So, you’ve decided to follow God. You’ve joined your local church and are waiting for the return of Jesus Christ your Savior. But do you know the purpose of the church? Do you understand why you have aligned yourself with the sometimes messy, often broken, body of Christ?
Do you even know why it’s important for you to go to church on a regular basis? I’m with you. I understand that God has called me to be a part of the local church, but sometimes I don’t fully understand the purpose of the church. I haven’t quite figured out what the goal of the church, is so let’s work through it together.
What Does a Church Represent?
Most of the time, when we think of the church, we are thinking of the physical building or the organization of its people, but that’s only half of it. The church is the people, the individual members who make up the congregation. The church represents the body of Christ. To understand that, it helps if we go back to the original language.
The word used for the church in the New Testament is the Greek word ekklēsía, (pronounced ek-klay-see’-ah). Ekklēsía means a calling out, i.e. a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both).
Ekklēsía was commonly used to refer to an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting. The first time that word was used in the New Testament was in Matthew 16:1,
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (NKJV).
Jesus was already planning to create an assembly of those who would believe that He was the Messiah, the Son of God.
Who Makes Up the Church
When we join the church, we like to think that every member, or at least those who had been in the body of Christ for any length of time, would have mastered the things we’re struggling with. We want them to know how to love as Jesus did. We want them to know their place and purpose in the world and be fully committed to living that life.
But most of the time, they are not.
When we align ourselves with the body of Christ, we may find that one of the most difficult things is learning to love the local church–the messy, broken, unlovable people who make up God’s family. The people who make up the church are exactly as we are–sinful, human beings who are still trying to live up to their identities in Christ.
What Does the Bible Say About the Church?
Christ loves the church and if we are to be like Christ, we ought to love it too. That means we have to find ways to put up with the broken, messy, hard-to-love folks, as well as, the ones who easily endear themselves to us.
You may already know that the church is God’s gift to His disciples but it may surprise you just how much He cares for us, especially when you think about how we don’t always reflect the love He wanted us to. Still, the Bible has much to say about the church.
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Hebrews 10:25 NLT
God knew that sometimes being in the church would be hard. He knew we would be tempted to walk away from the things, and people, that make us wonder if being a part of the church is worth it. And so He gave us these words through the Holy Spirit. We need the members of the church, just as they need us.
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
Colossians 1:18 ESV
Christ has set Himself as the head of the church, so if we love Jesus, shouldn’t we want to be where He is?
What is the Purpose of the Church?
There is a biblical purpose for the church. One quote I’ve heard calls it a “hospital for sinners”. It’s a place where those condemned to death because of their sinful nature go to get healing and learn to use their gifts after they accept Christ as their Savior.
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
James 5:14 ESV
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV
The elders of the church can pray for the healing of members of the congregation. They can offer support when others are in need. The church is called to love each other and live in unity, even as Christ lived in unity and love with His Heavenly Father.
What is the Role of the Congregation in a Church?
Were you curious about the role of the congregation in a church? These verses hint at the answer,
You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:5 ESV
For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:9 ESV
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
Our role is to be co-workers with God working with Him to save the souls of those who don’t know who He is. We do this through witnessing. Now you may not think of yourself as a missionary, but as a member of the local church, you have a role to play in the church. And it’s as simple as sharing what you experienced when Jesus saved you from your sins. That’s the main purpose of the church.
What is the Purpose of Going to Church?
You may also wonder, why going to church is good for you? Intellectually, I understand the reasons for attending church, but like you, I sometimes wonder if it’s the best use of my time. I mean, we read the Bible and we see the early church on fire for the Lord. They are preaching the gospel, telling others about what God has done for them, taking care of the needy, and performing miracles.
Then we go to church and spend hours sitting in a room with people, many of whose names we don’t know. It doesn’t seem as if you are fulfilling the purpose of the church when all you’re doing is singing hymns, returning your tithe and offering, or listening to a sermon. Yet, all of these are our roles as members in the church.
We sing hymns and spiritual songs as we give glory and honor to God. When we come into God’s house, we do so knowing there isn’t we can offer Him that He doesn’t already have. And so we give Him our praise. We offer Him a contrite heart. We worship Him with our words and in our hearts. We praise Him for what He has done.
Our tithes and offerings often make it into places we can’t go. It’s our way of contributing to the global mission of the church. It’s our way of being missionaries. In a small way, our tithes and offerings do the work of caring for the widows and orphans, it facilitates the preaching of the gospel through digital and other means. It does not negate our physical responsibility as a member of the church to God’s mission, it supports it.
We listen to sermons so we can learn more about God. After all, to know Him is to love Him. The more we know about the God we serve, the greater our love will be for Him as we realize all that He sacrificed on our behalf. As we learn more about God, we begin to align our characters with His, and that’s the goal of going to church.
What are the Benefits of Joining a Church?
If you look at the members of the church instead of focusing on our perfect Savior, it may be difficult to believe there are reasons to join a local church. Yet, there are many benefits to joining a church.
The church gives us strength. While you can go to church without being a member, there are certain benefits of joining a church. A good analogy is to think about church membership as being part of a flock (the Bible calls us sheep so the reference isn’t far off). When all the sheep are together, they are protected. They are surrounded by other creatures like themselves and have the shepherd to watch over them. They are safe.
But a sheep that gets separated from the flock? That sheep is in danger. It doesn’t have the shepherd guiding its path or taking care of its needs. No, it’s on its own. It’s the same with us as believers. When we choose to remain apart from the local church, we are separated from the flock–other believers who understand our role and purpose in the world.
We separate ourselves from the source of our strength and from people who understand, not only the struggles we’re going through but also what we’re trying to accomplish by living a life that seems strange to the rest of the world.
The church prepares us for heaven. As unbelievable as it may seem, Christ is invested in building the local church and using it for His glory. It’s in this body that Jesus will prepare us to be holy, pure, perfect. We learn to be more like Him as we walk alongside people who are also trying to learn to be more like Him.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV
The local church is where we learn that we belong to the family of God. The Holy Spirit dwells there and is working to transform us into the temple of God. The local church truly is a place to belong!
We learn how to love each other. The church is the training ground for learning to love others. As we wrestle with sinful people who are also wrestling with their desire to be holy as God is holy, we learn to love. If God who is perfect can love the people of the church with all their flaws, then we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to Him, to try to love them as well as He does.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:7-8 ESV
If you’re looking for more benefits of church membership, here are 102 reasons for going to church regularly. Another good place to start is by reading A Place to Belong by Megan Hill.
Review of A Place to Belong
In an age when many are moving away from assembling with God’s people, Megan Hill provides nine biblical reasons believers should consider the Church a place to belong.
Know God–God loves the Church. His love for humanity is the reason He sent His Son to die for its sins. If God loves the Church and invests His time in it, what better activity is there for people who claim to love God?
Megan Hill shows us how being a part of the Church exposes us to the character of God. We experience His love when we come alongside His people working towards His mission.
Know yourself–as Christians, we belong in the Church. This is where we will live out our identities in Christ, learn how to use our spiritual gifts, and further the mission of the Church.
Run your race–every believer has a role in the family of God. The only way we’re going to fulfill that role is if we occupy the space. We have to join a church so that we can fulfill God’s calling on our lives.
If you’ve ever asked the question, ” How does church affect your life?”, you should consider reading A Place to Belong. A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church zeroed in on the role of the Church and the role every believer has to play. By focusing on the simple and the grand scale purposes of the Church, Ms. Hill invites introspection. She is passionate about the Church and wants every believer to feel that way.
I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publishers through the Crossway Bloggers Program; a positive review was not required. Get your copy of A Place to Belong.
About A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church
The church has more beauty—and more value—than we can see with physical eyes. Though our congregations are made up of ordinary people engaged in predictable practices, we are an outpost of heaven itself. The church is the people of God, the dwelling place of the Spirit, and the fullness of Christ.
With rich theology and practical direction, A Place to Belong invites us to experience the local church in light of the Bible’s testimony. Considering nine biblical terms for the church—such as beloved, brothers and sisters, saints, and gospel partners—this book equips us to love and serve one another.
Whether we are new Christians or mature believers, learning to love the local church can become one of our greatest privileges and highest joys. The church is where we belong.
About Megan Hill
Megan Hill is the author of three books: A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church (Crossway, 2020), Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness (P&R, 2018), and Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches (Crossway/TGC, 2016).
Megan Hill serves as an editor for The Gospel Coalition, and her writing has also appeared in The Washington Post, Christianity Today, Tabletalk, Focus on the Family, Desiring God, and Reformation 21. A pastor’s wife and pastor’s daughter, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and four children where they belong to West Springfield Covenant Community Church (PCA).
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