I never fully realized the importance of being a member of a church until I wasn’t one. A few months ago, my husband and I left our church and are now spending our Sundays searching for a new congregation to join.
No, this blog post isn’t about how to find a new church though I’d totally recommend this one. Instead it’s about the importance of being a church member, about the blessing of intentionally being part of a church community despite the difficulties that it sometimes entails.
The Blessings of Membership
Like many of my friends in college, I went to a local church every week for worship, but I didn’t serve there and wasn’t involved in a small group or leadership. I was, however, heavily involved in my InterVarsity chapter. I was so grateful for that community, from small groups, where I could ask hard questions and be vulnerable, to large groups, where speakers talked about relevant topics and challenged me to make sacrifices for the kingdom.
Though most of my spiritual growth and development was happening on campus with my chapter, I’m thankful my campus minister encouraged me to develop the rhythm of attending a local church. After graduation, I already was in the habit of going every Sunday, and I went there hoping to find the same kind of incredible Christian community I had as a student.
Now, almost seven years later, I can mark the chapters of my life based on the churches I went to after college. Immediately after graduation, I came on staff with InterVarsity and continued attending the church I went to during college. I joined a small group of women my age, who became some of my closest friends. I was able to confide in them about my struggles of transitioning out of college, starting a new job, fundraising, and living on my own for the first time. They encouraged me and walked with me during that transition like my InterVarsity friends had. Participating in that small group helped me feel more connected to the local church, and I deeply appreciated being a part of that church body.
After a few years, I started attending a new church with my future husband. There, we learned the importance of being in community together. We went through marriage counseling with the pastor, joined a small group, served on the set-up team and in Sunday school, and so much more. Being a part of that church was rich. I was fully supported in my ministry through InterVarsity and had so many sweet opportunities where other members partnered with me in God’s work on campus. About a year and a half after we got married, we moved, so I could plant an InterVarsity chapter on a new campus.
The Challenges of Membership
Leaving that church was very difficult because we believed strongly in the ways God was calling us to serve the community and our friends through its vision. We did find a new church, but unfortunately, after less than a year, we felt we needed to leave because of conflict we were unable to reconcile with the leadership.
As I’m writing this, the pain of leaving that church is still very fresh and very new. But despite that pain and hurt, I am pressing on, still in search of church community and still convinced membership is something necessary and good for me as a follower of Jesus.
In all this, in all the churches we’ve been to, one of my biggest takeaways is that church is full of sinners from pastors to volunteers to occasional visitors—I’m no exception either. It’s impossible to find the perfect church with perfect leadership, perfect members, and the perfect vision.
But I believe, as a follower of Christ, that it is essential to be an intentional, active member of a church community. Membership facilitates opportunities for vulnerable relationships and accountability. It allows for committed service of your community in mission together with fellow Christians. Church membership provides space to be challenged and to grow, to be stretched and humbled.
Because of the pain of leaving our last church, every Sunday that I have to go and search for a new one is challenging. In this season, I have spent a lot of time talking with friends I trust about this pain and asking them to pray for me to experience healing. A lot of those friends are people I met in previous churches, and I’m so grateful for them. Talking with them reminds me of the beauty of being in church community and makes me want to persevere in trusting that Jesus will provide another church for us to call home. I am confident that he wants this for us.
Trust me when I say, I know it can be challenging to overcome fears and anxieties about finding a church home. I know how hopeless the search for the right fit can feel at times. It can be so tempting to want to isolate ourselves from church community because of past hurt or fear of what people will think of us or any number of reasons. It’s so easy to believe the lie that we can just grow in our faith on our own and not have to deal with the mess that often is the local church. But avoiding church membership because it’s hard and messy isn’t what God intended for his followers.
Instead I believe Jesus invites us into the hard and the messy because it draws us closer to him. It forces us to rely on his grace, goodness, and mercy rather than our own abilities to foster a perfect church environment. There is something so beautiful about a group of broken and sinful people intentionally choosing to follow Jesus together. I hope you will make that choice and experience even more of Jesus.