The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once asked, “How do I love thee?” Then she counted the ways.
Every one of us loves our church. We could sit down and count the ways. Yet, each of us loves our church in different ways.
How do you love your church? Let’s think about this for a while.
The Bible says much about love. In fact, one might say love is the theme of the Bible. We’re told God is love. We’re told to love God. We’re told God loves us. We’re told to love one another. You can’t read the Bible without thinking about love.
But, what about love for the church? God so loved the world He provided His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus so loved the saints He died for us while we were still sinners. God and Jesus share a common a love for the church – a sacrificial love.
So, you may love the church but let’s be honest. Do you really love the church as much as God does? Do you really love the church the way Jesus does? I’d like to say “I do” but I doubt it.
Therefore, what we need is an attitude adjustment, a heart transplant of the spiritual kind. We need a work of the Spirit within us to bring our love for the church, our desires, into line with God’s desires for the church.
So, we must ask: what pleases God? What pleases God is a church that fulfills His stated, biblical desires for the church. As I read Scripture, I see three things that summarize all that a church should be and do: Worship, Discipleship, and Fellowship.
Everyone knows worship beats as the heart of our church experience. It’s why we were created. It’s why we were saved. It’s why we gather on Sunday morning. Unfortunately that’s where the consensus ends. Beyond that the only other thing about worship that most of us can agree on is that we want what we want.
While all worship, honor, and praise belong to God, we often let our preferences in worship become our god. We ruin the greatest privilege entrusted to humans because we make it about humans. It’s not. Our worship should please us because it pleases Him. Anything short of that is not worship in the biblical sense.
Discipleship subsumes many things. It’s the core of the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples.” It starts with evangelism. It leads to the baptismal pool. And, it includes the teaching ministries of the church. To paraphrase another Baptist pastor, “Missions [and thus discipleship] exists because worship does not.” Thus, if we did a better job with discipleship, we would have less problems with worship. This is what Jesus intended.
Finally, fellowship represents more than our monthly meals together. Biblical fellowship is about more than standing in the hallway with our little cluster of friends. Fellowship as Jesus intended is about unity. Those He saves He brings into one body, one family – the church. We must learn to live together or we’re living in sin. The church is supposed to be the fellowship of the saints. Unfortunately, all too often, it’s the disfellowship of the ain’ts. Thus, our love for one another and Christ comes under suspicion.
So, we come back full circle to the idea of love. If we truly loved the church, we’d want it to thrive, no matter the cost to ourselves. We’d surrender our preferences to God’s preferences. Because we love God, we’d want more people to gather to worship Him not just more people to worship Him our way. Because we love Jesus, we’d obey the Great Commission and make disciples of Him not devotees of a particular way of doing things. Because we love one another, we’d seek unity at all costs short of heresy. That’s a cost too many Christians aren’t willing to pay. That’s not love.
So, what’s your motivation? Do you really love the church? Or, do you really love your preferences? Do you love them more than the health of the church? Do you love them more than the souls of others? Do you really love the church the way Jesus loved the church?
Be careful how you answer that. He died for the church.