Why Bother with The Church?
In March of 2021, the Gallup research and polling organization published a report that revealed most Americans do not belong to a house of worship for the first time in U.S. history.* The article entitled “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time” exposed the fact that presently only 49% of American adults belong to a local church.
For six decades, around 70% of Americans reported attending a church, but over the past two decades, there has been a dramatic decline. This number is even more alarming when you isolate specific generational segments. For example, only 36% of millennials actively participate in a local church. It seems that an entire nation is asking a critical question about the church…why bother?
Maybe you know someone asking that question in this season of their life. Perhaps you are wrestling with that question yourself. And it might surprise you that this is a question that many leaders in the church have struggled with in their journeys of faith as well. I remember vividly my own struggle in this area. It occurred after I experienced a very painful season of church hurt. I found myself wondering, in my own soul, if the church was worth it.
Over time, the Lord graciously reminded me of the importance and value of spiritual family. And I want to take a few moments to encourage those who find themselves discouraged in their relationship with the church, or even disconnected from the church altogether, to come to acknowledge the church’s blessings, benefits, and necessity. Scripture has the answers to the big questions our hearts are asking. And when it comes to questions about why bother with the church, the book of 1 Timothy provides some clarity and encouragement regarding the importance of the church and its function.
The book of 1 Timothy is the first of three letters, along with 2 Timothy and Titus, written by the Apostle Paul to a pastor explaining God’s plan for the church and instructing them on how to lead the family of faith. The Apostle Paul wrote these letters from a deep concern that many would depart from the church and follow false teachings. He wanted to warn God’s people to avoid such temptation and remain faithful to the gospel’s truth and to the community of believers. We are living in the days that the Apostle Paul warned about in 1 Timothy 4:1,
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons….”
Many are departing from the faith through deconstruction. And more are opting out of the church by intentionally or subconsciously choosing their own brand of spirituality because “personal” faith lacks the spiritual authority and accountability that comes from church leadership and from covenant community with other believers. This disconnection from the local church makes them a prime target for Satan, who prowls as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Our safety is found in the truth of the gospel AND how it fleshes itself out in the family of faith.
As we look at 1 Timothy, Paul clearly understands that any explanation of God’s intent for the church and persuasion over why we should embrace the church must begin by answering the question, what is the church? The Greek word ekklesia, which New Testament writers used for the term “church,” has its roots in the Torah but finds its greatest clarity in the writings of the Apostles. And there is much we can learn just by surveying the passages in which it is mentioned.
The church belongs to God: Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (ESV)
Jesus is the head of the Church: Ephesians 1:22 “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church…” (ESV)
Jesus is the central and preeminent in the church: Colossians 1:18 “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.” (ESV)
In each of these passages, the word ekklesia is used, which specifically means “an assembly.” However, it is clear from these texts that the biblical writers intended for the word church to mean so much more than a simple public assembly to us who believe. By centering Jesus in our understanding of the church, they intended for us to view the church as a family that upholds the truth and spreads the gospel.
One of the greatest joys of being an adoptive parent is seeing how a relationship can transform between people that don’t share a common biological background. The beauty of adoption is the story of how strangers become family. There are few things in my life more special than my children, the first three of which are adopted. I remember the joy of completing each of their adoption processes… when we stood before a judge and heard the glorious pronouncement that we were now family with the child that we longed to adopt. It is a special and unique blessing to see how adoption brings together individuals born to different backgrounds and biological families and gives them a forever bond with one another.
In Christ, we are a spiritual family, and it is right that we should refer to one another as brothers and sisters because that is who we really are. Even more important, we should treat one another as a family because this is what it means to love one another as God truly intended. Sure, we could go to the command, “Love one another.” But it’s more than flat obedience to the commands of Scripture; it’s God preparing us for the way His family will function in eternity.
While there is so much more that goes into answering the question “what is the church?” and “why we should bother with it,” I hope today you know that God intends His church to be family. A family that loves, cares for, and protects one another from the constant lies the enemy is hurling at us.
If you want to dive deeper into Paul’s first letter to Timothy to better understand the church, its function, and why it’s important, I encourage you to check out a supplemental resource called “Church: Why Bother? A Study on 1 Timothy.” You can access it by clicking here.