For those of you who missed my last post, this is the start of a new series called the All Our Minds project. I’m asking anybody who’s interested—you included—to tell me their biggest question about Christianity. I’ll do some research and write a response to your question, which will hopefully lead to a healthy dialogue and a discovery of God’s Truth on the subject.
Okay, now that we’re all caught up—drumroll please.
And our first question of the series is…
If I pray every day and study the faith on my own but do not attend church, does this make me a "bad Christian"?
When I first saw this question, the part that immediately caught my eye was the term “bad Christian.” Let’s start there.
The terms “good Christian” and “bad Christian” get thrown around a lot and I’m not really convinced that they serve us well when we’re dialoguing about our faith. If any of us are calling ourselves “good Christians,” we’re probably glazing over at least a dozen areas where God is working to grow us. But thinking of ourselves as “bad Christians” could lead to futility and resignation, which isn’t helpful either.
So rather than approaching this as a matter of “good Christian” vs. “bad Christian,” I’d like to think about this question in terms of how Jesus lived and how He calls us to relate to one another.
Jesus’ life and ministry on this earth is our tried-and-true example of a godly life. 1 John leaves us with this challenge: “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did” (2:6). Whenever we’re asking ourselves a question about the Christian lifestyle, this is the ground zero that we need to start at. How should I be living my life? The way that Jesus did. How did church fit into Jesus’ life? I’m so glad you asked.
When Jesus was just twelve years old, His parents accidentally left Him at the temple in Jerusalem… for three days. They finally found him “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Flustered, His parents asked Him why He had stayed behind.
“‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:49).
From that young age, spending time in His Father’s house was very important to Jesus—and it stayed that way throughout His ministry. In addition to actively praying for others and with others, involvement in the local faith community was central to Jesus’ life on this earth. Here are a few reasons why it’s central to ours too.
A growing faith is relational
The New Testament makes it clear that the life of a Christ-follower is not one of isolation. In fact, quite the opposite—it’s all about relationships. Relationship with Christ. Relationships with fellow believers. Relationships with teachers, lepers and prodigal sons.
Matthew 18:20 tells us, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Gathering with one another gives us a strength that we can’t have on our own. If we’re not relating to others and building life-giving relationships in our church community, we’re actually missing out on opportunities to grow spiritually. By investing in these relationships, our personal faith and views will be challenged, and thus sharpened.
Accountability is key
I believe that God’s Word is infallible. Unfortunately for us, we as humans do not share that same quality. In other words, we bring all of our preconceptions, personal experiences and inherently flawed human logic to the Bible when we read it.
Since we all approach God’s Word from our own unique background, it’s important for us to have accountability and guidance in our interpretations. Proverbs 11:14 says “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” Most of us wouldn’t hold firmly to a conviction of any kind without hearing out some alternate perspectives. God’s Truth is objective, but we need the help of leaders and fellow believers to get to the heart of it.
Now, for anybody who has ever been hurt or deceived by the church, this one might seem counterintuitive. The church is full of hypocrites. What kind of “accountability” can I really expect from them? Listen, I get it. I can’t write this piece without acknowledging that the church has some apparent shortcomings. Hear me out though…
C.S. Lewis writes “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” Beyond C.S. Lewis, the apostle Paul writes “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
None of us are good. We’re all flawed. And as it turns out, flawed people dealing with other flawed people is actually a recipe for spiritual growth. Together, our collective shortcomings are illuminated, our hearts are humbled and our need for grace is evident. Many people are driven away from fellowship because they don’t want to face church politics or hypocrisy, but those vices are everywhere whether we like it or not. If we actively resist them by holding each other accountable in fellowship, we’re sharpened by the practice of loving our neighbor when it’s hard.
We remind each other of the hope we have
Another part of accountability is encouragement. By encouraging you and being present amidst your hardships, I’m holding you accountable to the hope of Christ that lives in you. Hebrews 10:24-25 hits the nail on the head:
And let us 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 gather as a community to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” we serve as living testimonies of the active hope we all have in Christ. If a brother or sister is struggling through a hard time, Paul says, “ Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). In his letter to the Corinthians, he says of the body of Christ, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This is how we as the church are called to relate to one another.
You’re a member of the body of Christ, which means you have a job to do
I’m going to let Romans 12:4-8 speak for itself on this one:
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we become part of His family. Each of us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, are gifted in different areas and have different strengths to share with our church community. That’s a big part of why it’s so important for us all to be actively engaged in church fellowship. Because are all united by a common love for Christ and a common desire to glorify Him—and we all have a role to play.
So now what?
Let’s say you don’t have a church that you attend regularly. Maybe you had one that you really loved and then you moved to a new place. Or maybe you’re a new Christian and just haven’t found a congregation that makes sense for you yet.
Finding the right church can be challenging. Whenever I think about church searching, I remember this line from C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”:
Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.... the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic… (Letter #16).
In other words, it’s incredibly easy to indefinitely remain in the church search stage. Often times, it’s because we’re looking for a perfect blend of criterion that may or may not exist. In seasons when I’ve lived far from my home church, I’ve done the church search shuffle and there’s no sugar coating it—it’s tricky.
I could probably write a whole post on this topic alone. Instead, I’ll just share what worked best for me: creating a list of my Tier One non-negotiable attributes that I needed in a church and working my way down from there. It helped me prioritize what mattered most while also managing my expectations.
There are plenty of people who go to church but don’t believe. Walking into a building every Sunday morning at 10 a.m. does not a faithful Christian make. But steering clear of the church altogether seems like a sure-fire way to miss out on chances to grow spiritually. As our faith grows, we draw closer to God—and isn’t that what this life is all about?
“Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).