Studies are showing that more and more Christians are are deciding not to be members of organized churches. The reason? Primarily, they feel that Christianity is no place for giving and receiving positions of rank and that following Christ should be an individual journey without the constraints of doctrinal guidelines.
While these concerns can be supported by examples of mismanagement in church organizations, there is also evidence of the effectiveness of church organization. For example, when a disaster strikes such as the one in Haiti, church organizations have funds already in place to send immediately. And while the most effective way to witness about Christ to others is through a one on one relationship, the church also provides ministries of health, Bible study, prayer groups, and even financial seminars for member and the public that individuals don't have the resources to provide.
So, to me, the real question is this: How can I be a member of a church organization and still retain my individuality as a personal follower of Christ?
Here are some suggestions.
While the organized church may not be perfect (since it happens to be operated by people who are not perfect), the mission of the church is directed by One who is perfect. Still, the organized church is made of individuals. Individuals who were each created in God's image and who carry with them personal spiritual gifts and talents that must be used for their intended purpose. While Christ is the head of the church, it will only be successful when it's members are seeing to their personal relationship with Jesus. As the hymn says, "The church has one foundation. It's Jesus Christ, our Lord."
- Remember that while I am a member of my church, I am first a member of the body of Christ as a whole. As such, I have the responsibility and privilege of surrendering my life to Jesus every day and not just on the day I attend church. When I give my life to Christ, my life becomes a ministry, and my primary source of power is the blood of Jesus. My church is there to nurture my spiritual growth through Bible study, prayer, and fellowship, which are all valuable to my growth. But the bottom line is that my spiritual journey is about Jesus and me.
- Embrace the assets of the organized church. I need to recharge often, and listening to sermons and exposing myself to the perceptions of other like believers can give me a spiritual boost. It is valuable to be encouraged by views that I agree with, and it is likewise helpful for me to be challenged in my thinking by views that I may not have had on my own. I can also benefit from programs that my church provides, which may include Christian musical artists, speakers, and even recreational activities.
- Prayerfully acknowledge the weaknesses of my church. The key word here is prayerfully. There is no sin in recognizing that a church organization has some weak areas. There may even be some situations that are unquestionably wrong. If that is the case, as a member of the church and as a member of the Body of Christ, I need to prayerfully take my concerns to the appropriate person or group and discuss it, all the while asking God for “meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13). It's just as critical here to recognize what places are inappropriate for discussion, in order to keep the concern in perspective and to avoid any opportunity for gossip.
- Keep my own Bible and prayer time alive! I cannot expect to be valuable to anyone inside or outside of my church if I am not first infused with the power of the Holy Spirit in my own daily existence. Like anyone else, I can drift from a daily devotional time. And, like anyone else, I can soon sense a lack of spiritual strength and productivity. This affects me and my church.