that allows us to serve Jesus more and more.
A church can be like a bus - A minister drives a passive congregation where he wills.
A church can be like the dodgems - everyone's at the wheel and everyone goes everywhere.
What do you want your church to be like?