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Your Sanctuary: Finding Community in Christ (Ep 63)
Episode 6316th May 2024 • My Ministry Mission • Jason McConnell
00:00:00 00:33:18

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If you’re looking for a church for the first time, or maybe you’re just in a position to find a new church home .. I hope today’s episode offers some helpful guidance.

References to Bible Verses:

1 John 1:7; Matthew 18:20; James 5:16; Mark 9:35; John 15:12; John 4:24; Philippians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 1 John 5:14; Philippians 4:6; Matthew 28:18-20; John 8:31-32; Jude 1:4; John 4:1-26; John 8:1-11; Acts 2:42; Galatians 6:2; Mark 12:30-31

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Welcome, brothers and sisters, and thank you for joining me for this episode. My name is Jason, and I am your host. When I set out to find a church for the first time, it was no easy task. I had to establish a framework of what I thought I needed in a church community, and then I set out to actually find one.

On top of that, I was doing this during the pandemic, which made it all the more difficult. It took me weeks of research and reaching out, and in the end, honestly, I believe the Spirit led me to where I needed to be. However, once I started attending a church, I soon realized that finding it might have been the easy part.

Now I had to make it my home. So in this episode, I would like to explain why community is so important, provide some ideas that might help you in your search, and then I'll focus in on making that church your home. If you're looking for a church for the first time, or maybe you're just in a position to find a new church home, I hope today's episode offers some helpful guidance. Stick around, I think this is going to be pretty awesome.

A community is defined a couple of different ways. Now the first more broad definition is "a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common." Well, okay, I suppose that makes sense. But here's the definition I think I like the best "a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attributes, interests, and goals." I'm sure you've met that person who says they are a Christian, but they don't really believe in organized religion. Or maybe they tell you they prefer to focus on their personal relationship with God. This individualized God relationship is a pretty popular concept in America.

And if they do happen to go to church, they generally see this corporate expression of faith as just something to do to advance their personal experience. So why is community so important? In a Grand Canyon University blog entitled The Importance of Church as a Community, They suggested that a Christian church community shares a three fold mission.

First, worship God. Second, disciple believers. And third, sharing the gospel with the world. I definitely agree with that. But I feel like that might be leaving some gaps in the impact of a church community. But let me pause there for a moment. Because I think there's an elephant in the room here. There is a common belief in the secular world that church and religion are harmful.

But the evidence doesn't support that view. Check this out. The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Health provided a comprehensive meta analysis of all published studies on the association between religious involvement and medical and mental health. And what they found is kind of interesting. 78 percent of more than 300 studies reported a positive association between religious activities and well being. 73 percent of 40 studies found a positive association between religion and hope. 81 percent of 32 studies found a positive association between religion and optimism. 93 percent of 45 studies reported a positive association between religion and having a sense of purpose. 82 percent of 74 studies reported a positive association between religion and a sense of social support. 91 percent of 413 studies identified lower rates of depression or faster recovery from depression in religious individuals. And 75 percent of 141 studies reported that religion is associated with less suicidal ideation, fewer suicidal attempts, and fewer actual suicides.

Then in:

So circling back to the question Why is community so important or maybe more specifically? Why is a church community so important? Let's begin to answer that starting with 1 John 1:7, "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin."

John is making it pretty clear that when two or more Christians walk in the light, they will enjoy fellowship with each other. Let me spin that the other way. If we do not have fellowship with each other, then we are not walking in the light and we are not in the right relationship with God.

ed community. I think Matthew:

So moving on to James 5:16, and hopefully you'll see how this all ties together. It teaches us that being part of a Christ centered community also provides prayer support for healing. And this is something we cannot get elsewhere.

"Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." So, sin and the enemy want us isolated and cut off from the body of Christ. Confession breaks the power of sin. Confession is good for us, but it should be done with discretion because an unwise confession can be the cause of more sin.

Now, there are variations to how confessions work based on your choice of denominations. If you are Catholic, you will confess your sins to a priest, either face to face or through a screen. Though it wasn't always that way. First century confessions were actually public. I mean, talk about awkward. In Greek Orthodox churches, confessions are generally a sacrament heard by a priest. Protestants believe that confession is done directly to God rather than through a priest. However, to the best of my knowledge, none of these stipulate that you cannot confess to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Now, if I'm wrong about that, please feel free to email me and let me know.

That being said, this verse goes on to describe how the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. The righteousness of a person resides in Jesus. And whether or not their personal walk of faith is in alignment with Christ's teachings. Now, when we give Jesus Christ as rightful place as Lord of our lives, we will take on a servant's heart. Our acceptance of Jesus will be shown in the way we serve and love others.

t; And of course we have John:

Now, independently, we can do good things as Christ followers, but as a community of servant hearts, we can do great things. We not only have the opportunity to serve each other through encouragement, affirmation, teaching, worship, prayer, even rebuking sin. But we can come together to serve the greater community in ways that none of us can do by ourselves. And this is an opportunity to show others the heart of Christ. So just to kind of summarize this list of reasons why a faith community is important.

Walking in the light of Christ means walking in fellowship with each other. We have to be part of a body of Christ if we are to walk in the light. Exposing and confronting sin. I mean, we rely on each other to keep our eyes on Christ and to draw upon his strength to combat our sin as well as his strength to forgive sin when we slip.

Empowering healing through prayer of a righteous person. When we do sin, the prayer of our righteous brothers and sisters in Christ will help us heal faster. And a community of servant hearts. By coming together as a community, we can serve each other and serve the greater community better.

Now this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are so many reasons to be a part of a church community. Unfortunately, not all church communities accurately represent Christ. So how do we find our place?

Well, this can seem like a daunting task, especially if you live in a heavily populated metropolitan area where there's a ton of churches. It feels like finding the perfect seashell on a beach.

Well, let's start by identifying what is biblically necessary in a church to cover the needs. And then we can start to list those attributes of a church that we desire for ourselves or that inspire us, which I call our wants.

Jesus offers us a really simple way to identify the core of what church worship should offer in John 4:24, "God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in the spirit and in truth." So Christ commands us to worship in the spirit and in truth. What does that mean? Apostle Paul helps us understand that a little bit more in Philippians 3:3, "For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his spirit, who boasts in Christ Jesus and who put no confidence in the flesh."

So I admit this starts out a little strange with the circumcision part, but with some context it does make sense. Now Jewish legalists consider themselves the only ones who are truly circumcised and right with God. Now, if you recall back in Genesis 17, circumcision marked a covenant established with Abraham shortly before Isaac was born.

What Paul is declaring here is that he and his followers, the followers of Christ, were the only ones who were truly circumcised, or right with God. And this means both Jews and Gentiles. True worship comes only from those who have been saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and who have also have the Holy Spirit living within their hearts.

Our faith leaders need to have the right heart attitude, and I believe this goes beyond simply adhering to rites and rituals. This is illustrating the difference between the Jewish legalist view of circumcision compared to those who are truly right with God through Jesus Christ. Worshipping the truth means worshipping in accordance with what God has revealed about himself in scripture.

Now, what that looks like on the outside, well, that can vary a bit. But as my pastor says, the message doesn't change, but how that message gets delivered, well, that can change. This is my humble opinion here. But I take that to mean that it doesn't matter if you're in a traditional church setting, sitting in the pew, singing hymns and listening to the pastor read from the Bible, or if you're in a charismatic church, singing along with a live band and watching the pastor use props to demonstrate biblical constructs.

If the core message is the same, does it really matter how it is delivered, so long as it abides by the doctrine of Christ? True worship relies on the instruction given in the Bible, and it doesn't matter if there's a book of confessions, rules of order, or any other man made doctrine, ritual or preference. Now that may or may not be a popular opinion. And if you disagree with me, that's okay I'm just sharing my perspective on this.

Corinthians:

Paul taught us the importance of communion in these verses. As for prayer, our prayers should be directed to God, and in accordance to God's will, as we are taught in 1 John 5:14, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God, that if we ask anything in accordance to His will, He hears us."

Simply put, John is teaching us that the purpose and secret to prayer is, it's okay to ask for anything in accordance to His will, and we can be assured that He will hear our prayers. In truth, we can ask for anything in prayer, and we should ask for everything in prayer because God does care about our entire lives. Philippians 4:6 reminds us, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." And I think that's one of the failures of prayer. Oftentimes we don't actually ask for anything. Maybe we talk to God about our problems, and that's good, but be sure to clearly ask. And work your prayers to align to God's will the best that you can. That can be the tricky part, and that's where community becomes important, because community offers opportunities for discipleship.

Now I also want to briefly touch on corporate prayer, because this is also important. It is a key aspect to believers encouraging one another and supporting one another. Corporate prayer helps us with discipleship, and it helps build unity within the community.

This leads me to the third need, and that is discipleship. Congregation members are responsible for discipling each other, both collectively and individually. Church should be more than just a group of people who come together once a week for a service.

rectly from Christ in Matthew:

Jesus tells us to go. His authority sends us and his authority guides us. Jesus empowers us to spread his word and his message throughout the world. Getting someone to convert is a glorious moment, but that is only the beginning. That new believer needs to be discipled. They need someone to teach them. Disciples aren't converted. They are made. They are the product of a process involving you and I and other believers to spread the message of Christ.

This was a challenge for me as a new believer, because this was a two way street. When I first joined my church, I would go in on Sundays, sit back, consume the sermon, and then leave. It took me a while, but I started to realize that I needed more in between Sundays to grow spiritually.

Now, generally, I'm what they call an ambivert. I'm kind of right in the middle of introvert extrovert scale. But when I'm in an uncomfortable or a new situation, I lean heavily towards the introvert side. To address this personally, I forced myself to join a small group and go to meetings during the week. And this really did a world of good for my personal spiritual growth. Which means I was in a better position to help somebody else grow.

Now this kind of circles back to the truth I mentioned earlier. In John 8:31-32, Jesus teaches us, "If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Just as we should expect our church leaders to worship through the truth, we as disciples are also called to abide in Christ's truth through His Word.

If we do this, the truth will give us freedom throughout our lives, a freedom that no amount of money can buy, no amount of good works can earn, and a freedom that politicians and governments cannot offer us. or take away from us. This is a truth and a freedom that you and I are commanded to share with the world. And this is why discipleship is so important.

that really started like the:

So what does this mean? Post modernism can be defined as sort of harboring a lingering suspicion of any grand narratives. In terms of the Christian church, simply put, it's exchanging facts with a warm and fuzzy subjectivity, or exchanging experience over reason, or maybe the best way to describe it is prioritizing spirituality over religion.

And this is a movement that Jude 1:4 talks about, "For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord."

What I mean by come as you are culture is mimicking Christ and how he approached sinners. We don't have to clean up our lives before we accept God. We all have an open invitation to join God's family at any time. And Jesus understood this. Which is why he spoke the way he did to the Samaritan woman or the woman at the well in John 4:1-26. The woman who was living with a man she wasn't even married to. He spoke about the fact of her sin and then offered her salvation. We see another example of this in John 8:1-11, when the woman caught in adultery was brought before him and he told her, "Go and sin no more."

I believe anyone should be welcome to walk into a church and encouraged to invite Christ into their lives. Christ will accept you just as you are and he will sanctify that relationship. At the same time, anyone joining the faith community should strive to begin their journey to be more like Christ right then. Now, the church you make your home should not exclude people who don't. measure up. The whole point of Christ's sacrifice was to wash us clean of our sin and to restore our relationship with God the Father through Christ.

If a church is making people feel uncomfortable because they don't have their act together, they don't look the part, then it's not truly a church that embodies Christ. Christian churches aren't just for Christians, they are for anyone who wants a new life with God.

So now I've covered the needs, core church worship, communion and prayer, discipleship and they come into our culture. Now let's talk about making a list of things you want to see in a church. Now some of this you might not know for sure, and that's fine. As you begin to investigate churches, you can start attending services, and just get a feel for what you're getting and what you might feel is missing from their service.

You don't have to commit to any one church right away. Take your time and visit a few of them if you have to. But let me start by sharing with you some of the things that I wanted from a church before I found my home church. Keep in mind, I was not a believer when I jotted these down, but for some reason I was driven to find a specific fit.

So, number one on my list was I wanted a church that would challenge me to find my own answers. I didn't want to be spoon fed the Bible. I wanted to be given some information and then challenged to go do my own homework.

Number two, I was looking for a church that was more dynamic and, dare I say, more entertaining than a traditional church. Now, there's nothing wrong with a traditional church, but I felt I needed to be immersed. into the teachings, and I, I couldn't see that happening within a traditional church setting.

Number three, I wanted to be inspired. Now, I didn't really understand how the worship part of a service worked. However, once I attended the church I'm at now, I was inspired and motivated by their band, by the music. I was also inspired by the passion and creativity of our pastors, and how they related to the subject of the sermon.

Number four, I wanted historical and cultural context. Now, I know that may sound a little weird for a church want list, but the Bible is an ancient text and the way they viewed the world back then was different. And I wanted to understand that better.

And then number five on my list, I wanted to encounter friendly and relatable people. Honestly, I didn't want to deal with stuffy, over the top Christians. I wanted to make friends and be part of a community of average Joes. People who didn't try to pretend that they were perfect.

So hopefully you're getting the point and maybe even starting your own list by now. It may help to do some research into denominational churches, because you might find most of what you want in one of those. Maybe you want a higher priority placed on liturgical worship, like from the Eastern Orthodox or a Catholic church.

Maybe you want something more like a Lutheran or a Presbyterian church that still has formal services and follows some liturgical patterns. Maybe you prefer something non-denominational, or even charismatic like a, like a Pentecostal or a Vineyard Church. My point here is that if you're not sure what you want, do a little homework and check out the YouTube videos from churches in your area. Most churches now have online service and they post those videos for you to watch, so it's an easy way to do some homework.

Now this brings up one more topic, and that's online churches. I have no issue with watching Sunday Service online once in a while. However, I personally do not believe that you can connect with a church community if you're strictly attending online.

In my experience, there is a huge gap in the fellowship if you don't go in person. Now, I understand if you're sick, or if you're out of town, or maybe you have mobility challenges. You just can't go into a church all the time. That's okay. Watch it online. That's better than nothing. Be plugged in to what the home church is doing.

But there's nothing like meeting someone face to face, having in person conversations, and being able to give and receive hugs at a church. Now the major issue I have with online church is that you can't serve the church nearly as well sitting in your pajamas at home. One of the highlights of my Sunday is doing my part to serve God by serving my church and the people of my church.

So hopefully that gives you a little direction, maybe some ideas for finding a church to call home.

All right, you've made your list. You've watched online services. You've gone to in person, tested out a few churches, and you've made your decision. Now it's time to make that church your home. What does that look like?

I want to walk you through my experience and share how I settled into my church. So it took a few Sunday services for me to realize that being a part of a church community involved more than just showing up. I mean, at first, all I really wanted was to listen to service. But then I started to kind of look around, and I began to realize that I was missing a key component of this community. Fellowship!

I went through several steps myself to get into a position where I felt like I was actually a part of a church, not just an attendee. Now, I mentioned earlier about joining a small group. That was really my first step towards this fellowship. And I attended those Thursday small group meetings with the same conviction as Sunday service. And I began to make acquaintances and then friends, but something really amazing happened as I listened to others. And as we had more conversations, we shared more in group. I began to learn and understand scripture more. This was discipleship. This made me want to go read my Bible more and I also started taking notes during Sunday service So I had something to share during my Thursday small group.

Acts 2:42 teaches us, "They devoted themselves to the Apostles teachings and fellowship to the breaking of bread and a prayer." So on the day of Pentecost 3,000 souls were converted with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and these new converts relied on the Apostles to teach them about Jesus and what he had done This is how we learn and grow. We listen to those who have come before and who have learned God's Word and the Apostle's Doctrine because this is the truth of God that we all yearn to understand.

Full fellowship is more than just having a circle of friends. We share the same Lord Jesus, the same love of God and love for God. We share in our desire to worship. We also share in similar struggles and victories in life. And we use this fellowship to communicate Scripture and the Gospels, and we work together to glorify God and uphold Christ's commandments.

If your church doesn't have a small group, just invite a couple of your new friends out for lunch after church, and see if that can grow into something, maybe a Bible study or a small group. Talk to your pastor about what you can do to get more people involved outside of Sunday service. If you have a family, spend time covering biblical topics or discussing the service with your family and then start inviting others from your church to join your family and let that seed grow.

However, if you're just not getting the support for what you need outside of the church walls, maybe it isn't the right church to make your home. And that's just something to consider.

The next step along this journey was to get more involved in the church. I really enjoyed my weekly visits with my small group. It brought me so much joy. that I wanted to give back to this amazing community. So I filled out the form, went through the process, got qualified as a volunteer for the church.

Initially, I was shooting to work with the audiovisual team, even sat with them a couple times, but I wasn't really able to meet their needs. But the children's ministry needed help, and that's where I landed. For a while, I would assist the leaders of like an elementary room every other month, you know, every week for every other month.

From there, I ended up moving around to help cover other rooms, preschool, nursery, maybe the fourth, fifth grade room. I even had the opportunity to lead these rooms once in a while. Besides being amazingly rewarding experience, I began to meet other parents and my circle grew.

Then because of my technical background, I took over running the check in station for the children's ministry. And that's the joy that I have now. And I do it every week, every month. I get to meet and greet all the parents and the children, and I get to hand out stickers and spend a few moments making these young little souls feel special by calling them by their name, listening to their stories, and just showing them the love that Christ fills us all with. And my circle has grown even more.

Once you start getting involved in your church, God will find a place for you. The first step is offering your time and committing yourself to service. Be willing to do whatever is necessary. Let them place you where the church needs you the most. Maybe it's greeting guests. Maybe it's children's ministry. Maybe it's stacking chairs.

So outside of the work I do with the Sunday School, the first event I volunteered to help out with was a trunk or treat. My job was to hand out tacos. I mean, that's it. Give food to people. That was it. But I had so much fun doing it because I got to interact with so many people. Both in our church and in the community surrounding the church. I was blessed to see joyful children and grateful parents enjoy our church, play games, collect candy, and have a lot of fun.

Now, it's easier to talk about Christ and show love for each other within the four walls of your church. That's how I felt, at least. But there's a whole community of people who need to experience God's love. And He is counting on you and me to share it. Now, I was lucky, and my church is heavily involved in our community. The Neighborhood. Every month we work with another organization to hand out food. When school starts, we do backpack drives for underprivileged kids. And a few times a year, we do a full on community day where we gather in numbers and go out into the community and just do stuff like painting, building, repairing, cleaning, and so on. These are golden opportunities to leave God's calling card for others to experience. And you don't even have to say that much. You just be there and show the love that Christ has for you that you're passing along to other people.

Now, if your church doesn't have any programs like this, I don't know, maybe you're being called to start one. At our church. If we have an idea, we bring it to the pastor. And if he feels it has potential, he'll offer whatever services they can spare and let us go do God's work. Maybe your new church will do the same for you. I don't know. If not, there are websites where you can volunteer your time to demonstrate God's love. One thing I would caution is do not go off on your own and just do stuff. If you go through your church or volunteer organization, understand that they have safety protocols and processes in place to help protect all parties, including you.

Jesus taught us this in Mark:

Christ has given us a simple task, love God and love each other. That's it. Now, executing that is challenging sometimes. I know there's people out there who make it really hard for us to love them, but our pastor taught us that loving our neighbors means we want them to receive all of the joys and blessings that God intended for them.

Making your church your home will take time. It's like moving into a new house. At first, It's different, maybe a little awkward and exciting. You don't know where to put everything. It takes time to get organized, but eventually we become fully immersed and can't imagine living anywhere else. Your home church should be the same.

If you take the time to engage in fellowship, get involved in your church, and eventually get out in the greater community before you know it, you'll feel so rooted into your church community that you can't imagine being anywhere else. Some Sundays I'll be there for four or five hours and I love every moment of it. When we do midweek events, if I can swing it, I'm there. I love my church, and I love my church family, and I fully believe in their mission and vision. Most of all, we love Christ, and it really shows.

Being involved in a church community and a church family means interacting with other people, and if you're more introverted, well, that can be difficult, but it doesn't have to happen overnight. Just take small steps and before you know it, you'll be standing there looking around at all these amazing people that you know and love and thanking God for each one of them.

Jason: That's where I'll end this episode. Thank you for listening. I hope this episode was valuable and helpful in your faith journey.

Remember to come back in two weeks and hopefully Laura and I will have another Unveiling Revelation episode to share. Please take a moment to follow me on your favorite podcast app. Check out the links in my show notes to find my social media, send me some feedback or sign up for podcast updates or all three, do them all.

If you're really enjoying this and you want to help support the show, go to https://myministrymission.com/support. You can give me a tip, which is always appreciated. Shop with my affiliates or just share my podcast with others and help get the words out. That's a good way to support me.

Until next time, be sure to read your Bible, love your neighbor, and may God bless you and keep you. God bless everyone.

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