When I was a freshman in high school, I had a football coach who was intense. Really intense. He had a mustache that resembled the look of a proverbial Viking which made him all the more intimidating. He was the kind of man who during his tour-of-duty in Vietnam spent his free time killing water buffalos with his 50 caliber machine gun.

In the strangest of contrasts, school administrators assigned him to teach driver’s education.  I will always remember how he greeted the class as he looked out at us on that first day, “Well,” he scoffed, “This isn’t the freshman class at Harvard.”

I remember his greeting every time I read the Apostle Paul’s assessment of the Corinthian church, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (I Corinthians 1:26-29)

Paul was saying to the Corinthians, “Notice, your gathering is not made up of the ‘movers and shakers’ of the culture. Your curriculum vitae is not very impressive in the world’s eyes, but that’s okay. It’s okay because the church is not about you. The church is about showcasing God’s grace and glory through the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ.”

When Paul reflected on the makeup of the Corinthian church, he didn’t congratulate them on their achievements or their resumes.  Rather, he pointed out that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (v.27) This is important in understanding what the New Testament teaches about the local church and how it should inform our expectations and involvement in the church that we attend.

Having served as a pastor of a local church for 30 years now, I am quite aware of the good, the bad, and the ugly of church life.  There have been a number of tough seasons when it was really hard to reconcile the exalted claims of the church in the New Testament with the reality of an ugly church problem. Nevertheless, God’s plan for believers to serve and grow is within the context of a local church family.  This is where we learn to love, persevere, and serve.

For this reason, I argue that the most critical gathering in any given week, in any given community, is when a local body of believers gathers under the Lordship of Christ to celebrate who He is, what He has done, and what He has called us to do.  I would contend that the local church is the epicenter of God’s Kingdom purposes in this world.  In other words, as a believer, if I want to be involved in the most strategic endeavor to make a difference in the world, I can think of no greater strategy than to serve Christ through my local church.

Such an idea is dismissed out of hand by most, but the New Testament makes a number of staggering statements affirming this assertion.  For instance, Jesus Christ himself stated that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)  In Matthew 18, Jesus taught how the church should deal with sin from within, and then noted that when a local body of believers gathers in Christ’s name he was there among them. (18:20)

God’s eternal purpose and plan is to redeem a people for His name and glory. The local church is at the heart of this plan to accomplish God’s purposes in history.  Paul put forth in the book of Ephesians that all things will be summed up in Christ. (Ephesians 1:9,10) He offered a prayer for the church in Ephesians 3, and closes with this statement, “to him (God) be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21)

The book of Acts captures a beautiful picture of a biblically functioning church. From the account in Acts 2:42-47, notice what this young band of believers were doing:

1.  They WORSHIPPED(2:42, 47)

2.  They received INSTRUCTION(2:42)

3.  They shared life in FELLOWSHIP(2:44-47)

4.  They expressed themselves through personal MINISTRY.

They were gathered and committed to live their lives in obedience to what Jesus Christ had commissioned them to do. This is the divine mandate given to every follower of Christ in every generation. When one comes to know and love Jesus Christ, one begins to love what Christ loves. Clearly, Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

In reading the account in the book of Acts you get the impression that these early believers couldn’t have made it without one another. Mark Dever has stated, “If you can get a reputation in the community as a church in which people’s lives are actually changed, you will begin to see some amazing things.” 

Has your heart grown cold to the thought of church?

Have you been burned in a church conflict? Got memories that are not good?

Maybe you have just drifted away from church life for any number of reasons?

I understand, but I would encourage you to return. Not because we are trying to keep the club open, or avoid foreclosure, but because God has purposed to display His glory through the church where the members are radically committed to the Lord and to one another.  The local church is the epicenter of His kingdom purposes, and it is where believers need to give their best.  See you Sunday!