Each new year brings with it new opportunities to grow in our walk with the Lord, endure challenges, succumb to sin, and learn more about Christ and ourselves.
As we enter this season, we can be encouraged that “There are better things ahead than any we leave behind” (C. S. Lewis), because each day that passes brings us one day closer to an eternity of perfect, unbroken fellowship with Christ and our fellow believers in Heaven.
Our journey here on earth is simply that: a journey to our eternal home.
But to help us along our journey and to support, encourage, and strengthen us in our walk with the Lord, God has blessed us with the local church.
The church is our ‘taster’ of heaven; a gift from God that serves as a promise of our future hope, a community with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and a training ground where we can be strengthened against Satan’s attacks.
Because the church is God’s gift to believers, we should invest in it wholeheartedly this year, and commit to being a vital member of the church body God has placed us in.
So, what are some practical ways we can do this, and how can we keep the right mindset about the importance of the church and our role in it?
1. Pray for Your Pastor and Church Leaders.
Our church leaders are most directly in Satan’s line of fire, and therefore need all the prayers and support they can get.
Your pastor’s duty is to teach you the Word that you may be drawn closer to Christ by God’s power; your duty is to support him earnestly in prayer so that he might be strengthened against Satan’s attacks and continue ministering faithfully to you and your fellow church members.
Paul reminds us of the importance of a pastor’s work: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work,” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Church leaders are human; they fail, they make mistakes, they sin, and they sometimes disappoint us.
However, they are God’s special tools to work Christ-like character in our lives, deepen our understanding of God through the exposition of Scripture, and keep us accountable and walking “in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).
The responsibility our pastors carry is immense.
Every time they stand in front of the church and preach the Word, they are speaking as God’s representative to the church.
Soul care is their duty, and it is a glorious but heavy duty.
As the writer of Hebrews encourages us, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
Pastors carry the weight of the spiritual state of their church.
Therefore, every one of us should resolve to pray more diligently for them, their walk with the Lord, their commitment to biblical truth, their perseverance in faithful ministry, and their families’ unity.
2. Intentionally Pursue Christ-Focused Conversations.
One of the greatest blessings of the local church is the ability to have deep and meaningful fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
But this deep fellowship doesn’t just happen; it takes intentionality and a commitment to be vulnerable and genuine.
It’s sometimes hard to bring up spiritual topics, but it shouldn’t be.
There should be nothing more natural than talking about God with the redeemed and adopted children of God.
Christ should be a very real presence in our conversations.
As A. W. Tozer explained, “What’s closest to your heart is what you talk about, and if God is close to your heart, you’ll talk about Him.”
An easy way to initiate a Christ-focused conversation is to simply talk about something that stood out to you from the sermon, to share a truth God has been revealing to you in your devotional times, or to ask the other person what God’s been teaching them recently.
There is something so edifying about discussing with others how Christ has been growing our character, guiding our decisions, and revealing His goodness in our lives.
This is why Scripture commands us to “Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
Pursuing more Christ-focused conversations also helps foster a stronger sense of community and belonging, because it cultivates relationships that are deeper, more genuine, and better stand the test of time.
3. Embrace Your Part in the Church Family and Every Opportunity to Show Christ’s Love.
As Christians, we are called to reach out to the unreached, to love the unlovely, and to show kindness to those who hurt us.
This is our expression of God’s love in a dramatic way.
But God also calls us to show His love in the mundane and the minor, and the best place to practice this love is in the context of the local church.
Allowing Christ’s love to work through you might be simply introducing yourself to the shy newcomer at church, asking the elderly lady about her week, or welcoming the awkward loner into your group of friends.
When we reach out to those around us, whether we ‘click’ with them or not, we are given the precious opportunity to experience the diversity and uniqueness of our church family.
James exhorts us to, “Show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory…If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” (James 2:1, 8-9)
As we invest more in our church, we will see more closely the wonderful way in which Christ saves, restores, and uses people from all cultures, age groups, backgrounds, and walks of life.
Every single member of the church is loved by God, and we should treat them as such and fully enjoy the privilege of getting to know each one, investing in their lives, and being blessed by their friendship and fellowship in return.
In 1 John, we see a beautifully poignant reminder of the reason why we are to love others: “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. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us,” (1 John 4:7-12).
Remind yourself that we, as believers, are one in Christ. Make it a priority to be an engaged and friendly member of your church family this year and know that your kindness to others is a beautiful reflection of Christ’s love and kindness towards you.
4. Dive Deeper into the Gospel and Get Active in Evangelism.
One of the greatest blessings to the local church is when it grows because people in the community have become saved through the witness of the church.
As Christians, our primary calling is to glorify God and reach others with the gospel: this means we must live “Not ashamed of the gospel”, and confident that “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16).
Evangelism is the weekday outworking of the input and teaching we receive on Sunday morning.
The more we learn about the character of God, the more we will be propelled to respond with a deeper desire to tell everyone about the goodness and saving grace of God.
We cannot save people, but we can, and must, point them towards Christ our Savior.
Jesus instituted the church to be His witness to a lost and dying world, and it should fill us with joy that we get to be a part of His plan to save others.
As Paul wrote, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
I’m sure evangelism is an area in which we can all improve; it is hard to break the ice with strangers, and even harder to broach the subject of Christianity once again with our unsaved family and friends.
We should all have an increased resolution to put the eternal plight of the unsaved above our desire to not be stuck in an awkward conversation, and yet too often we still let the moment slip past and hope that another will have the courage to speak up where we did not.
However, if there is to be a change, it must start with us first.
Let’s make the commitment to be more involved in evangelism this year, both in our personal lives and in whatever outreach our churches organize.
It might be handing a tract to the cashier, talking to the person sitting next to you on the train, or sharing the gospel with an inquisitive co-worker.
Pray that God will bring along more gospel opportunities, and rest assured that He will most certainly answer that prayer!
Soak yourself in the beauty of grace and the truths of the gospel, take the opportunities as they arise, be diligent to deepen your relationship with Christ, and trust the Holy Spirit for the results.
Your witness in the community, and your witness to others at church, will be a great blessing to your church family and is an exciting, even if sometimes terrifying, way to invest in your church this year.
God Has You Exactly Where He Wants You To Be!
Our church isn’t perfect, our pastors aren’t perfect, and we sure aren’t perfect.
However, our Savior is perfect, and He has each of us exactly where He wants us to be.
Each church has its pros and cons.
Large churches provide an opportunity for many friendships, but they can also easily become cliquey and make it hard to have deep friendships.
Likewise, small churches can feel isolated and quiet at first, and yet they often provide a wonderful foundation from which to develop friendships with people from all age groups and backgrounds.
Our job is not to find the perfect church but to invest in the church God has placed us in.
It is not wrong to desire more fellowship or to pursue that elsewhere.
But be careful that you don’t idolize these valid ‘wants’ and neglect the vital ‘needs’ of godly leadership, doctrinally solid teaching, and a community that pulls you closer to Christ.
He has placed us right where we are, He knows our needs, and He wants us to be faithful wherever He has us in life.
Your dedication will inspire others to be more dedicated too, and your choice to be committed to church will bless your pastor’s heart more than you can imagine.
The more you invest in your church, the more you will see the gift of community, the blessings of accountability with others, and the joy it is to be a core part of the local gathering of the family of God.