Local churches have a culture and reputation, both of which may be positive and negative. Perhaps you visited a local church and came away with an impression either that the people were friendly or perhaps you found them unfriendly. It may be that you felt there was passion, or your impression was that it was a matter of ritual. Alternatively, it could be you sensed they were active and engaged but that there was no sense of purpose. Most often, if not always, the character of a local church is a response to the leadership and their approach to the way the church functions. It is not often that a congregation rises above the leadership in this area.
Every fellowship should have Colossians 2:2 as part of their purpose, mandate, and operation. In verse 1 Paul expresses concern for the believers in Colossae and Laodicea which concern is expressly stated in verse 2, “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all the riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ.” If this were applied to a local church, it would be a place of encouragement, a place where individuals are loved, and a place where solid teaching is the norm.
Some places may do one or two of the above but be lacking in another. For instance, there are likely many local churches where folk go home encouraged but are not taught well. Conversely, there may be some that teach soundly and extensively but do not encourage the saints. I recall one brother commenting on another brother’s preaching, saying, “when he preaches, I always go home feeling defeated and discouraged.” In this type of atmosphere, it is easy for Christians to give up or to seek another place to fellowship.
We live in a world that is contrary in so many ways to the morality presented in the Word. It is a world that hates the Lord Jesus and He assured us would hate His followers. In John 16:33 the Lord told us, “In the world you will have tribulation.” There are other issues common to all, perhaps health, finances, or family issues that may weigh heavily on some. The last thing believers need is to come together to get “beat up” and go home discouraged. A local church should be a place of encouragement where believers receive edification and are ready to face a hostile world. We should evaluate the atmosphere and reputation of our own local church. If the approach needs to change, it can start with just one person, one who sees the need to take up the challenge.
It is hard to believe that there could be a loveless local church in view of all the commands in scripture to “love one another.” Sadly however, there are places that replace love with legalism, conformity over compassion. There are places that have good, solid biblical teaching but lack a loving approach. Here again, we all need to evaluate our own local church and its reputation both with those in fellowship and with visitors. There is nothing to stop individuals from showing the love of Christ to other believers. This is what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed, you do so toward all the brethren who are in Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren that you increase more and more…” That local group of believers certainly had a good reputation that extended throughout Macedonia and Achaia.
Part of the purpose of a local church is to equip believers for service and to see them built up in their faith. The reality is there are many places that do not give sound biblical teaching and avoid the exposition of a text. Many may address issues and topics but avoid solid expositional teaching, rightly dividing the Word of truth. According to the verse, there are riches to uncover in the realm of understanding the mystery of God, (and as some manuscripts render it), “even Christ.” If believers are to gain an appetite for the Word and to grow as a result, there must be exposure to good solid teaching. On the part of those who share the Word this takes time, effort, and a commitment to the whole “counsel of God.” However, a commitment to any man or all men sharing in the ministry of the Word can also be counterproductive and lead to some in the congregation being discouraged.
Sound biblical teaching is in the hands of the leadership, but all can share in the ministry of encouragement and in showing love to others. These last things require effort and commitment on the part of individual saints. Those in leadership need to prayerfully, and carefully evaluate the atmosphere and reputation of the Fellowship. This may then call for change in approach and methods currently in place. It may call for an evaluation of the content of sermons and the manner of presentation. Many people change their place of fellowship for various reasons. For most, it is likely due to the perception or even the reality that there is little encouragement and/ or a lack of love. They then may seek a place that will address these issues; often these moves happen with no or little thought for the teaching presented. It seems that on many occasions these two issues trump sound doctrine and biblical exposition.
There must be a commitment and love for both the people and the work. In Colossians 1:24 to 2:2 Paul expresses his commitment and concern for the local churches. The words that he uses indicate the extent of his effort and the energy poured into these congregations. He says he is suffering for them (1:24), fulfilling a stewardship (1:25), striving (1:29), and struggling for them (2:1). The expected result was to see Christ exalted and the believers encouraged, loved, and taught.
A fellowship that functions this way today will not happen without similar effort and dedication. There may not be one single individual in an fellowship who is able to address all the above issues. However, anyone can be an encourager, and anyone can show the love of Christ to other believers.
by Gary McBride