Modern lifestyles and expectations have done much to tear down the power of the church. While the church in the Bible was designed as a place of community, most people today see church as little more than a sermon on Sunday mornings. I am not excluded either, I have spent my whole life, until less than a year ago, as someone who just sees the church as Sunday morning services, and never knew of the power that comes with a true church community. But finding my home at Antioch Community Church and getting plugged into a Lifegroup have helped me grow spiritually more than I ever thought possible. And now with the semester nearly over, many people are going to be going back home for the summer, and I want to encourage you to seek out this same community at home, even if you haven't yet gotten plugged into a small group at college.
So to begin, why should we even care? Maybe you go to church every week and have a great prayer life, and you grow daily in your Bible reading. Maybe you are still looking for God, trying to know him, and you feel like you want to know more about who God is before you get deeply involved in your church. Maybe you don't even have a church. But these thoughts are not good, God did not design us to walk this life alone. We need community. God created Adam, and then he gave him Eve to keep him company; the apostle Paul, who wrote a good portion of the New Testament, makes mention of many others who travelled with him and helped spread the Gospel. Even Jesus, who is entirely God, gathered a group of twelve men around him to share this life with. You see, we have been created since the beginning to live with others. But in Matthew 12:50, Jesus says "For whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." Jesus says that anyone who loves God is as the closest members of his family to him, and family is the first community anyone will ever have in their life. Family is where people should be able to go to find love and sympathy.
But too many people believe that being a part of a church is simply going to Sunday morning sermons, but it is really so much more. Church may be a sermon, but THE church is the entire body of believers, everyone who follows and has a relationship with Jesus. To be a part of the church is to be actively involved with everyone else who is a part of the church. It is forming friendships, being discipled, making disciples, and growing together as a single church unit. Acts 2:42-47 gives a great description of what the church used to look like, and what it should look like now: "They devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." These were not a people who necessarily knew everything about being a Christian: rather most of them had only recently converted, and the apostles themselves had only been following Jesus the previous three years. Being a part of a small group is not just for the people who have had a relationship with Jesus for a while, it is for the broken who need to find Jesus and for the more spiritually mature to help others find Him and grow along with them.
I personally can attest to the incredible growth that comes through church community. My earlier post about my lifegroup gives a small glimpse of what my lifegroup looked like each week, but it could never capture just how incredible it was in terms of growth. Through discussions at lifegroup, being discipled by the lifegroup leader, and through all the friendships made with members of the lifegroup, I have grown in ways I never even imagined, and I learned about aspects of God and his power and grace that would have never even crossed my mind.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul further explains the importance of church: the gathering of people with different spiritual gifts. While spiritual gifts in themselves are a topic for another time, each person will never have EVERY spiritual gift. Rather, like a body is made of many parts, arms legs, eyes, and so forth, so a church is made of parts. These parts are spiritual gifts, such as prophecy, tongues, interpretation, encouragement, discernment. But each person will not have all of these, and yet all are needed in order for the body of Christ to grow, and so in order to have access to every gift as needed, you need to be intimately involved in a church. You need to know people who have certain gifts, and the easiest way is to get plugged into a small group.
So for many of us, being at home for just a few months--or fewer if you are taking summer classes or working at a camp--may just not seem like enough to bother with getting plugged in to a church. But even a few weeks to get involved will bring you more growth than not being a part of a church. Plus, if you get involved now, you will start making new friends at your hometown who will help you grow spiritually, rather than having none and feeling like you are in a spiritual rut not being surrounded by your normal Christian peer group at college. I have not been a part of any church before coming to college, and I really am going to work hard to get involved at home so that I will have a church community surrounding me wherever I may be, and I want to encourage everyone to work for the same thing.