Traditions are valuable, helping anchor and give a strong sense of identification while at the same time establishing patterns of familiarity and community. Take families, for example. Some are big into traditions, especially during the holidays. It could be the way the home is decorated, ceremonially opening presents at Christmas, or gathering around the tree as Grandpa reads the nativity story. It could be the annual activities after that big Thanksgiving dinner, like touch football or horseshoes. Whatever the case, these events have grown into meaningful traditions that bring back warm feelings for many people.
Nonetheless, sometimes individuals caught up in a tradition stop and wonder why. Everyone seems to enjoy the tradition, but still, being something “that has always been done” does not quite settle the issue for some people. The question remains, What is this tradition really all about? How did this get started, and why is it continued to this day? For many Christians, this is the way they view the weekly gatherings of local churches. Why is this done? Why do people gather together in one location weekly, sing songs, and listen to a sermon? Where did this local church tradition come from, and is the way it is done even biblical or necessary?
The purpose of this lesson is to help the reader understand that the local church is far more than just a traditional institution of man. It is a vibrant, Christ-centered community, founded in Scripture, that has existed from the start of Christianity.
A local church is a group of believers who gather together regularly to sit under the teaching and leadership of a pastor, associate pastors, elders, and teachers. Here lasting relationships develop as believers serve one another, take part in church practices (communion, baptism, prayer, worship, giving, etc.), and mobilize to spread the gospel, along with doing other good works. Most of all, a local church is a family.
When it comes to the church, two main questions are asked:
(1) Are the local churches today biblical?
(2) Are not all believers (the body of Christ) the church?
The answer to both of those questions is yes! Local churches are biblical, and all believers are the church. Both are true and talked about in Scripture.
“And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18 ESV). The reference here is to the one, singular, unified church. The passage does not say Christ is the head of “the bodies” or “the churches.” Paul is indicating there is one, singular, global, or universal church.
“. . . to the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2). The reference here shows that Paul made the distinction that within the region of Galatia, there were separate churches (plural). In Revelation 2–3, Jesus addresses letters to seven different churches within the area of Asia Minor. This shows that believers during the era of the New Testament embraced the church as a singular, unified body that included all the different people groups and geographical locations. At the same time, they recognized the existence of multiple local churches distinct from one another.
Globally and collectively, there is one church body, but that global body is broken down into smaller, functional units called local churches. An interesting thing to note is that the Bible never refers to a single individual as “the church.” Anytime the term church is used, it is in relation to a group of people.
This pattern was established from the very beginning. Early on, in Acts 2, after the Holy Spirit had come on the day of Pentecost, the first church community was birthed. Shortly before He ascended, Jesus gave the disciples the mission of proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth and making disciples (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). Before departing, however, the disciples waited for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew that without the Holy Spirit, the disciples would have no power to accomplish His mission.
As the disciples and other remaining believers were gathered together in the upper room, it suddenly happened! There was a sound of mighty wind, tongues of fire rested on each person, and the disciples began proclaiming the wonders of God in other languages. At the time, leaders had traveled to Jerusalem from many other nations. Hearing the commotion, a crowd gathered and heard the believers speaking in the tongues of the different people groups assembled.
Newly empowered, Peter stepped out with the other eleven disciples and preached the gospel to the crowd, and thousands were saved. At that moment, Peter could have said, “All right, guys, there is a mission to accomplish. I need all of you to scatter everywhere, one by one and on your own, and begin to preach what I have just preached. Let’s take this message all over the world!” Though a percentage from this group that were saved returned to their homes far away, a large number began to gather and devote “themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NIV).
These believers would gather at the temple to soak up the teachings of Jesus from the disciples who had walked with Him. Then they would meet in homes for fellowship and encouragement. From this point on, though believers eventually scattered to different cities and communities, once settled, they built local communities of faith. These groups gathered regularly to worship, serve one another, and learn the teachings of Jesus. Moving forward, it will become evident that the idea of Christians living in isolation apart from other believers is foreign to the teaching of Scripture: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25 NLT).
After understanding what a local church is and realizing that it is indeed biblical, the next step is to identify what makes up a church. Church is much more than gathering with some Christian friends at a coffee shop or over a Skype call to talk about life and the Bible. God’s Word shows that a Christ-follower’s responsibility goes much deeper and that the local church has much more to offer in return.
“I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you” (Titus 1:5 NLT). Paul left Titus in Crete because the community of believers was growing, yet there was no leadership to care for the church. The new group of believers was unorganized, and in order to maintain health and provide protection, Paul told Titus to appoint elders in the towns where there were believers.
This was essential to Paul because two things every believer needs are direction and protection. That is what a spiritual leader provides. Without qualified, godly leadership, a community of believers is susceptible to false teaching and sin. This is not saying that the Holy Spirit does not provide direction and protection. He does, but one of His patterns of provision is through godly leadership. This was true not only in the early church days, but also today. Just as any healthy family needs parents and a winning team needs coaches, a growing Christian needs spiritual leadership. This leadership begins with the pastor. The Holy Spirit wants to use people to care for His people.
“An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. A church leader is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life” (Titus 1:6–8 NLT). Leaders need to be not only selected and appointed, but also qualified. This is to ensure that God’s people are being led well. This is why it is equally important for pastors to also have spiritual leadership. No one is exempt.
A lead pastor is instructed to stay connected with the lives of his flock. This can be accomplished directly or through the empowerment of other pastors and leaders (2 Timothy 2:2). The idea of someone being a believer’s pastor simply because of the influence of a podcast, a television broadcast, or a book is not biblical. There is a place for those ministries, but it is not to replace the pastor and local church.
First Peter 5:2 commands pastors to shepherd the flock well that is among them. Hebrews 13:17 teaches that church leaders are accountable to God for the souls of the people entrusted to them. There are scores of great churches and God-anointed leaders in every city of America. New believers should seek guidance from the Holy Spirit to find a local church that feels like family. A degree can be obtained through online education, but a child cannot be raised through long-distance parenting, and so it is in the church.
“He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT). In the early church, it was the spiritual leader’s responsibility to teach and instruct the community God had entrusted to him. This was done regularly when the church gathered. One of the main functions of the local church is to provide a place where God’s people can receive sound biblical teaching. In a world where there are a lot of opinions and truth is seen as something that people can adjust to their liking, it is important to have spiritual leaders who are given to the study and teaching of Scripture (Acts 6:4).
This does not diminish the responsibility of the individual to study and learn, but it is healthy to hear a voice from someone whose primary calling in life is to teach God’s Word faithfully. Both are needed. How awesome is it that God has given people to the church who devote time, effort, and energy to pray for each other and teach God’s truth!
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25 NLT). Here, when Hebrews speaks about “meeting together,” it is specifically in reference to a body of believers gathering together for corporate worship. It was the practice of the early church to gather together at least once a week when and where able. The Bible never gives a detailed methodology of what to do when the church gathers, but the importance of the pattern of meeting together is plain. It is apparent in Scripture, however, that Christian practices such as preaching, communion, singing to God, and prayers were regular occurrences in the early church.
These corporate gatherings are important today because when believers get around others who love Jesus, there is a contagious encouragement to walk in faith. God created human beings as social creatures that are significantly influenced by community.
a. Number of People
“And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47 NLT). God wants the local church to grow as people turn to Jesus. The size of a church does not matter, but a healthy church has a growing number of believers being added to it on a regular basis. Also, God wants to use all who are saved to be part of reaching people for Jesus and seeing people added to His church. This is a team sport!
b. Maturity of People
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4:11–16 NLT). God has gifted the body of Christ with people within the local church who lead believers to full maturity in Jesus. God’s desire for all His children is that they become more and more like Jesus. This is not a solo job—it is a group project. The body of Christ needs one another to grow into the people He has called them to be!
To be clear, it is not mandatory for a person to be part of a local church to be saved. However, to be obedient to the Scriptures and in order to mature into the people God desires does require that believers connect to a local church. This life is not only about dying and going to heaven one day. If that were the case, God would take believers from this life at the moment of salvation. Believers, following salvation, are called to continue growing and to help others in the growth process. This is one part of the ultimate purpose of Christians, and the local church is the conduit by which that purpose is fulfilled. In the teachings of the New Testament, to be disconnected from a local church was equated with being handed over to Satan (1 Timothy 2:10; 1 Corinthians 5:5). Removal from Christian fellowship was the most serious form of punishment a local church could enact. It is sad to think so many Christians today are inflicting upon themselves the most serious form of church discipline and assume they are better off because of it! All Christians need to be part of a local church. Yet if all of what has been discussed is true, why do so many Christians avoid it? There are several reasons.
Many people do not investigate. Instead, they resort to biased sources, casual conversations, or assumptions. When it comes to the topic of the local church, some people are convinced that it is only a man-made tradition that has no biblical command. But clearly, that is not the case.
Some people know the local church is biblical and healthy, but they prioritize other things ahead of it. Work, education, and leisure take precedence over it. Of course, things come up sometimes, and God is not keeping an attendance card to write people up. Still, believers need to guard against the lack of priority becoming a habit.
This is a big one. The truth is some people have had really bad experiences at a local church. No church is perfect and some can even be unhealthy. With that being said, believers should seek to forgive, reconcile, or even in some instances move to find another local church. But never should they give up on it.
The local church is not just a religious tradition or some man-made invention. From the moment Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples, and gave them the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to do so, the local church has been God’s design as a vital part of the believer’s growth and stability.
Imagine being part of an organization or team that accomplished an important mission or won an incredible championship. There was tremendous exhilaration when LSU won the 2019 College Football National Championship. Thousands of fans celebrated wildly, along with the coaches and players. In the movie Apollo 13, NASA mission control workers cheered when the mission of bringing back the stranded astronauts was a success. People desire to be part of a winning team, but more than that, they desire significance. Significance is an innate need of humankind, to live a life of purpose and lasting impact.
Jesus came to earth with a mission of the highest significance. His whole life was strategically planned, prepared, and positioned for the execution and completion of that mission. His mission was to make a way for sinful humanity to be reconciled to a holy God when there was no other way. Acts 13:38–39 (NIV, emphasis added) says, “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” The law pointed out sin and condemned violators of the law, but Jesus purchased our freedom. On the cross, Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30 NLT). This meant He had finished His mission and it was a complete success. He had accomplished what He was sent to this earth to do. Yet the incredible thing about the mission of Jesus is that once He completed His mission, He gave His church a new one.
After the resurrection, Jesus gave His disciples the mission of spreading the gospel to the entire world and making other disciples: “Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18–20 NLT). This high calling was issued not only to His immediate disciples, but to all the disciples that would follow. That mission is called the “Great Commission,” and this is the mission of the local church and of every believer. Let’s see how it works.
Jesus invites believers to partner with Him in sharing the gospel and making disciples. He made it clear that the goal of the local church is not to be static, but active. It is important to understand that the Great Commission is a command, not a suggestion. When Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given Me, therefore go,” He meant for it to apply to all believers. It is for every Christian, and thus for the local church.
The idea can be compared to a police officer who receives an official badge from the police department. With that badge come the authority and responsibility to serve and protect. Likewise, the church has received the authority of Jesus Christ to represent Him in the earth, and all of heaven backs this up. Once believers come into alignment with the authority of the kingdom for the mission, they still must understand the strategy that Jesus outlined in His last words to the disciples.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NLT).
Christians have the authority of Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses. That means they have the freedom to share with others and tell them what God has done. There is no need for believers to feel fearful, inadequate, or unqualified. As they step out in faithful obedience, telling people about who Jesus is and what He has done, the Holy Spirit will empower them with boldness as well as give them the right words to say. “The Holy Spirit will give you the right words when the time comes” (Luke 12:12 MSG).
Jesus gave four geographic references that illustrate where believers are to be witnesses.
Jerusalem — “in Jerusalem.” Jerusalem was the place mentioned first and represented the people nearest the disciples. It was the starting point. Believers should always start with those closest to them. Jerusalem represents natural family and close friends. These close relationships should be some of the first people to experience the witness of what Jesus Christ has done in the lives of believers.
Judea — “throughout Judea.” Now the disciples’ circle of influence began expanding. This is how it works. As believers begin with those closest and prove faithful in delivering the gospel message, God enlarges their witness and territory. One pastor said, “I tell people who feel called to foreign missions to start next door in their neighborhood. If they cannot do that, they are not called.” Judea represents neighborhoods, coworkers, and other people regularly encountered by believers in their everyday lives.
Samaria — “in Samaria.” With faithfulness, the circle of influence continues to expand to the third region. Samaria represents the larger, metropolitan area in which believers live. The mission of the local church is to demonstrate a clear witness for Christ, which is often accomplished through outreach and other service projects that impact a city.
Ends of the earth — “to the ends of the earth.” Finally, after Jesus completed the regional references, He instructed the disciples to take the gospel everywhere. This told them to put the pedal to the metal and keep going as far as possible. The world was now their circle of influence. This is the church’s calling as well. Christians have a responsibility to impact the world. Most of the time, this happens as a team, not individually. Power and effectiveness are released when believers work together.
Some of the ways the local church can reach the world is through financially supporting church planting, praying for foreign nations, sending out and supporting full-time foreign missions, and taking short-term mission trips. These are just some of the strategies the local church uses to be a witness, and there are many more. God gives His people creative ways to reach the world. Churches should encourage, listen to, pray for, and, if led, support these new ideas.
With the authority of Jesus and the strategy of Jesus working together, the natural result is that believers leave a legacy. Jesus said, “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10 NIV). When a football team scores a winning touchdown, the fans are jubilant in expressing their joy. This is what happens in heaven every single time someone repents of sin and turns to Jesus.
It is God’s will for the local church to succeed in its mission. This means the church should continue to grow and expand, and even dominate the world. It should never shrink back or diminish, because if it did, this would mean the legacy of disciples making disciples stopped somewhere, and God does not want one soul to perish (2 Peter 3:9). The local church really is the hope of the world!
The Great Commission is the mission. The end goal for every believer and the local church is to lead others to Jesus and to see these new converts discipled and grow to maturity. In turn, those disciples carry on the mission of winning the lost and making disciples. The church continues to grow, and the cycle never ends until Jesus comes again. But exactly how is this accomplished?
One of the best ways to start making disciples is by forming relationships. This happens by being an example that others can follow and inviting them to follow Jesus together with other believers. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NKJV), Paul said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” That is a bold statement, but Paul knew the reality of the risen Christ in his life. As believers grow and mature in Jesus and experience more of His reality, making disciples and forming relationships will be a natural by-product. Yet people can see the reality of Christ in believers only if relationships are formed. Jesus spent time in close proximity with His disciples, eating, traveling, and ministering together. He cared for, prayed for, and demonstrated what it meant to live a life worth following.
a. Salvation: Believers who understand that Jesus is the only way to eternal life make every effort to connect the lost to Him. One of the simplest ways to do this is by inviting others to church, where God’s presence can be experienced and the Word of God is being taught in an applicable way. Living a lifestyle of evangelism that shines the light of Jesus into other people’s lives, being available to give an answer for the hope within, and intentionally bringing others to church are all ways that disciples help lead others to salvation.
b. Water Baptism: Another step to help people find new life in Jesus is the step of water baptism. While baptism does not save a person, it is one of the first steps for a new believer. This first step of discipleship is a public recognition of what has happened in the heart and demonstrates a commitment to obeying the commands of Scripture.
b. Lead/Teach: Finally, Christians can help people find life in Jesus by teaching them obedience to the Scriptures and application of biblical truth to life. There are so many promises of God found throughout the Scriptures, and it can be intimidating to try to teach an individual all of them. However, a great place for believers to start is to teach from their own experience, focusing on the things God has done and the prayers He has answered. This means that every member of the local church can be a minister! All believers are on this journey of enjoying the abundant life of God and growing to become more like Him. Why not share this new life with others along the way?
After someone comes to new life in Christ, the next step is to be plugged into the family of God. A believer who is not connected to the local church is an orphan and is wide open to the enemy and culture’s attacks. Believers are meant to live this Christian life together. Many scriptures teach of this need for others along this journey. For example, Ecclesiastes 4:9–12 (NLT) shoots straight and applies to both individuals and the local church: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”
No, God never intended believers to do this thing alone. In fact, there are many commands that teach what it means to be part of the family of God. Listed below are some practical ways to help people truly connect in relationships within the local church.
a. Small Groups: The best place to forge meaningful Christian relationships, and to plug in, is in small groups. These groups create a family atmosphere and help the church become a place of belonging. When people gather in small groups, life transformation happens. It is through the power and unity of family relationships that people are encouraged to move to the next step.
b. Next Steps Class: This new membership class goes into detail about beliefs and helps new believers discover their roles in the local church.
c. Freedom: The goal is to help believers experience freedom from bondages and past personal experiences that could hinder growth moving forward as disciples. All of this happens in the context of relationships.
These family relationships form the support structure that helps new believers grow in their walk with Christ and find freedom from the past. Knowing that the heart of God is for each believer to be connected to the local church, mature believers cannot be closed off to forming new relationships. Like an elevator that appears to be full but really is not, the local church must be willing to make room for those who are looking to get on board. Church members must be willing to bring others to family, the family of God. It all starts with the willingness to be a vessel for the Holy Spirit to use to reach a hurting and dying world.
Once new believers come to new life in Christ and connect to the family of God, they may require assistance in finding individual purpose. Jesus said in Luke 19:10 that “[He] the Son of Man came to seek and save that which is lost.” His purpose was all about people! Helping new believers fulfill their purpose is critical for the continual advancement of the kingdom. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Your Christianity is only halfway complete until you help someone else follow Jesus.” Christianity is not just for spectators, but for participators. Each person’s part may not look the same, but all believers share the responsibility to make disciples. The good news about Jesus has been passed down for more than two thousand years. It would be a tragedy if it stopped with this generation. The mission must be passed on. Believers must reproduce other believers. The next generation of Christians must be raised up and taught to be strong disciples of Jesus, filled with His life, connected to His family, and fulfilling His perfect purpose.
“We love each other,” John wrote, “because he [God] loved us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT). Loving each other is the natural response to all that God has done out of His perfect love for His church. It is the way believers can give back to God. The King James Version of the above scripture says, “We love him [God], because he first loved us.” At some point, this need to give back is stirred in the heart of any person who has truly experienced God’s love. When new believers understand all that God has done for His children, beginning with the gift of salvation and new life that was made possible through the death of Jesus on the cross, a desire to serve others begins springing up in their hearts. It is the way the church shows love to God. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40 NLT).
This need to give back is not a response to law or obligation, nor is it for notoriety. It is simply out of gratitude, the desire to do something for the one who selflessly gave His all. It is accomplished by loving people in harmony with the example that Jesus set. In John’s gospel, Jesus gave this example: “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you” (John 13:13–15 NLT).
Here, Jesus became a model of serving and loving as He took off His robe and began to wash His disciples’ feet. Jesus loved without limit and served without prejudice. Christ washed the feet of those who were loyal to Him as well as the one He knew would betray Him. Jesus healed the sick, cast out devils, and raised the dead to life. His simple yet profound acts of service to those around Him are a challenge to all believers to live a life of love through serving others. His directive today is the same as the one He gave to His disciples: “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you” (John 13:15 NLT).
New believers respond to the offer of salvation, then connect to and begin a journey with the body of Christ to discover and develop what the Holy Spirit has deposited within them. The local church is God’s ordained place to learn how to love people through serving.
Jesus told a parable about three servants entrusted to manage the property of their master until he returned. Two servants responded well by investing and multiplying what had been given to them. One, however, was not wise and buried in the ground what was entrusted to his care. The result, of course, was the wrath of the master upon his return. The master rewarded those who were faithful to multiply what had been entrusted to them, but the unfaithful steward was called “wicked and lazy.” What he had was taken from him and entrusted to those who were faithful (Matthew 25).
Each person has been entrusted with gifts, talents, and abilities. No believer who loves Jesus would willfully withhold or bury those gifts, yet it does happen. Often it stems from a fear of being unqualified or ill-equipped to render service, or possibly the gifts given by the Holy Spirit have not been recognized or acknowledged. One of the jobs of the local church is to help members discover and exercise these gifts, not just find things for them to do. Sadly, sometimes churches fail to fulfill their role “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV, emphasis added). It takes effort and intentionality. The reward, however, is believers who are not only saved, but who experience the satisfaction of seeing the development, operation, and fruit of gifts in action.
What does it look like to serve in the local church? In the Scriptures, it looks like a man named Ananias, who was the first person to minister to Saul after his Damascus road encounter with the risen Christ. The Scriptures do not record anything extraordinary about Ananias other than he was a devoted follower of Jesus. However, the ministry of Ananias was vital to the future of this man named Saul, who would become the apostle Paul and take the gospel to the Gentiles as well as write the majority of the New Testament.
In Acts 6, seven believers were chosen to serve the needs of a growing church so that the apostles could devote more time to prayer and the teaching of the Word. These seven were full of the Spirit of God and wisdom: “And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word” (Acts 6:3–4 NLT, emphasis added). Serving the local church in boots-on-the-ground fashion, doing work that is not flashy but necessary, requires being filled with the Spirit and wisdom, just as the pastor is. It is simply a different form of leadership and gifting.
In the local church today, the opportunity to serve the saved still exists, much like it did for those chosen in the early church. For example, so many things must happen to make a church service successful. Hosts and hostesses who greet and give information, parking attendants, nursery workers, and children’s ministry staff are vital to making newcomers feel comfortable. If all the duties were performed by the pastor of the church, it would consume precious time that could be devoted to prayer and ministry of the Word. By giving their time and talents, believers can help local pastors not have to do it all and thus allow them to focus their efforts on bringing a timely word that encourages and strengthens believers and draws the lost to salvation. When volunteers help facilitate an experience where someone can hear the gospel message and receive Christ, there is a shared reward in seeing the lost saved. What a privilege!
Through the outreach arm of the local church, believers have an opportunity to take the message of hope beyond the four walls and out to the community. The sharing of the gospel, not just in word but lived out through acts of loving service and kindness, reaches the heart of people. It has been said, “You are the only Bible some people will ever read.” Visiting nursing homes, feeding the homeless, and caring for widows are all great ways to preach the good news through love. Another effective way is opening homes to host small groups. The lost may come to a home to enjoy fellowship long before they would enter a church service.
Jesus said, “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded” (Matthew 10:42 NLT). In John’s gospel, Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep and take care of His lambs as a tangible expression of his love for the Lord (John 21:15–17). Stepping out to serve is how believers become the hands and feet of Jesus—His body, His church in motion. Nothing done for Him goes unnoticed. God has only one superstar, and His name is Jesus. Believers serve only as a support team for His mission.
“Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1 NASB). Worship is an expression of devotion and adoration to the Lord. Serving others in the name of Jesus is saying, “Lord, I am Yours, and all that I have is Yours. Use me, speak through me, move through me, love through me so that You may be glorified.”
Human nature is to serve oneself first and others last. Jesus’ command, however, was to “love one another” (John 13:34 ESV). Jesus will never give a command that does not require an act of the will to arrest natural nature and walk in obedience. Serving others requires doing what is often inconvenient and uncelebrated. A good question to ask yourself is, “Am I okay with doing something for Jesus that no one will ever see or acknowledge?”
Romans 12:1 in the NIV translation says the offering of self is “holy and pleasing to God.” Both serving the saved in the church and serving the lost through an outreach to the community go up as a fragrant aroma to God. There is no wealth that could ever be given that would impress the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (and the hills also). What pleases God is an offering made to Him through serving others.
A believer’s unique personality, abilities, and talents are a gift from God to the body of Christ. The key is to get busy ministering in some capacity; God will lead and bring clarity along the way. Serving to bless others is one of the greatest privileges for Christians. When the church is busy serving and ministering, it becomes a vehicle that the Holy Spirit will flow through in ministry and service. This is part of the equipping process.
Believers must be faithful to God with the gifts, talents, abilities, and the life He has entrusted to them. As 1 Peter 4:10 (NLT) says, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.”
God is looking for faithfulness. When believers stand before the throne one day, He will not say, “Well done, My good and important servant,” “Well done, My good and talented servant,” or even, “Well done, My good-looking and wise servant.” All believers are waiting to hear these words: “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” Faithfulness is the attribute that God treasures. At the end of it all, will His church be found faithful with what He has entrusted?
If given the choice between losing friends or losing hair, which would most people pick? That’s a hard one. Most people would probably be tempted to say they would rather lose friends. Face it—really, is there anything better than a good hair day? On the other hand, some guys would be perfectly happy being bald! Hunting or fishing buddy over hair? Seems like a no- brainer.
Of course, this is all being a bit lighthearted. But honestly, it would be rare to meet a joy-filled, enthusiastic person who is disconnected and lacking deep relationships. The truth is, all people are wired for close, intimate relationships, first with God and then with family. As followers of Jesus, believers have been redeemed to be children of God and to belong to a family of brothers and sisters in Christ.
God created His church for family. It is in a Christian’s DNA. Genesis teaches that God created Adam and Eve and gave the man and woman the command to “be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it” (Genesis 1:28 NLT). In other words, when God created the first man and woman, He had more than two in mind. God had a vision of an earthly family that would be fruitful relationally, grow numerically, and live purposefully in order to bring about God’s kingdom on the earth.
God made Adam and Eve for His own pleasure and glory. Into bodies formed from the dust of the earth, He breathed the breath of life. Adam and Eve became not only living, physical beings, but spiritual ones connected to the Creator. In addition to food and water for bodily nutrition, God Himself, the author of life, became the source and sustenance for Adam and Eve’s spirits (Genesis 2:7).
So it is for all humanity. This means that just as plants and trees must remain rooted to the ground to sustain life, human beings must abide in God as the root source to sustain spiritual life. If they fail to do that, they may be alive physically but are dead spiritually. Living apart from God is simply not an option for believers, and depending on anything or anyone else as the source for life will yield deadly consequences.
Adam and Eve were not each other’s source; God was the source. However, as part of God’s plan, He calls believers to grow in relationship with others and become the family He envisioned. At their core, people are relational beings who crave connectedness, intimacy, and to be known. Family, God’s way, is people doing life together in open, honest, and vulnerable relationships. Imagine a family where shaming, blaming, and hiding had no place. This is the kind of relationship that Adam and Eve enjoyed before sin entered the world. “Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25 NLT).
In the beautiful, magnificent garden that God created, everything was good, except for one thing: Adam was alone (Genesis 2:18). The detailed account of creation records that God placed a need in Adam that God was unwilling to meet. Adam and God had a relationship, and Adam was surrounded with animals of every kind. Yet God described Adam as a man who was alone. Loneliness is not an indicator that a person is broken, and feeling lonely is not a sin. Much like hunger pangs make people aware of their need for food, loneliness is a feeling that brings awareness to the need for relationships.
It is so easy in this day and age to be in a crowd, completely surrounded, yet feel utterly alone. It is possible to be acquainted with many people, yet be doing life deeply with none. In fact, believers can even have a relationship with God, sit in a church pew on Sundays, but still be going through life virtually alone. Sitting in pews with other people at best provides casual, safe relationships; however, gathering in circles gives the opportunity to dialogue with others and share from the heart. When God sees a disconnected life out of fellowship with others, His response is, “It is not good.”
Human beings were created for so much more than cordial greetings, surface-level conversations, and casual relationships. When there is a sense of something missing in relationships at church or life in general, it usually stems from a yearning deep within the human core for deeper connections. First and foremost, God made people for intimacy with Him, and secondly, for intimate relationships with others. Simply put, human beings were created for family. God works in the lives of believers through deep relationships that lead to fruitfulness, multiplication, and satisfaction. For the Christian who is disconnected, God still has so much more!
It is all about personal growth and transformation. The world needs Christians—real Christians, not imaginary, “put your best foot forward” social-media-highlight-reel kinds of believers. However, because of an innate yearning to be liked and accepted, most people tend to naturally lean toward impressing others and end up becoming make-believe people with superficial relationships. The problem is, those kinds of relationships never produce growth and transformation.
Believers have been created anew in Jesus to do many good things. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT). To grow into the people God intended takes relationships. Believers are tools in the hands of God to help shape and mold other believers into His image for maximum effectiveness. Refusing to enter into relationships hinders the work of God within the body of Christ.
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17 NLT). There is nothing more frustrating than trying to cut something with a dull axe. But when an axe is nice and sharp, it is quite effective. To be effective for the kingdom of God requires being sharpened on a regular basis. Sharpening personal growth happens in the context of supportive and strengthening relationships.
It is no wonder believers have a desire for growth and a sense of greatness on the inside. God calls human beings His masterpiece, saved for good things! His plan for a believer’s growth and accomplishment of these things requires frequently gathering with other people, particularly God’s people, a new family. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25 NLT).
Believers often have good intentions, such as a desire to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, mentor underprivileged children, pray for the sick, visit those in prison, and the list goes on. However, there is often a significant gap between these good intentions and good works. The bridge over this gap is achieved by faithfully meeting together with other believers. Gathering together gives the body of Christ the opportunity to motivate one another, and good intentions turn into acts of love and good works. When there is action, believers experience personal growth. Meeting together provides the opportunity to mobilize for maximum effectiveness in making a difference in the world.
Authentic, genuine conversations are refreshing, and sharing with a trusted person the things impacting the heart is freeing. That is a small glimpse of the transformation God has for each person in the context of healthy relationships.
Transformation happens in the context of relationships because nobody heals alone. All people have baggage from past hang-ups, habits, and heartbreaks, and many continue carrying it into the present. This is why relationships are needed that offer accountability, grace, and forgiveness. Individuals need a group of people who can listen to heart issues and offer prayer that will heal deep wounds. God’s plan for healing and transformation includes honest, vulnerable conversations and faith-filled prayers that produce transforming results. Transformation for the soul is one conversation and one earnest prayer away. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:1 NLT).
It has been said that we are as sick as our secrets. The good news is, Jesus made mercy available to all. Souls are healed and prosper when believers confess sin to God and to one another, and pray for each other. When yesterdays are settled, transformation happens today. “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they receive mercy” (Proverbs 28:13 NLT).
What is wrong with this world? Sin is what is wrong with the world. Yet, when Jesus changes hearts, believers can begin making the difference people are looking for. Jesus teaches His church to love one another as a family. It is an upside-down kingdom where the greatest becomes the least, the first becomes the last, and the best is the servant of all. Christians are charged with the most compelling mission: to bring heaven to earth, make disciples of nations, and see lives transformed by the presence of Jesus. His invitation extends to everyone to be part of a family with a purpose.
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34–35 NLT).
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20 NLT).
In whatever sphere believers are found, the church’s purpose remains the same: to make disciples and help people follow Jesus. The following are some helpful tips for bringing others to new life in Christ.
First, go and tell! Look for an opportunity to tell others of the great things God is doing. Make a phone call, write a letter, or send an email to friends and family. Post a video on social media. When having coffee with a friend, ask questions that will steer the conversation to a spiritual tone. This may create an opportunity for a personal testimony about the goodness of God. Never underestimate the presence of the Holy Spirit in those casual conversations.
Second, invite other to come and see! Make it a point to end those encounters with an invitation to church or a small group. Remember that the next step for a new believer is water baptism. As the opportunity presents itself, share the importance of baptism. Make that experience significant by being present.
Bringing others to closer relationships in the body of Christ can be as simple as extending an invitation to a small group or a gathering of friends. Believers should consider inviting others to an event or gathering outside of the church building. Many of the unchurched have never been exposed to day-to-day life as a Christian. A believer’s lifestyle speaks volumes about what it means to be saved.
No life is without purpose. Within each individual is the need to contribute. Jesus’ instructions to His disciples emphasized the need to serve one another. New believers should be encouraged to follow the example set by Christ and serve in some aspect of ministry. In an environment of serving, leadership skills are discovered and can be developed. Individuals are encouraged to pursue training to reach people within their circles of influence.
Jesus forewarned that all believers would face many troubles in this world (John 16:33), and all means all! Not one person is exempt, immune, or clear of such trouble. During those troubled times, believers may feel far from God and emotionally depleted or disconnected from Him. The solution God provides may be a supernatural miracle. Many have experienced this, and it is wonderful. However, God may choose to use His family, the body of believers.
The solution God has already provided to care for Christians is found in their relationships with other believers in the church. The body of Christ fits together perfectly and works perfectly. When needs arise, they are noticed. When hurts happen, they are felt. When burdens come, they are shared. It is vitally important that believers are connected to the body of Christ (specifically, the local church) because it is the only way to experience all parts doing their special work to nurture the hurting back to health in time of need. “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4:16 NLT).
It is true that the pastor is called to care for the sheep, but God does not limit Himself to one person or a staff doing all the caring. He multiplies His efforts to care for people through the body of Christ. Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, shared how he himself was encouraged by God through an individual in the body of Christ: “But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus” (2 Corinthians 7:6 NLT).
Equally important to believers receiving care is the care that God wants them to give to others in His church. He wants believers to be His hands and feet. God pours out His love and comfort when believers experience trouble, and He desires to love and comfort the world as well. Believers are God’s plan for comforting hurting people, bringing healing to those broken by sin, and helping those carrying a heavy burden. “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT). “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NLT).
Two good questions for the believer to ask are, “Who am I connected to in the body of Christ that could provide care for me during my time of need?” and “Who is connected to me that I could care for in their time of need?” God cares for His church and provides supernaturally via miracles or His body. Sometimes, His body is the miracle. God created His people for Himself and for others. Have an open heart toward His family. Be ready to grow and develop into the fullness of His purpose. Receive His care and give care to others. Let’s change the world together!
a. There are two semesters: spring and fall.
b. Semesters are fourteen weeks in length.
c. One Freedom Encounter is offered toward the end of each semester.
a. This helps people find a group that fits their season of life.
b. Men, Women, Marriage and Family, Prime Timers, Bold, and Collective are some of the hubs at Bethany.