To be honest, I really struggled to write this post. I’m not exactly sure why—I’ve grown up in the church, been a part of one since I was born. A lot of my closest and longest friends are from church, and I’ve gained so much knowledge and character from time spent in Sunday school, sermons, small groups, and summer camps. I’ve grown so much spiritually through church, and I’ve been involved in the churches I’ve attended since I was in junior high. From camp counselor to worship leader to intern to small group leader, I’ve had my share of leadership positions, giving me a chance to help others grow and teaching me more about myself and my faith in the process.
But I think, especially in our current culture, the church has become a common point of criticism in Christianity—both individual churches and the church body, as a whole. And the criticism is not unfounded; the reality is that the church is made up of humans who mess up and hurt each other and often forget their ultimate focus: Christ. But in the midst of the critiques and frustrations and negativism, we can easily take the church for granted, forgetting its ultimate purpose and place in our world.
The church is more than just a denomination, more than a building. It’s a body of people who all stand for Christ and follow Him, and sometimes we lose sight of that. I’m thankful for the church and all that it’s done in my life. I’m thankful that I’ve made so many good friends there. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to serve, especially in worship. I’m thankful for the people who have invested into my life since I was born, helping me to grow spiritually and learn what a strong faith looks like.
But even more than all of those things, I’m most thankful for God’s continuous and abundant love and grace for His church. The gospel starts at the individual level—with you and me surrendering to Christ and learning how to follow Him daily. But it grows and manifests itself in our world through the church! Ephesians 2:19-22 tells us:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (ESV).
See, when I was racking my brain for what to write—something genuine and meaningful, deeper than just friends and worship team—I listened to song after song about God’s deep love for us, about how He is always faithful, about how He creates beauty from ashes. We sing about God’s love for us, the individual. But we can’t forget about God’s great, beautiful love for His church, His bride! Even when we are arguing, splitting into more denominations, hurtful to others, and just generally disobedient, God continues to pursue His church. We are the body that does His work in the world, and He has a plan for His people.
In the Bible, we see God’s plan for the church begin to go into motion: healing, generosity, standing up for the oppressed, taking care of its own and bringing in others from the outside—most of all, we see the church growing God’s kingdom by telling Christ’s story and by displaying His love and grace. The church has an important role to play locally and globally—even when we’re not the majority, even when we’re being silenced, and even when we’re at our worst. God continues to love us deeply, to call us into His story, and to work through us.
I’m thankful for the church because we are God’s dwelling place here on earth and an integral part of His kingdom.
Now, here’s the call to action. First, if you don’t have a home church, find one. Find one that fits, but don’t give up on finding one—remember, you don’t have to agree with every single thing that happens, and you don’t have to leave as soon as things start to change. It’s important that we, as Christians, are participating in the body of Christ as a whole. Second, love your church. No church is perfect, that’s for sure. But what churches need to thrive and impact their communities are people who care enough to get involved with the church and pray for it, too! The church isn’t a place to sit and listen to a sermon on Sundays—it’s a body of believers who should be engaging with each other and the world.
Finally, speak up about the church. Complaining is easy—complaining about other denominations, other Christians, your own church. And yes, sometimes the church needs to be called out—Jesus, Peter, Paul, and many others made that clear. But without encouraging words and words of life, the church will continue to be at the end of blame, anger, and hate; however, we can’t forget that the people who make up the church are the ones who drive its focus. And the more we pray for our churches, leaders, and fellow believers, the more we focus on Christ and His kingdom.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (Revelation 21:3, ESV).