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Worshipping Where You Live

By Kyle Pope

Let me start by stating clearly that I believe when Christians live in areas with a number of sound congregations, they certainly have the right to choose where they will identify themselves. Each of us must consider how we can serve the Lord and edify our brethren and families most effectively. Whether it is with the congregation just down the street or on the other side of town, the choice is ours to make. With that said, let us consider some factors involved in such decisions in order to weigh when we are truly serving the Lord, our brethren and our families most effectively.

     When a Christian decides to “drive past” one congregation to worship with another, it may be for a number of reasons:

1. “There are more young people there.” Of all the reasons that people choose to identify with one sound congregation over another, this is probably the most common. We all should be concerned about who our children spend time with and the kind of influence upon them. At the same time, we must never over simplify this to think that if we just “throw them” into a larger group of children from Christian families it is always best. There are larger groups of faithful young people and larger groups of apathetic young people. The Law taught—“You shall not follow a crowd to do evil” (Exodus 23:2a NKJV). Some larger congregations can be plagued by cliques among the older and younger people alike. Sometimes smaller groups of young people demand that those who are present become more active, set better examples and take on more responsibilities. Such greater expectations may benefit our young people in ways that just being around larger groups of young people could not.

2. “They are bigger (or smaller).” The Lord’s declaration about the broad and narrow gates (Matthew 7:13-14), make it clear that numbers never indicate soundness. Even so, we may often think of things in very carnal ways. We may think to ourselves that our friends will not be impressed by the small congregation down the street, with that small building. Or, we may misjudge from the other angle, and say that since a congregation has flourished and built a larger building, they are worldly. We must ask ourselves, will it be easier to spread the gospel to our neighbors by trying to persuade them to drive across town? Sadly, the fact is that if brethren would choose to worship where they live those small congregations might not be so small and might have more young people. Is it possible that a sense of material pride, that says, “bigger is better” has led us to forsake churches who could flourish if we were only present? Is it possible that the real service to God might be in driving past that larger congregation in order to offer the gifts the Lord has given us to a smaller, struggling work?

3. “They are more alive!” In the short letters to the seven churches of Asia, Jesus speaks of congregations as “alive” and “dead” (Revelation 3:1). Jesus’ use of these figures of speech clearly concerned their spiritual condition (cf. Ephesians 2:1-6). I fear that often we use these figures of speech to refer to external (or even superficial) matters that do not concern spiritual things. We may allow the type of songs that are sung or some novel approach to the order of worship make us say - “they are so alive!” If a group is more reserved in their display of emotion, or they don’t have an organized program to great visitors, we may say - “they are dead!” Shouldn’t we be uncomfortable allowing things, about which the Lord said nothing in Scripture, to lead us to make judgments about who is “alive” and “dead” spiritually?

4. “Friends (or family members) worship there.” There is nothing wrong with wanting to work and worship with family and friends we have known from other times and places. At the same time, our relationship with one another in Christ is such that, we have potential friends (III John 14) and spiritual family members (Ephesians 3:15) in congregations throughout the world only waiting to get to know us. Where I preach we learned the beauty of this a few years ago. A military family, who had moved often (as military families do), moved into the area. Just a little further away from us was another congregation where some of their family worshiped. Perhaps their military experience of working in areas where the church was sparse had made them see the value of appreciating, serving and edifying the brethren where you live. They still often spent time with their family, but thanks be to God that this wonderful family saw the role they could fill in the Lord’s kingdom by worshiping where they lived.  

Pope, Kyle. "Worshipping Where You Live" Biblical Insights 4.12 (December 2004): 13.  

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