Being a Christian apart from the local church is much worse than it seems

There’s a lot of reasons Christians don’t go to church.

Some seem legitimate on the surface, others don’t.

The Church is not perfect by any means and you’ll never find a perfect local church, but is any one Christian perfect?  Can an imperfect Christian exclude themselves from the local church based on its imperfection, when they themselves carry that same title?

Whatever the reason a Christian decides to not attend a local church, Dr. Tony Evans in his book What Matters Most calls it a sin.  In fact, Dr. Evans goes as far to say that a Christian who merely attends a church but does not partner with the ministry is sinning.  The Scripture Dr. Evans looks to for this is 1 Corinthians 12:12-30, where the Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to describe the Church.  1 Corinthians 12:27 is clear that there is no option in this, if you are a Christian, you are a part of this body:  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of itEvans describes the gruesome image of a finger dismembered from the body.  This is a problem!  If God’s design for the Church, and a local church, is for it to be many members making up one body, all connected to each other, all depending on each other, all working in harmony with one another toward the mission of Christ, then it definitely is a sin to break this design.

And showing up to church as an observer is not what the Bible is saying here.  It’s not telling the dismembered finger to go and sit next to the rest of the body and observe it.  This is just as gruesome, ineffective and against God’s design.

Parachurch ministries are great, but they are not the local church.  Examples of parachurch ministries include on-campus college ministries, ministries that exist within high schools, small groups, inductive Bible study groups, and even television or internet sermons and worship music.  Even some house churches or pseudo house churches would fall under this category.  A singles ministry, ‘young married’ ministry, et al. at a large megachurch can even fall under this same umbrella in some instances.

Here are some major weaknesses of parachurch ministries, if they are standing on their own in an individual’s life without that individual also actively participating in a local church:

  • There is typically very little diversity.  In a college ministry, this means you are only around people your age and at your socioeconomic level.  This is extremely crippling to one’s growth and maturity.  Most parachurch ministries have very little racial and ethnic diversity as they are either set up to reach only one type of person and/or the quantity of variety allows for an individual to just go toward homogeneity.  There are no homeless people in parachurch ministries and there are seldom even any poor people or mentally ill people in them.  This is a major problem.  A primary strength of the local church is the innate diversity it holds between young and old, rich and poor, white and black, etc.  How can one become mature when their view is the only one present and/or all those around them are just like them?  
  • There is typically very little accountability or authority.  In all honesty, this is probably the main reason people shy away from the local church and adapt their own way of doing things.  I can do what I want, when I want, and that’s how I like it.  Yes, church authority can be abused and this might present a valid reason for leaving a local church, but it not a pass to throw out the baby with the bathwater and leave the local church altogether.  Lone ranger types and parachurch ministries have no one to shepherd them or hold them accountable.  You might think your homemade home church has great accountability within the 10 people who attend it, but who is holding the 10 of you accountable?  Who is making sure sound doctrine is being taught?  Who is making sure the accountability within the 10 of you is a biblically based accountability and not something the 10 of you have derived that allows for selfish motives?  Who is there to check your blind spots?
  • When conflict hits in a parachurch ministry, people scatter with no reason to reconcile.  When conflict hits the local church, the Bible lays out a prescribed way of having to deal with this conflict in a Christ-centered redemptive way. 
  • Lone ranger ministry and parachurch ministry can be a breeding ground for self-righteousness.  One way this manifests itself is the obvious one where someone hasn’t found anyone as smart or spiritual as them so they just stay on their private island.  The other is more subtle and typically is found in grassroots home groups that say they highly value community.  This is often a group of “private islanders” who have come together in “authentic community.”  What this can subtly turn into is a group of super Christians too good for everyone else, and in order to maintain the level of “authentic community” they have established, no one else is allowed in to this group.  If someone has another middle to upper class, socially apt friend they want to bring into the group, this is typically accepted, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one of these groups that allows homeless people, poor people or mentally ill people in on their “authentic community.”  So what seemed so organic and Christ-centered is really just a private island of super Christians who are too super to stoop down and be around those more low-functioning than themselves.  Rather than authentic community, this is the hot tub at the Christian country club.
  • It’s very easy to throw stones at the church or at church leadership, it is very hard to lead.  People want to call the shots, but they don’t want the weight, hardship and responsibility that comes with church leadership.  Period.
  • Christians who avoid the local church or who simply show up without partnering often do so for the sake of pure consumerism.  No financial sacrifice.  No serving sacrifice.  No loving those different than you.  Just easy breezy beautiful you and your friends who look like you.  Rather than being a part of the body the way 1 Corinthians 12 describes, these Christians consume from the body.  Do you know the medical terminology for consumers on the body?  Parasites.  Bacteria.  Viruses.  Cancer.

A church is a family committed to one another.

Being a Christian without a church isn’t all that different from being single and sexually promiscuous.  It’s convenient and requires no commitment, and it isn’t how God designed it.

This is not a knock on parachurch ministries.  Most all of them I am familiar with are great ministries, but if you or they think they can ever be a substitute (rather than a supplement) for the local church, you are gravely mistaken.

Look, there are tons of things wrong with the Church and with every local church in your town.  But the Church is the Bride of Christ! (Ephesians 5:31-32) Jesus is only married to one bride.  He’s not a polygamist or an adulterer so if you are a Christian, you need to rejoin with his bride, as tattered and broken as she is.

Go to Church.

Be the Church.

Commit to the Church.

Minister as the Church.


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2 responses to Being a Christian apart from the local church is much worse than it seems

  1. Excellent post Noah! This is a cornerstone of my personal belief system and subsequently a source of much distress for us. We still have not found a church home and are really confused about the “why” of it. I know that I’m a bit of a doctrine snob and I really prefer KJV over any other version but even when I have compromised my convictions on those points I’ve found a church that is more focused on being “properly religious” or “socially relevant” than one that is proclaiming the Gospel first and foremost.

    God will get us through this, I have no doubt, but in the meantime your post hits the nail directly on the head. Thank you!

  2. Thanks, Noah. This has been heavy on my heart. I think one of the biggest ministries we can have with millennials is stressing this very biblical truth.

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