Rome was not only a strategic city in Paul’s day—it was a powerful city. From politics to ideologies, the city of Rome was at the center of the world and in God’s providence, God raised up a church in this important location at this juncture in history to accomplish his purpose. The church at Rome found itself as part of the story of redemption. Paul’s letter was holy Scripture that not only would encourage the church in Rome—but would be used to encourage the Universal Church through the ages. For God so loved the church in Rome that he sent his Son to die for her and then mobilized his apostle to write to her.
In the opening words to the church in the city of Rome, Paul makes a statement that should cause us to pause and reflect. Paul writes, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:7). When Paul addresses the believers (the church) in Rome, he refers to them as “those in Rome who are loved by God.” So, why did God not love all of Rome?
God is Sovereign
The first thing we must understand when it comes to salvation is that God is not obligated to save one single person in human history. God’s love is a sovereign love. Not even one person is worthy and deserving of God’s love. When discussing the love of God, some people become contentious—making the case that God loves the entire world without exception and without any measure of distinction. Often this debate will find its way to Romans 9 for clarity. However, long before arriving at Romans 9, we see the sovereign love of God on display in Romans 1:7.
While God was not forced to love one single person in Rome, he chose to love specific people in the city—effectually setting them apart and calling them to be saints. When contemplating the sovereign love of God for guilty and wretched sinners—it causes the value of our salvation to increase dramatically especially when we consider the free choice of God and the inability of fallen man to make any choice for God. Who is to call into question the love of God? Does God have freedom to choose to love whom he wills (Rom. 9:14-15)?
God’s Love Is an Electing Love
The love of God for the church in the city of Rome is clearly distinct from any generic love that God has for the entire city of Rome. In a general sense, we can say that God loves Rome (as God loves the world in John 3:16). However, in a special way God has chosen to love the church in Rome and this is God’s electing love.
This love speaks of God’s initiative in salvation. The church in Rome loved God, but not until God first love them (1 John 4:19). The language of this text points back to how God loved the nation of Israel. It was not based on the size, power, or value of the nation of Israel. God’s choice for Israel was based on his redemptive plan and mercy alone.
Deuteronomy 7:7–8 — It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
The language used here by Paul connects the love of God for the church in Rome with the love of God for the nation of Israel and will be key as he develops these truths over the first half of the letter. Too often people minimize the depth of theology in God’s love and seek to generalize it—making God into a generic god of salvation to the entire world as opposed to the covenant keeping God of Scripture who sovereignly saves his people for his glory. James Montgomery Boice explains:
Some think that people become believers by their own unaided choice, as if all we have to do is decide to trust Jesus. But how could we possibly do that if, as we have seen Paul say, each of us is “dead in . . . transgressions and sins”? How can a dead man decide anything? Some have supposed that we become Christians because God in his omniscience sees some small bit of good in us, even if that “good” is only a tiny seed of faith. But how could God see good in us if, as Paul will later remind us: “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12; cf. Ps. 14:3)? Why, then, does God love us? The answer is “because he loves us.” There is just nothing to be said beyond that. 
God loved the church in Rome and as we consider the realty of God’s love—we must look to our local churches and see the expression and reality of God’s love among us. It’s not that God simply loved the church at Rome and we can only read about it from the pages of holy Scripture. We too are part of the story of redemption. For God so loved us that we too should be humbled and look to our purpose to live for his glory. Paul would later write in this very letter to the church in Rome, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). For God so loved the church at Rome that he saved her for his glory. That same truth can be embraced for us—and our local churches today.
Jerry Bridges has rightly stated, “The great God not only loves His saints, but He loves to love them.” The next time you hear someone profaning the doctrine of election—before you engage in a doctrinal dispute with them—take time to pray for them that they would see and understand Romans 1:7 long before you turn to Romans 9. Since God’s love is sovereign—and therefore unmerited, eternal, and unchanging, we can find comfort in the very words that Paul writes in Romans 8:33-39:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Vol. 1 Justification by Faith Romans 1-4, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1991), 65.
How you approach the Lord’s Day says much about your view of God, his gospel, and your trust in his sovereignty. Last night as we gathered for church, I preached from Exodus 20:8-11 on the importance of the Lord’s Day. On one level, people within the church throw out the Fourth Commandment as if it’s no longer binding on New Testament believers. On another level, those who believe the children of God should give God one out of seven days find themselves in a halfway commitment with God where they have negotiated terms to split the day between themselves and the Lord.
In Exodus 20, we find the list of the Ten Commandments. As we approach the Lord’s Day, we must ask ourselves if the Ten Commandments have any binding upon us in our day or if we have reduced their number down to only nine. There are two massive traps that you must avoid when approaching the Lord’s Day—one is pharisaical and the other is pagan.
The Error of Legalism
The Sabbath command (Exodus 20:8-11) was never given by God in order to be a burden. It was always the goal of joy for the people—never a curse. Over time, the religious establishment of the Jewish people turned the Sabbath command into a burdensome routine. They built fences around God’s Law in order to protect it as if it needed to be protected. What resulted from their efforts of purity was the most the profaning of God’s Law which robbed God of glory the people of their joy.
John MacArthur has provided a list of “laws” that prevented the Jews from violating the Sabbath:
- No burden could be carried that weighed more than a dried fig.
- If you threw an object in the air and caught it with the other hand, it was a sin. If you caught it in the same hand, it wasn’t.
- A tailor couldn’t carry his needle.
- The scribe couldn’t carry his pen.
- A pupil couldn’t carry his books.
- No clothing could be examined.
- Wool couldn’t be dyed.
- Nothing could be sold.
- Nothing could be bought.
- Nothing could be washed.
- A fire couldn’t be lit.
- An egg could not be boiled.
- Could not bathe – for fear that as the water fell from you it would wash the floor.
However, in all of their attempt to protect the Sabbath, they profaned it. This is quite clear as Jesus corrects their false understanding in Mark 3:1-6. Jesus made it clear that he is the Lord of the Sabbath. Furthermore, he made it clear that the Sabbath was created for man—not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Legalism is the attempt to please God by doing good.
Legalism causes a man to “work” to please God. Grace causes a man to “work” because God is pleased with him. Legalism instructs a man to “work” for God. Grace brings a man to delight in “working” for God. Alistair Begg said, “Religion says, ‘I obey, therefore I am accepted.’ Christianity says, ‘I am accepted, therefore I obey.’” As we make personal decisions on how to live life, we must put our finger on chapter and verse and avoid the commands of man. Did God expect Israel to remember the Sabbath? Absolutely, but their observance of the Sabbath turned into a legal system that caused frustration rather than joy.
We must approach the Lord’s Day with the same attitude that God expected from the Israelites regarding the Sabbath. We must willfully give God one day for worship and rest since he has not changed his mind about that very issue. However, in our attempt to honor God with the Lord’s Day—we must not fall into the traps of the Pharisees by counting the number of steps on our iPhone on Sunday and condemning people who walk too far. It should be a day of delight, laughter, joy, worship, fellowship, and rest. All of this—for the glory of God.
The Error of Antinomianism
We likewise live in a culture of confusion when it comes to God’s Word. Has Jesus really come to abolish the Law of God? Is that what he said (Matt. 5:17)? For those who hold to that position, they would not approach the Sixth Commandment with the same attitude as they do the Fourth Commandment. Some people live with that attitude—as if Jesus abolished the Law and has given free reign to live without the slightest binding command of God’s Law. Not only is this dishonoring to God, it’s an extremely dangerous place to be in life.
The attitude that avoids God’s Law and rejects God’s commands is one that will lead to a diminished worship, a deficient relationship with God, and a lack of holiness altogether. God has given us the Law to teach us what is expected and it serves as a boundary for life and worship. Without boundaries and without shepherds—sheep wander off cliffs and walk into the mouths of wolves. That’s why God has placed the boundary of the Law before us and it’s also why God has given shepherds (pastors) to his people. The antinomianism approach to life and worship seeks to dethrone God and enthrone one’s self.
Regarding the Lord’s Day, it’s important to see that following the resurrection of Jesus, the church of Christ gathered on the first day of the week for worship (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2). Jesus himself rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1-6) and this altered the way the followers of Christ worshipped. They gave God the first day of the week for worship and fellowship and rest.
This command of the Sabbath rest is not grounded in the Ten Commandments alone. It pre-dates the Ten Commandments. Israel had received the command back in Exodus 16 and as we see it develop in the Ten Commandments we learn that it was rooted in creation itself. Therefore, this is something that God expects of everyone—and we as his children should willfully give him one day. God has given us six days and required only one for himself. He could have easily turned that equation around. Let us approach the Lord’s Day out of a submissive heart to God’s command and see it as the Puritans viewed it—”A market-day for the soul.”
Puritan Thomas Watson imagined God saying the following regarding this special day. He imagines God as saying, “I am not a hard master, I do not grudge thee time to look after thy calling, and to get an estate. I have given thee six days, to do all thy work in, and have taken but one day for myself. I might have reserved six days for myself, and allowed thee but one; but I have given thee six days for the works of thy calling, and have taken but one day for my own service. It is just and rational, therefore, that thou shouldest set this day in a special manner apart for my worship.” 
- Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 591.
Years ago, a friend gave me Voddie Baucham’s book, Family Driven Faith, as a gift. Over the years I have come to really appreciate that gift as I’ve read, reread, and even in God’s providence become friends with the author himself. In his book, he writes, “Modern American Christianity has a failure rate somewhere around eight (almost nine) out of ten when it comes to raising children who continue in the faith. Imagine the alarm if nearly 90 percent of our children couldn’t read when they left high school. There wouldn’t be room enough at the school board meeting to hold all of the irate parents.” 
Yet, when I talk to families in our community and ask why they chose to join their church, they often tell me that at the end of the day it was a decision based around what their children wanted and what would make them happy. Could that be why we see so much of a consumer and marketing approach to the way we “do” church in our present culture? People are shopping, and churches are selling. Yet, the statistics continue to point to disturbing trends. “Youth programs and parenting routines designed to pass on religious practice appear to be failing, and 1 in 4 Americans are considered nones today, compared with 12 percent 20 years ago, PRRI reported.” The “none” category is a reflection of what it means to not identify with any religion and it continues to grow.
Could it be that parents are capitulating on a serious minded approach to the faith and a serious minded approach to the local church because they want to make their children happy? Why is this a dangerous idea? Why should parents refrain from allowing their children to make the decision regarding the family’s church membership?
Your Children May Not Be Converted
Have you stopped to consider the sobering reality that your child may not yet be converted? An overwhelming percentage of youth who attend church every Sunday are in fact—unconverted. Will you make your choice of church based on what your child desires, when in all reality, those desires are selfish, carnal, and not exactly God-honoring? Listen to the way the Bible describes the unconverted person’s life:
Titus 3:3 — For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
Although your child may not be the adult version of what is described in Titus 3:3, your unconverted child has everything necessary in his depravity to make decisions based on selfish motives and carnal desires. Such decisions and desires should not be allowed to make the final call on what church a family joins. Remember, your child needs to be discipled—not entertained.
When we read statistics about teenagers walking away from the church by the end of their freshman year of college, we tend to shift in a direction in order to accommodate their tastes. That very decision could be the cause rather than the solution for children remaining unconverted (many with false professions and baptisms) until they finally part ways with the church. They never understood God’s intention for the church because they were being fed a steady diet of gospel-lite and likely segmented away into fun groups for their appropriate age rather than crossing paths with adults who exemplified before them what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Your Children Are Not Called to Lead the Family
We are living in a day where parents and grandparents are making choices for church membership based on what their children or grandchildren desire. When we look at passages such as Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6—the responsibility of family discipleship is clearly placed on the shoulders of parents—not children.
Every evening when you sit down for supper around the table (supposing you do this on a regular basis), the meal is most likely not based on what your child wants to eat every evening (unless you want to become very unhealthy). When you chose your home, you didn’t make your choice based on your child’s desire for a certain neighborhood. In like manner, when your child is sick, you don’t ask what doctor he wants to visit, so why would you choose your church based on what your child wants?
The Bible is clear about the structure of the family and the leadership that is ordained by God. The husband is the head of the family—providing both material and spiritual leadership. Parents together lead their children, and this is God’s ordained role. Just as Christ is the head of the church—so is the husband the head of the wife (Eph. 5:22-24). Both father and mother are called to take the leadership of their children and the children are called to obey (Eph. 6:1-4).
Your Children Lack Necessary Practical and Doctrinal Wisdom
Children enter this world as young, immature, and inexperienced babies. As they grow and mature, they glean knowledge and wisdom along the journey of life. It’s the role of parents to instill into their children such knowledge—especially as it pertains to the gospel and the knowledge of God. We should not expect our 12-year old child to possess the knowledge and capability to drive a 300 horsepower sports car. That would be absurd. Likewise, we shouldn’t expect young children to be capable of making the necessary judgment call on membership in a local church. They simply have not been alive long enough—lacking the necessary practical and doctrinal wisdom.
Why would we allow our children, who lack the necessary wisdom in life and the journey of faith, to choose what church the family should join? Many people claim that the church they joined was the right one for their children—and their teenager’s desire clinched their decision. Below are some important issues that children often overlook when visiting a church:
- Does the church practice biblical church discipline?
- Does the pastor properly fence the Lord’s Supper in worship or is fencing the Lord’s Supper a priority at all?
- Does the pastor guard the baptistry to prevent false converts?
- Does the pastor avoid manipulation tactics at the end of his sermon?
- What is the preaching methodology and philosophy—topical or expositional?
- What is the doctrinal conviction of the church’s leadership on matters of salvation, ecclesiology, and matters of worship?
- Is the church a mile wide (with lots of “stuff” to offer the family) but only an inch deep regarding doctrine?
- Is the youth group more interested in being “relevant” rather than doctrinally sound?
- What is the church’s position on social issues such as marriage and homosexuality?
- Does the church have a Sunday evening service? What about a prayer service?
Face it, most children are interested in social networking, the music, and the fun atmosphere surrounding the church campus rather than the doctrinal distinctives of the local church. It is the role of the parent to shepherd, lead, and guide children through the search for a church home. It is not the role of the child to take the lead—and it’s certainly not the parent’s goal to be friends with their children in the process. Sometimes a helpful no is necessary in life.
If you find yourself looking for a church home, use this opportunity to disciple your children so they will gain wisdom to use in their adult life. Don’t lean on their advice for your decision. Lead your children and make careful biblically informed decisions that will benefit your family spiritually. You don’t want your children to grow up and become church hoppers and shoppers, so teach them now through your choice for a local church by showing them first that you have biblical reasoning for leaving your current church, that you’re leaving in a biblical manner, and that your choice of a local church will not be based on fads and cultural trends—but on the necessities of a local church as taught in the Scriptures.
- Voddie Baucham, Family Driven Faith, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 10-11.
Two of the most important decisions you will make this side of eternity involve who you marry and what church you join. One is certainly more permanent than the other, but both are vitally important and should not be viewed as disposable decisions. Are you planning to move out of state and will need to find another local church in your new city?
Perhaps you find yourself looking for a new church—it should be obvious that the decision should be based on more than the relevant name or the church’s online presence. As you plan this very important decision, consider asking some important questions prior to making your decision.
- Is the doctrinal statement of the church clear and precise? If the statement of faith is unclear, could this reveal an intentional ambiguity by the leadership?
- What is the main preaching philosophy of the leadership? Is it based on an expository or topical methodology?
- Does the church practice church discipline? Are there any instances of church discipline on record in the last 10 years of the church’s existence?
- Is it too easy to join and too easy to leave this local church? Is there a membership class or any other requirement to fulfill prior to becoming a member?
- How is the music ministry of the church used? Is it a tool for worship and discipleship or is the music ministry geared toward an entertainment approach?
- What is the church government structure? Is the church led by one CEO pastor or a plurality of pastors?
- Is the preaching of the church aimed at the heart and the head? Do the pastors of the church expect the members to engage the mind in worship?
- What is the temperature of the church in regard to local and international missions? How involved is the church in missions?
- How does the pastor address unbelievers in his weekly sermons? Does he seem to be too focused on the unbelievers or does he strike a good balance between feeding the sheep and proclaiming the gospel to the unbelievers?
- Does the church have a ministry to children and youth? Who leads those areas of ministry? Are the men who lead in these areas mature and godly or do they appear to be perpetual adolescents?
- Is the church led by male leadership? Is the church complementarian or egalitarian?? How is this conviction put on display in the leadership of the church?
- What mode of baptism is practiced by the church?
- Is the church a single campus or multi-campus model?
- Does the pastor give an open public invitation to respond to the sermon at the end of his sermon? How is that conducted? Is there any hint of manipulation involved?
- Does the church have a culture of disciple making?
- Does the church take up an offering as a part of the weekly worship? How is this process conducted?
- Does the church seem to be committed to laboring to love one another?
- What is the church’s position on marriage, divorce, and homosexuality?
- Does the church have a traditional Sunday school or a small group discipleship ministry that meets off campus? Why has the church gone in their chosen direction?
- Does the church have a Sunday evening service? Why or why not?
- Does the church have a church covenant? What exactly does the covenant bind the members to?
- How often does the church observe the Lord’s Supper? Is the Lord’s Supper open, closed, or close communion?
- How many prayers are offered per service? What is the specific purpose of each prayer?
- What priority does Scripture have in the worship service? Does the church practice a weekly Scripture reading? How is that organized and who reads the passages? What place is it in the service?
Before joining, it would likewise be a good idea to meet with the pastor of the church in order to gain clarity on important theological and practical points of consideration that you would not be able to know by merely visiting the church for a few weeks.
While this is not an exhaustive list, it does cover quite a number of vital points of consideration involved in joining a church. Just because a church has your denomination’s name doesn’t mean it’s a healthy church. Take time to pray, discern, and think through the membership of a specific church before committing yourself. On the other hand, don’t just hang out with a church indefinitely—commit yourself to church membership in a local church.
A popular campaign that many churches are promoting in our day is titled: “I Love My Church.” How many churches do you know who may pass out bumper stickers or T-shirts with this slogan, but in reality, they merely tolerate one another?
The culture today is swimming in a sea of tolerance. The politically correct behavior today is centered on tolerance and we’re commanded to tolerate everyone and every idea that comes our way. Interestingly enough, many Christians in the church stand directly opposed to that type of ideology and rightly so. However, many of the same Christians are unwilling to tolerate false doctrines and cultural movements, but they want to merely tolerate their fellow church members rather than engaging in the hard work of love.
One of the greatest errors of many church members today is the idea that God is perfectly happy with us merely tolerating one another and refusing to love one another in the life of the church. God’s Word clearly teaches his people to love one another in a way that involves more than tolerance and casual passivity in the hallway of the local church building.
Love Is Commanded
In multiple places in the Bible (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 4:2; 1 Thess. 3:12; 2 Thess. 1:3; Heb. 10:24; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:11-12), we see God’s children being called to engage in the hard and often messy work of love toward fellow Christians. Love is nowhere in God’s Word considered an option worthy of consideration in the church. God drives his point home with crystal clarity that he has called his people to a life and ministry of love rather than mere tolerance.
Far too many people in the local church live as if 1 John 4:7 reads as follows:
Beloved, let us tolerate one another, for tolerance is from God, and whoever tolerates has been born of God and knows God.
While most Christians would stand boldly before the person who would dare to change God’s Word and pervert the holy Scriptures, but often they live in such a manner that seems to change love into tolerance. We would never do this with a pen, but we do this with our attitudes. We would never promote such an agenda in the world of academics, but we often promote it in the world of our local churches by how we live out 1 John 4:7.
Love Requires Sacrifice
It is impossible to love others without some means of sacrifice. For instance, in Romans 12:10, the apostle Paul writes, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” When Paul insists that the Christians in Rome should outdo one another in showing honor, this type of behavior will be one of sacrifice. It may not be a financial sacrifice (although it could be), it will certainly involve some form of sacrifice such as time, resources, or talents.
To the church at Galatia, Paul said:
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
In serving one another, you sacrifice some of yourself, some of your time, some of your money, some of your energy, and you pour into the life of another person. You can’t serve someone that you don’t love. Have you ever tried to serve someone out of a fake love? Your heart wasn’t into it and perhaps the only reason you did it was in order to appear holy or to avoid showing your real dislike for another person or group. True love requires a measure of sacrifice and that is never an easy thing. Pride is natural and sacrifice is not only abnormal—but difficult in many ways.
Love Honors God
When we consider the fact that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that God demonstrated his love for fallen sinners in a sacrificial manner (Rom. 5:8; John 3:16), to engage in the labor of love and the lifestyle of love is to genuinely pursue God. As Christians, we know that we’re called to be holy—in essence we’re called to be like God. Have you ever considered the reality that we are never more like God than when we are engaging in true love for others? The opposite is likewise true. To refuse to love others is to refuse to be like God.
Tolerance may be something that the culture teaches, but if we genuinely want to be like Jesus and to pursue holiness as followers of Christ—we must go well beyond the borders of tolerance. We are called to a life of love and that’s not an easy thing.
John 13:34 — A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
One of the things that happens in the evangelical church world that mirrors the culture is that local churches often engage in the trends of the day. For instance, if community churches are in vogue, it’s a common thing to see many local churches named “________ Community Church.” If it’s multi-site church growth models, it’s common to see a church described as “one church in six locations.” In short, many church leaders want to be ever progressing to avoid the image of age and to dodge the title of “old fashioned.” Perhaps this is why Sunday school has fallen on hard times in many circles. It just sounds old and outdated so it must not be profitable—right?
Wrong. To judge the Sunday school book by its cover would be to make a grievous error. Just because one church down the road calls it “life groups” or “connection groups” and your church still refers to the Sunday morning gathering as “Sunday school” doesn’t mean that your church is behind the times. Have you considered the many reasons why you should stop skipping Sunday school?
You Need to be Taught
Far more important than your ability to network in a local church with certain friends is the ability to learn the Word of God. How serious do you take the study of the Bible? Is it merely a hobby that you engage in every so often or is it at the core of who you are as a person? Every child of God needs to be taught the Word of God, and without such teaching the individual Christian will dry up spiritually. Sunday school is a place for Christians to learn. God desires for us to know him and make him known.
The central aim of the local church is the teaching and preaching of the the doctrines of God’s Word. The central agenda of pastors is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” and this is accomplished through the right handling of God’s Word (Eph. 4:12; Col. 1:28). Are you bored with the Bible? Do you believe God to be boring? J.I. Packer, in his excellent book, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, once said, “Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.” 
Teaching and preaching overlap considerably, but the teaching atmosphere in the small group Sunday school setting is invaluable for the growth of the Christian. There is a certain dynamic that happens in that gathering that doesn’t happen in the sermon. For instance, the ability to ask question immediately and to engage in the process of iron sharpening iron is extremely helpful and something that we should regularly engage in.
You Need a Close Community
Many churches have tried to help modernize Sunday school in the eyes of a younger population by renaming it something catchy like, “Connexion Pointe” or “Cross Groups” or “Impact Groups.” While that may be a certain trend that many churches employ to appear to be relevant, let’s be honest—the name really doesn’t matter. What matters is that the group actually develops into a meaningful community. The Sunday school ministry of your local church is a place where you can know and be known by others. Real friendships that last for a lifetime are often birthed and nurtured in these groups.
Last week I wrote an article that critiqued Mark Zuckerberg’s comments about Facebook bridging the gap of failing church membership by offering a meaningful community group through Facebook. While Zuckerberg is correct that people feel more whole and fulfilled as they are connected in a meaningful community, he misses the mark by believing that Facebook is capable of solving the problem of falling church membership.
Facebook may serve as a tool for the local church to strengthen their community efforts, it will never replace real biblical churches. Why not? Because real community cannot happen through the click of a mouse or engagement in a social networking website. For real meaningful community to take place, people must spend time in the same room, hear one another speak, show interest and care for one another, share one another’s burdens, and serve with one another at some level for an important cause. The place where Christians can accomplish this type of genuine community is within small groups—even if it’s named “Sunday school.” Far too often people who become disconnected and disappear from your local church disappear from Sunday school first.
You Need to Serve
One of the latest trends among the millennial population is the need to support a company that promotes, supports, or serves in some charitable way in their local community or perhaps a third world nation. This is not a Christian thing—this is a millennial trend. The latest trends demonstrate that many younger people are interested in buying from a company if they know that that particular company is giving back a percentage of their profits to fund some humanitarian cause.
We enjoy doing for others, and as Christians, we should enjoy serving the church and the community together for the glory of Christ. The overall vision of the church can often be set by the pastors and that agenda often is heard from the pulpit. However, it’s through the Sunday school (or small group) of the local church that the vision is carried out. Often the local and foreign mission work is pushed through the local church’s Sunday school gathering by natural conversations, intentional praying, and planning means of involvement.
If you aren’t involved in a Sunday school class in your local church it’s very likely that you aren’t serving in your church or beyond the borders of your church campus beneath the banner of the gospel. Consider your need to serve and how opportunities will arise through your Sunday school group in your church. Get involved and start serving.
If you don’t like the name “Sunday school” — that’s fine, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Immerse yourself into a class and seek to know God more through the study of the Bible. If you’re resistant to making new friends and opening up, that’s understandable—but know that you need real friends who will know you (the real you that you don’t put on Facebook), and you need people to be honest with you. You don’t have to air out your dirty laundry each week in your Sunday school class, but a measure of openness and intimacy is necessary. You may already know that God has gifted you for a reason, and you need to engage in serving the Lord through your local church. What better way to do so than through a meaningful and healthy Sunday school class.
You need Sunday school and your church’s Sunday school needs you.
- J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990) 285.