Perhaps you have heard (or maybe said) before, “Scripture never says that I need to be committed to only one local church.” The “attend everywhere, but committed nowhere” is a common trend among Christians when it comes to local-church commitment. But it is also one that is damaging to all parties. Church-shopping is OK to a point, but the point of shopping is to eventually end the process. Too often though, shopping becomes the norm. And not all who believe in multiple-church-attending are to blame. It’s a prominent trend all over that is sometimes even encouraged by church leadership.
So, why shouldn’t we be committed to more than one local church? In some sense, for the same reason we should not be committed to more than one spouse. Because there is great design, purpose, and benefits associated with exclusive commitment. I am not saying that adultery and non-commitment to one local church are equal moral violations, nor that church-hopping is inherently a sin. But I am saying that, in addition to there being great benefits, God’s design and purpose for his people is best realized in commitment to a local church.
Perhaps like the area in which I serve, perpetual church-shopping is an issue you get to shepherd quite regularly. Here are eight pointers to help us shepherd shoppers towards the joy of commitment to one local church.
1. We are likened to sheep in a flock. Of all the metaphors Scripture uses for us, the most prominent is sheep. Sheep need tending and feeding, constantly and carefully. That’s just the way they are. I recently heard a story of a full-grown sheep that was repeatedly running and launching itself at a six-inch diameter hole in a fence in order to squeeze through it. It never made it. Another story I heard was of a sheep found on its back upside-down in its watering trough with its little stubby feet gaping in the air. They’re not the smartest, fasted, most courageous, or competent animal. And in God’s good wisdom, he says we’re most like them. Sheep need shepherding. Naturally then, sheep not belonging to one flock were considered wanderers and endangered. For that reason the Chief Shepherd organizes his global flock into locally-gathered and governed flocks for our good (1 Pet 5:1-4). That is best applied, and we are all best cared for, in commitment to one local church.
2. We are called to practice the “one-anothers.” Somewhere around 40 different one-another commands are given in the NT. These constitute the normal and sacred body-life of God’s people. One reason that the NT doesn’t need to explicitly say, “Belong to one local church for the committed long-haul,” is because the mass amounts of one-anothering commands given to the church assume it. The existence of the one-anothers, as given to locally-gathered and governed churches, is evidence enough to commit to one local church. There is no better way to apply these “playbook instructions” than in vulnerable and committed relationships in a local church.
3. We need people to get to know us really well. A friend told me recently about someone close to them who was persisting in sin, but not getting the care of church-discipline because they were not plugged into a local church. I can’t think of a worse place to be: outside the accountability to a local body and so outside of the sacred care of discipline. The grace and protection of one-anothering relationships is a great soul-safeguard. But these kinds of relationships take time to cultivate. That can’t happen as a church-hopper. Our theology, more specifically, our ecclesiology, ought to govern our relationships/freindships, and not the opposite. As we practice the one-anothers in transparent, committed relationships in one local church, people will inevitably get to know us well. And we need that. The safety of our soul depends on people getting to know us for who we really are, just as the writer of Hebrews exhorted the church: “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:12-13). Getting daily exhortation and encouragement, and so preventing me from falling away, happens best with people who know me well enough such that they see patterns in my life where I may be drifting.
4. We get to experience great joy together in the local church. It is an absolute joy to do life in Christ together at the local-church level. Tell people you are shepherding about the joy you experience. Tell them about how the committed people around you know exactly how to encourage and pray for you because they know you so well. Tell them about how people in your church have seen you in your worst moments, yet showered you with grace and still showed up the next Sunday to hear you preach. Tell them about how miraculously your leadership team compliments your persistent weaknesses and about that time you and your family were really struggling, the church got word of it somehow and showed up to cook, clean, and give of themselves. Tell them about how those people who seemed so different than you, like you had nothing in common, ended up being some of your closest relationships. Tell them about the seemingly hopeless person you watched come to Christ from a rowdy background, get surrounded with care in the church, grow in Christ, then started welcoming and discipling others. I can’t imagine living out the joys and struggles of life in Christ any other way, than with the godly, sacrificial, and gifted people in my local church. The saints I get to be around each week bless me, encourage me, challenge me, confront me, are patient with me, serve me, and make my life a joy. I would not want it any other way than commitment to my local church. And this is something every other Christian should get to experience. Shepherd shoppers by sharing with them the miraculous joys of local-church commitment.
In a future post, we will look at the remaining 4 points on moving people out of perpetual church-shopping. In the meantime, may we shepherd God’s people to be tightly-affiliated and joyfully-committed to one local body.