Can’t I Just Follow Jesus and not Join a Church?

Sturbuck Community Church. Address: 113 Front Starbuck, Washington 99359. Taken by Steven Pavlov.

by Rob Tims

I’ve heard (and made) many excuses when it comes to joining a church.

As a teenager, I didn’t want to go because I didn’t find it entertaining enough. As a college student, it cramped my sleeping preferences (and besides, wasn’t Tuesday night worship with students enough?). In seminary, I was clearly getting enough Jesus in class.

But then I needed a job, and church membership became the most important thing in the world to me.

My twenty years of pastoral service have taught me a lot of people’s attitudes toward church membership, the bulk of which can be summarized in this way: many see the church as an outdated institution with a “country club” mentality of membership. Which is to say, it’s optional. Nice to have when you want it. We treat the church like a gym membership or any other retail institution that’s to be visited only when needed.

Paul, however, was convicted that God put the body of Christ together and that every true believer is important to be an active part of the church, for God’s mission and glory and for their joy. Paul battled this same consumeristic, independent mindset 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. See if you can’t find your (or someone else’s) excuse here.

First, you might make the argument you have nothing to contribute. “I don’t have what it takes,” you might say. Paul’s rebuttal is in vv. 12-20, but v. 14 summarizes it nicely: “The body is not one part, but many.” Your perceived lack of a spiritual gift that contributes to the well-being of the church does not disqualify you for membership because you do, in fact, possess a spiritual gift, the main purpose of which is to contribute to the mission and well-being of the church. In other words, in the same way that I need a nose to smell and ears to hear, the church needs you to (fill in the blank).

Second, you might think that the church body (as it currently exists without you) looks at you and thinks, “You’re not a good fit here.” You expect the church to say, “We don’t think you have what it takes to belong here.” To which Paul says, “Wrong!” More specifically in vv. 21-23, 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you! ” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you! ” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that are weaker are indispensable. 23 And those parts of the body that we consider less honorable, we clothe these with greater honor.” No body of believers is complete without all members of the body being involved, and any perceived weakness (be that in you or the church) is a lie of Satan. The simple fact of the matter is that there is no “us” and “them” in the church. We’re just “the church.”

Third, you might convince yourself that it’s too overwhelming to get started. “I just don’t know where to begin,” you might say. To which Paul says, “That’s no excuse” (vv. 27-31). Briefly stated, God has appointed you; it’s just a matter of stepping into a commitment He’s calling you to.

It’s not easy being in a committed relationship with an institution, but it’s not optional for the Christian either. You cannot just follow Jesus and not join the church. They are married to each other, after all. So set your excuses aside and step into a relationship with the one institution that guarantees a lifetime membership, both here and into eternity.

Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.

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