You probably remember the favorite line of funny man Rodney Daingerfield: “I get no respect.” Sometimes, it seems to me, the church gets no respect.
As writer John Stott once observed, “The unchurched are hostile to the church, friendly to Jesus Christ.” Often we hear someone say, “I don’t like organized religion.” One wonders, does that mean he likes his church disorganized? As Will Rogers once quipped, “I am a member of no organized political party; I’m a democrat.”
Why is the church so often dismissed? This is a phenomenon as old as the church itself: “But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22). Some point to the presence of hypocrites in the church. This is an old saw. Why, of course, there are hypocrites in the church. If they avoided the church they would not be hypocrites, they would be pagans!
Modern people seem to suffer under the misunderstanding that one can serve God without stooping to serve God’s people. Yet we are reminded that we cannot claim love for a God we cannot see if we fail to love a brother we can see (1 John 4:20,21). Working with people in a church context is messy, complicated, and, make no mistake, what Christians do!
Of course, Jesus is perfect and the church is not. Jesus’ sweet perfection is pretty tough competition for the church to meet!
Yet we need the church: When we walk in the light, as Christ is in the light, John reminds us, “we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7). Early Christians “devoted themselves” to “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship and the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
There is no such thing as an “Island Christian.” The church was organized for this purpose – the social needs of its members. God could have gotten along very well without a church, but could we? Mentoring of mature members, forming fast friendships, the encouragement that comes from the observation that we are not alone, all of these things exhibit that we need the church. I think we yearn for these relationships. The love we receive in the church, though not always perfect, is far better and far more healing than that which outsiders feel.
And the church needs us, too: She needs our talents. These are God given, and there for a purpose (Romans 12:4-8). God “arranged” the members of the church body, “each one of them, as he chose” (1 Corinthians 12:18).
To slightly misquote John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church.”
The church should be a place where talents and opportunities are pooled together. From those who can frame and sheetrock to school teachers, from those who are adept at writing cards, to those who preach, we are all here to contribute to the welfare of others and the glory of God.