By Robin John
I don’t remember my first visit to a church service. I am sure it was sometime in the late spring of 1957. I was a newborn and since that first visit I have attended in the vicinity of ten thousand services. Sometimes the service was held in a living room with a handful of people. Every so often it was at a conference jammed with thousands of worshipers. But most often it was in one of the three congregations that for significant portions of my life have functioned as my home church.
I grew up attending the Pentecostal church in my hometown in New Brunswick. Those years shaped me in ways that continue to surprise me. The next significant congregation was the church I helped plant in Victoria, British Columbia. For thirteen years this congregation; well, it took a couple of years to assemble a congregation, lived out the remarkable story of redemption again and again. I had a front row seat that enabled me to marvel at how God transformed sinners into saints.
In 1994 I became the academic dean at Gateway College of Evangelism, which not only required a change in location, it also transformed my role at church. As a result of this move, the last sixteen years my family and I have worshiped as part of the congregation now known as The Sanctuary in Hazelwood, Missouri. While I have filled in when needed as a member of the pastoral staff, my primary role at The Sanctuary is that of a member. And I love my church. To quote the English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Let me count the ways.”
I love my church because it helps me deepen my spiritual life. The heartfelt worship, the great preaching, and the helpful teaching help me keep my spiritual orientation straight. The world is full of competing voices and enticing new ideas that if encountered without the community of the church might lead me astray. With apologies for mixed metaphors, the certain sound of the church helps my spiritual anchor to hold.
I love my church because it models for me a redemptive community. The Sanctuary is not perfect. In fact, if you look closely at all, its flaws and weaknesses are clearly evident. However, it is the way as a whole that the church works in spite of its flaws and weaknesses that reveals the power of Christ’s redemption. Does it always happen? No. After all, The Sanctuary is made up of fallen image bearers. Sometimes members, including me, are petty and small-minded. But overall I have witnessed a forgiving community that cares for those whose lives have been negatively impacted by sin.
I love my church because increasingly it reflects the diversity of my wider community. With each passing year, the congregation looks more like the neighborhood in which it is located. And while this is in some way a reflection of the church leadership, it is more a natural outgrowth of spiritual maturity. It is more organic than programmatic. Diversity happens not because it is noticed and promoted; it happens because people, regardless of ethnic or racial backgrounds, need the Lord. I think it looks a little bit like Heaven.
I love my church because it honors godly elders. The Sanctuary was founded a half a century ago by a small handful of members, some of whom still attend the church today. For decades these wonderful saints faithfully carried the lion’s share of the work associated with a vibrant church. They have been there when the move of God was rich and deep, and they have been there in the dry seasons that visit every church. The passing years have robbed them of energy and ability but the church regularly recognizes their sacrifice. Godly elders preach eloquent sermons, without words, on how to live out our salvation. They stand as witnesses that God is indeed faithful.
I love my church because it invests in children. Children’s ministry costs, both in time and in money. In business-speak, the ROI (return on investment) will probably take much longer than a good business consultant would advise. That is if ROI is counted only in finances. The Sanctuary knows that God calculates ROI differently. He passionately expressed His displeasure to the disciples when they attempted to exclude children from “valuable” time with Him. The Sanctuary has layers of children’s programs run by volunteers who understand how important children are to the Master. As Ann Ortland said many years ago, “Children are wet cement,” and the church’s passion to shape and care for that often messy cement even speaks well of the church.
I love my church because it knows how to give and frequently does so when money could be more “wisely” spent closer to home. The leadership of the church firmly believes it is more blessed to give than receive. Giving helps the church fulfill its mission to reach the whole world with the whole gospel. The Sanctuary understands that giving is not just funding programs, rather it is a primary way to reach the world.
The writer of Hebrews admonished his readers not to forsake their assembling together. And I know from years of pastoral ministry that every so often people need to be prodded a bit to remain faithful to church. But on the whole I can honestly echo the words of the psalmist who said, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord.” I love my church.
This article “Why I Love My Church” by Robin John was excerpted from: Pentecostal Herald magazine. November 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.