On Saturday, April 26, I went to Prairie View Christian Church the same way I had the previous six weeks. I got there around 3:45 PM, checked the mail, turned on the lights and sound equipment, updated the signs on the doors explaining why our services the next day would be cancelled, and prepared to preach the sermon I had written to an empty sanctuary.
But when I turned around and looked out from the stage, I saw that the sanctuary wasn’t empty (at least not in spirit). There were pages taped to the chairs where congregants usually sit. Each page had a message on it, and I could picture peoples’ faces as I read their words. As I said in this past Sunday’s closing prayer, it was an incredibly moving experience; one that I won’t soon forget.
I’ll admit that there was one particular note that stood out from the rest; it’s the one that opened the floodgates for some tears (the person who wrote it knows who they are). That note simply said this:
“I love God and you.”
Please hear me out: that note didn’t mean so much to me because I imagine that person loving God and loving me on the same level or to the same degree (I’m quite confident that person loves God FAR more than they love me – as they should!) I found that note so moving because I’m not entirely sure a pastor can ask for anything more from a church.
I’ve worked in some capacity in a church for the past twelve years. I’ve worked in a church plant that lived paycheck to paycheck, an established church in a semi-rural community, and now a small church in a bustling suburb. I’ve been in part-time positions, and I’ve been in full-time positions. I’ve worked primarily with children and students, and now focus most of my attention on adults. I’ve been in positions where I only preached a handful of times per year, and now preach most Sundays.
I haven’t been at this long enough to call myself a “seasoned veteran”, or even an “experienced” pastor (though I pray that one day, by God’s grace, and with a few more decades under my belt, I can fit those descriptions). However, I’m not totally new to vocational ministry. I’m not yet a wise old sage when it comes to working in a church – but I’m not a rookie either.
And after these twelve years of spending most of my time in a church (and hearing and seeing both the good and bad stories of other pastors and Christians in other churches), I’m convinced that at its core, being part of a church that loves God and loves you is one of the greatest blessings you will ever experience. A church that does both of those things is a good church.
Of course, no church is perfect (including ours). Every church has blind spots, baggage, minor weaknesses, and even some (though hopefully not many) major flaws.
But how does a church go about loving God?
The Apostle Paul has PLENTY to say about how a church loves God. He stresses the importance of appointing godly, competent, and respectable leaders in passages like 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. In 1 Corinthians, Paul prioritizes the centrality of preaching Jesus and his crucifixion, receiving wisdom from the Holy Spirit, pursuing unity, wisely deploying church discipline for wayward members, living holy lives, avoiding idolatry, practicing the Lord’s Supper rightly, using the gifts of the Holy Spirit appropriately, and displaying orderly worship. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul eviscerates those who seek to do the church harm by teaching anything other than the one true Gospel. In Romans, Paul lays out this Gospel in extensive detail – and then proceeds to guide the church in how to handle matters of disagreement among brothers and sisters in Christ.
Other New Testament writers stress many of the same things, or add unique contributions of their own to the list. These are just a few ways a good church shows its love for God.
But what else besides loving God makes for a good church? Well…loving you.
A church that loves you will preach Christ to you. A church that loves you will disciple you. A church that loves you is one whose leaders take their shepherding responsibilities seriously (sometimes that looks like encouragement, other times it looks like comfort, and still others, it looks like rebuke). A church that loves you will serve you faithfully in good times and bad, and challenge you to serve others in good times and in bad. A church that loves you will seek to protect you from false teaching, and other forms of spiritual harm. A church that loves you will wisely steward the money you give. A church that loves you will be generous to you, patient with you, and stable for you.
A good church isn’t just one that loves God; a good church is one that loves you. And really, how can a church love God and NOT love its people? A church that did one without doing the other would not be a church worth calling home.
Prairie View is not a perfect church. We’ve made our fair share of mistakes, lack the resources of many larger churches, and will never be confused with the coolest church in town. There is no shortage of ways we can mature, improve, and grow.
But in my experience, Prairie View is a good church. I say this not because I think we’ve got it all figured out, but because I’ve witnessed how much its people love God, and I have been blessed by how much its people love me. This church might not have everything I’ve ever wanted (I’m still waiting for a steeple on the roof and benches by the front door), but it has everything I need. This church loves God, and loves me. You need the same thing.
If you’re a part of Prairie View, I pray you’ve had that same experience in the past, are experiencing it now even during our time apart, and continue to experience it in the future. If you’re not a part of Prairie View, I’d welcome you to come and give us a shot, or find another good church out there that loves God and loves its people.
A church that does both of those things well (even if not always perfectly) is a good church. And a good church is an incredible (and necessary) gift from God.