What is Church?
The Bible describes the local church as the engine of God’s work in the world. It is a kingdom of people who want to honor and serve God as King in all of life (Matthew 16, 18, 28). It is a family of those adopted by God and bound to one another by his love (Ephesians 2). It is a body in which everyone encounters everything together (1 Corinthians 12). It is not some sort of subscription service where you affiliate so it’s always there in case you need it. Our connection to the local church isn’t voluntary. It isn’t selective. It’s fundamental, life-shaping, and all-encompassing.
We must teach our kids these truths from the Bible. But just as important is what we show them. No one will have a better view of how closely our words about the church match our posture toward the church. We can’t teach our kids to love the church unless they can see that we actually love the church.
More Than a Job
Perhaps the most important thing we can do to demonstrate our love for the church is to crucify any trace of careerism. The local church doesn’t exist to provide us with jobs. It is nobody’s employer. It is so much bigger than any one of us and what we may accomplish. The local church must be the people you share life with and belong to before it is the place you go to work.
Our kids need to see us approach our work with joy and hope. They need to see us cultivate relationships in the church as genuine, mutual friendships—not as clients or as items on our to-do list.
If we treat our churches like commodities that bring value to our lives, meet our needs, or fill our ambitions—like a plasma TV or a five-bedroom house or a best-in-class SUV—we will always be evaluating them against the options of elsewhere. We will hold them at arm’s length for detached observation. Or we’ll keep them under our microscope where every flaw is obvious, prompting us to wonder what might be different in some other church.
Our kids will take their cues from us. If we emit even a whiff of careerism, they’ll smell it. If they sense from us that the church we serve is a rung on a ladder we’re still climbing, they will hold themselves back. The church will remain a “them” to the family’s “us.” At worst, they may feel trapped by your job in a church they didn’t choose. At best they may bide their time until the next move. But they will struggle to fully identify themselves with your church.
This sense of submission and belonging is one of the greatest gifts my father gave me. He modeled love for the church and its people as our people. He continues to pastor in a place where people joke that if you’re not born in the county, you can live there twenty years and not be from there. It’s a place where the average tenure in churches is no more than a few years, and where it’s normal for pastors’ families to live on a separate plane from those they serve. It is a credit to him and to the church that we didn’t live that way. He never acted like he wasn’t from there. He wasn’t an external observer of the culture, as if his life were too big to be contained by this place and its people. Our lives were fully integrated with theirs.
Invite Your Children In
Our kids need to see us approach our work with joy and hope. They need to see us cultivate relationships in the church as genuine, mutual friendships—not as clients or as items on our to-do list. They need to see us engage problems in the church with empathy and loving commitment, never speaking as if the church were something other than all of us.
And, sometimes, the most powerful way to demonstrate our love for the church is to bring our kids into our pastoral work. I’m not suggesting you force them along with you. I’m saying invite them along when they’re interested. Maybe it’s modeling joyful servant leadership while you help set up for an event. But, depending on the situation, you could also let them observe some of your pastoral work.
Growing up, I lived in a rural community with many elderly members unable to leave their homes. Visiting these members was a big part of my father’s ministry, and my dad would often take me with him. He also did a lot of hospital visits, usually more than an hour away. If the circumstances were appropriate, I’d ride along with him on those too. What I got from these ride-along opportunities was much more than quality time with my father, as precious as that was. I got a close look at the gravity of his work—to be with people facing their most difficult seasons, sometimes the worst moments of their lives. I saw people believing on Jesus across a wide range of ages and an even wider range of experiences. I saw them moved by awareness that they were not alone and not forgotten, that they faced life’s greatest challenges in solidarity with a people to whom they belonged. And I saw firsthand how much my father loved caring for his people.
This is a guest article by Matthew McCullough, contributor to 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me edited by Jeff Robinson Sr. and Collin Hansen. This post originally appeared on crossway.org; used with permission.
Matthew McCullough (PhD, Vanderbilt University) serves as pastor of Trinity Church in Nashville, Tennessee, which he helped plant. He is the author of The Cross of War and writes occasionally for 9Marks and the Gospel Coalition.