One of my favorite stories in the Bible is that of Esther. Hearing the clarion call of God, Esther responds to the cry for deliverance from God’s people and risks her own comfort and security to save a nation. She discovered that she was indeed placed in the palace for “such a time as this.”
But did you ever consider that Esther’s heroism and destiny were fulfilled as she remained connected to her family and community?
Esther heeded the words of her cousin Mordecai, who raised this orphan girl as his own daughter. Her “submission” to this father-daughter relationship protected and empowered her. Further, she relied on the prayers of the Jewish people, her community, before she approached the king—risking death. The king spares her life and grants Esther favor. He then issues another decree empowering the Jews to defend themselves against those plotting to destroy them with genocide. When the attack came, brave Jewish men fought against their attackers and destroyed them—the Jewish people were saved through community interdependence.
We remember Esther, she is prominent in this story—but we need to understand that Esther became “Esther” because of her dependence and connection to family and community.
Each of us was uniquely created by God with gifts, purpose, and calling. You are the only you, and you are here for “such a time as this!” Pursue God, your passions, and your dreams!
But understand that your giftings are developed and your destiny realized through family and connection to God’s people—specifically through the local church. When we embrace this truth and cooperate with God’s delegated leaders and the community we are placed in, we thrive and come alive! Our passions and purpose grow, we mature, and dreams are fulfilled.
Today, I want to talk to you about the importance of your connection to a local church and how you can thrive in God’s family.
A casual reading of the gospels reveals that the whole of the preaching of Jesus, and apostles, was concerned with the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven). All that they taught was in the context of the Kingdom of God. In fact, in Matthew’s gospel, the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven is mentioned roughly 52 times!
The local church isn’t the fullness of God’s kingdom, but it is a representation. The Church is the very body of Christ, empowered by his Spirit to be glorious (See Ephesians).
Jesus only mentions “church” twice in all the gospels. Except for these two cases, he always talked about the Kingdom of God. The first occurrence is Matt. 16:18, “… you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail...” The second occurrence is in Matt. 18:17 about a sinning brother, “go tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church…”
In both cases the Greek for church is ecclesia; a word originally used in Greco-Roman culture to describe “called out ones from society to govern on the senate.” Later the word was used in context with the religious community, such as a Jewish synagogue or Christian community. In a similar context as the “senate,” ecclesia referred to “a calling out to Christian community.”
We could say then that a local church is a group of people, who are called out ones, that make up a Christian community of believers.
The church isn’t an afterthought with God, it was never his plan “B.” Rather, the Church, comprised of “called out” ones, living stones, are the representation of God’s nature, authority and family here on earth. God’s kingdom rule, heaven on earth, is accomplished through his “called out ones” who are in local family or community relationships with each other.
We are created for family and for community—we need each other!
Even in the perfect, sinless environment of Eden, God said in Gen. 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.” While many believers seek lives of solitude to draw close to God, this was never God’s ultimate desire for his people. Following Christ means more than just believing, it means belonging to God’s family—and staying connected.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “You are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.” (Eph. 2:19b (TLB)
Our relationship to Jesus is personal and unique, but God never intended it to be private and isolated. Religion wants to make your faith private, solitary, and quiet.
16thcentury reformer John Calvin made this dramatic statement,“If God is your Father, then the Church is your Mother!” He meant that while each person is “justified by their faith in Christ,” the completeness of one’s new life in Christ is realized through the Church—who like a mother, helps to “nurture” and mature you.
You see, it’s not just you and Jesus—its you, Jesus and his body, the Church!
“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” Rom. 12:4-5 (NLT) We are connected to every other believer and will be for eternity!
For the organs of your body to fulfill their purpose, they must be connected to your body. The same is true for you and me as part of Christ’s body. You were created for a specific role, but you will miss this 2nd purpose of your life if you’re not attached to a thriving local church. Your destiny unfolds through relationships cultivated in the local church.
If a limb or organ is severed from the body, it will die; it can’t exist on its own and neither can you or I. If you become disconnected from the local body, your spiritual vitality is greatly impacted. When you are connected in healthy local church relationships, you grow and thrive. One of the signs of spiritual decline in a person’s life is lack of involvement with local church body life: worship services, small group meetings, serving etc.
The church is a body, not a building; an organism, not an organization. Biblical membership then is to identify with a local church, commit to its vision and body life, use your gifts and talents to serve, fellowship with others, and then reach out to the world with His love and power.
Can you be a connected organ of a local church body by not being involved? Of course not! What about just watching Christian TV or internet video? Impossible: there is no relationship or accountability.
That said, there are those who are ill who can’t attend or be involved in a local church. That’s understandable. But I’m specifically referring to those who simply choose not to be involved with a local church.
The NT assumes participation with other believers in a local congregation. Unfortunately, in today’s American culture, individualism has created many spiritual orphans and disconnected believers without identity, accountability, or commitment.
The difference between being a church attendee and a church member is commitment. Attendees are spectators from the sidelines; members get involved in the ministry. Attendees are consumers; members are contributors.
Polls show that in most American churches, only 20% of the people faithfully attend and serve the local church, while the other 80% often only attend a Sunday service maybe once a month. This was never what Jesus meant when he said, “Come follow me!”
Attendees want the benefits of a church without sharing the responsibility. They want relationship without commitment. How can one be part of a family without participation? Healthy families work together, cleaning the house, doing the dishes etc. It takes “effort” to be connected to a family in a healthy way!
Why You Need a Local Church Family to Thrive, 6 Key Areas 
#1 A church family helps to identify you as a genuine believer.
Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35 NLT)
When we come together in a local church family from diverse backgrounds, races and social status, it is a powerful witness to the world. Together, not separated, we are his body. This takes commitment to unity and fervent love for each other, despite our differences.
#2 A church family moves you out of self-centered isolation.
The local church is like a classroom where we all learn how to get along in God’s family. We learn how to care about each other unselfishly.
Paul wrote, “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it. Or if one part of our body is honored, all the other parts share its honor.” (1 Cor. 12:26 NLT)
It takes regular interaction with other believers to learn how to be real with others, not just religious! Involvement in a local church helps you learn how to be part of a family, to be team-oriented instead of “me-oriented.” Discipleship, as described in the NT, involves being connected and dependent upon each other.
#3 A church family helps you grow spiritually.
You will never grow to full maturity just by occasionally attending worship services as a passive spectator. You need to be involved in Christian community for real spiritual growth. Real Christian maturity manifests in relationships.
Polls show that 83% of Americans say they are Christian, but in many of our cities less than 10% of the population attend local church worship services—to say there is a “disconnect” is an understatement!
To the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Eph. 4:16 NLT)
Over 50 times in the NT the phrase “one another” or “each other” is used. We are commanded to love each other, pray for each other, encourage each other, admonish each other, greet each other, serve each other, teach each other, accept each other, submit to each other, honor each other and forgive each other.
It may seem easier to be “holy” when no one else is around—no one else to frustrate our preferences—but this is not Biblical! We develop in relationships with others—our destiny begins to unfold through family first!
An African Proverb states the value of community, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
#4 A local church family helps you stay spiritually strong.
None of us are immune to temptation—we can fall into sin. When we are accountable to others relationally, they can help keep us on track.
The writer of Hebrews admonishes us to, “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Heb. 3:13 NIV)
You are your brother’s keeper! “Mind your own business” is not a Christian phrase!
If you know someone is wandering spiritually, it is your responsibility to reach out to them in love—free of judgment and condemnation—and attempt to restore them to fellowship.
James stated it this way, “If you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back.” (James 5:19 MSG)
God gives shepherd leaders the responsibility to guard, protect, defend and care for the spiritual welfare of his flock. These ministry leaders are given to help develop and care for you as you mature in Christ (see Eph. 4:11-13). Pastors and leaders over congregations are put in place by God to help you—not frustrate you! Learn to walk with them, defer to them, and obey them in the Lord—you will thrive (see Heb. 13:17).
Yes, there are unhealthy leaders and churches. However, Jesus said, “by their fruits you shall know them.” Therefore, ask God to lead you to a healthy church with healthy leaders and become a part of a thriving church family.
#5 The church body needs you to operate in your gifts and calling.
You have a unique role to play in God’s family. God gives us assignments and ministries. He gives us abilities, talents, and gifts by the Holy Spirit. You thrive and come alive as you learn to operate in the spiritual, motivational, and ministry gifts that God has given you.
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” (1 Cor. 12:7 NKJV)
It’s in the local church that we discover, develop and use what God has given to us. You may have a wider ministry, but that is in addition to your service in a local church body. Jesus has promised to build his church, not your ministry!
#6 From the local church, we share in Christ’s mission to the world.
The church is God’s instrument, the very body of Christ on earth. We are not just to love each other; we are to carry his love together to the world. We are his hands, his feet, his eyes and heart to the world.
We disciple the nations as we work together as family. (see Matt. 28:18-20) We thrive as we stay connected and committed in the local church.
Jesus said, “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matt. 16:18 NLT)The Kingdom of God manifested through the Church is God’s agenda for the world.
His promise to you and I is that the very forces of darkness will not prevail against us! That’s comforting! The church, like his kingdom, is indestructible and will last for eternity. It’s an expanding kingdom, a triumphant Church because Jesus is the head of his glorious body!
Embrace the local church, be an active participant, and discover what it means to really thrive in God!
Just like we need God, we need each other in the church. We thrive and come “alive” when we are active and involved in the local church. That’s why we are called a body, we are members one to another. When one portion of the body suffers, we all should feel that pain. When one member of the body has a breakthrough, we should all rejoice together. It’s God’s plan.
As Christians, we need to be part of local church congregations. While we are part of the universal church, it’s important to be connected, accountable and in healthy relationship to a local church and leadership.
The enemy loves to try and divide and conquer, whether a natural family or church family. If there is division or independence, the family unit will suffer and miss the fullness of its potential.
The times we are living in are challenging, it’s not a time to have half-hearted relationships or connection with your local church family.
Grow in your relationship with the Lord and with your local church family. Attend regularly, give faithfully, find a place to serve, reach out to others, get involved in small groups and lastly carry his love and grace to those outside of the church—let them have a reason to come into God’s family!
Adapted from Pastor Rick Warren’s book Purpose Driven Life