I grew up in a small church, the daughter of a pastor who had a shepherd’s heart and a wife with the gift of hospitality. My parents invested deeply in the lives of many people and our home was a place where others in the church were free to come and go. Our church family was part of our family. I remember thinking as a child that if I never married it wouldn’t matter, because I’d always have a church family.
Reality as a single adult has been different than I’d anticipated as a child. I’ve struggled to find my niche in almost every church I’ve attended. It’s been one of my greatest disappointments as an adult. As a child I hadn’t taken into account how not having a companion would cause me to feel lonely at many church events attended mostly by couples and families — more lonely than staying at home alone. There have been times I’ve been tempted to give up on church altogether. Never on the Lord, mind you, but on church attendance.
And yet I know that the church — not just one, but all believers in Jesus all over the world — is indeed the Family of God, of which I’m a part, and that my spiritual health depends on staying connected to that Family. I want to take heed to the encouragement in Hebrews to “be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 HCSB)
I believe there are three important elements to relating to the Family of God, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I may not find all three of them in the church I attend. If I do, that’s wonderful. But if I don’t, I need to find the missing elements in other places — a mix and match of sorts — rather than hopping from one church to another trying to find them all in one place.
Three Important Functions of the Family of God
1. Spiritual Nurture
Whether as a baby Christian or a veteran of the faith, each of us needs spiritual nourishment regularly. In a church this may be from the sermon, a Sunday School class, a small group, or a Bible study. In an ideal world, we’d find this nourishment in all of them, every time we attend. In the broken world we live in, that’s not always reality. Rather than become resentful or blame others for not adequately feeding us spiritually, we need to take responsibility to find that nourishment. In our modern era this isn’t difficult, especially in countries where there is freedom of religion. From Christian radio to the internet, we can hear sermons, listen to worship songs, and participate in online Bible studies. Even locally outside of our church we can often find Bible studies that are open for anyone to attend.
2. Connectedness with Other Believers
This connectedness is for far more than accountability in showing up for church on Sunday morning. It’s for knowing each others’ hearts well enough to effectively challenge and encourage each other to keep following hard after God in every situation in our lives.
For various reasons — not just being single — It’s been difficult for me to find this connectedness on a consistent basis in the churches I’ve been part of as an adult. But in that absence I’ve been incredibly blessed with a handful of friends outside of church who have met this need, and I for them, for several decades. Because they know my history inside and out, I don’t have to fill them in on background information when I call them for counsel or encouragement. They already have the backstory. They have helped me sort through the perplexities of life, guided me in gaining the right perspective, laughed and cried with me, and most of all kept me grounded in a close relationship with Jesus. I trust I do the same for them.
I also intend to keep trying to build connected relationships with those in my church.
Connectedness with others is more difficult to find than spiritual nurture, but I believe God is eager to help us meet this need if we ask Him. If it doesn’t come as soon as you’d like, trust He has a reason for the absence — perhaps so He can show Himself more real to you on a personal basis.
3. Opportunities to Serve Out of One’s God-given Gifts and Life Purpose
God has called each of us to serve using the gifts He’s given us. A reading of Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25 should sober all of us into realizing that investing them back into God’s Kingdom is not an option. Sometimes God calls us to do this within the church we are attending. Other times He calls us to do so beyond the congregation we worship with — perhaps because our church doesn’t have service opportunities to match our callings, or simply because God wants us to serve elsewhere. The Holy Spirit will lead us in this if we are willing to be used in His service wherever He calls us.
If any of these aspects are missing in your church, I encourage you to take action in finding them elsewhere. And remember, the lack of them isn’t something to blame on your pastor or your church. Consider that it’s all been orchestrated by God who sees the whole Family of God beyond the walls of our local church and knows where He most wants you to be nurtured, connected and to serve.
How is your relationship with the Family of God? Are you adequately experiencing all these functions as you relate to other believers, either within your church or outside it?