Whenever I read that part of the Shepherd of Hermas quoted in yesterday’s post, it helps to re-calibrate the way that I view the church. Am I seeing her as a feeble old woman? Then I must conclude that there is some unresolved problem in my heart that is clouding my vision.
The church is more than the sum of its members. There are people within the church whose attitudes and conduct may rub me the wrong way. If I don’t think there is room for such people in the Bride of Christ, why would I presume to think there is room for me? I may not see my own problems very well, but I suspect other people do. And they still accept me.
Can we really expect to get much out of church if we don’t put anything in? I don’t mean just money, though that is part of it. But giving generously of our money isn’t enough to make us feel that we are truly part of the church. Money isn’t even the most important part. If I expect to be blessed in worship services, Sunday School and Bible Study discussions, but never contribute anything, those meetings will come to seem very flat and uninteresting.
Attending church is not meant to be a spectator activity where I am merely a passive observer. At the very least, I need to pray for the preacher and his message. I am part of what is going on here and need to hear the message the Holy Spirit has for me as the Scriptures are read and expounded. If there is opportunity for lay people to take part in the service, by an introduction and prayer, by sharing a testimony, an experience or a message, and I never take part, I will be tempted to remember only the mistakes made by those who do.
There are so many ways we can make a contribution of our time and talents to the church. We don’t need to wait to be asked, or to be elected to something. There is much that can be done to help others who are members of the church and to reach out to the unsaved. If we are obedient to the prompting of the Spirit, and don’t care if anyone is watching or not, we are part of the spiritual life of the church.
Sometimes we may find ourselves in a church that is not providing spiritual nourishment. Before I say good-bye and go looking for a better church, it would be well to examine myself to see if the fault is within me. Are other people being fed and I am not? What is preventing me from getting out of church what others are receiving?
Finally, if there can be no doubt that the church is corrupt and unspiritual, I still should not rush out to join another church that is more to my liking, or where the pastor seems more friendly. That will only lead to another disappointment and finally perhaps a disillusionment with the whole idea of church.
It will work much better to pray “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” It may take some time for direction to come. Meanwhile, it might be better to continue worshipping where I am while I check out the options and see if any of them are pleasing to God. If we are honest in asking for direction, then eventually God will make His plan clear to us. He does care for us and wants to place us in a nurturing spiritual setting where we can grow in grace to serve Him, and where our faith can be passed on to the following generations.