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Thursday, January 3, 2013 | Comments (16)

by John MacArthur

What’s so important about your local church? At a time when there’s more Bible teaching than you could ever consume available through radio, television, and the Internet, why should it matter where and how you’re taking in God’s truth? What’s wrong with virtual, web-based congregations for the digital-age church? Why can’t your iPod be your worship leader, your tablet be your pastor, and your friends your fellowship and accountability?

The answer is simple: that’s not the way God designed it.

The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the importance of local assemblies. In fact, it was the pattern of Paul’s ministry to establish local congregations in the cities where he preached the gospel. Hebrews 10:24-25 commands every believer to be a part of such a local body and reveals why this is necessary.

And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

It is only in the local body to which one is committed that there can be the level of intimacy that is required for carefully stimulating fellow believers “to love and good deeds.” And it is only in this setting that we can encourage one another faithfully and biblically.

The New Testament also teaches that every believer is to be under the protection and nurture of the leadership of the local church. These godly men can shepherd the believer by encouraging, admonishing, and teaching. Hebrews 13:7 and 17 help us to understand that God has graciously granted accountability to us through godly leadership.

Furthermore, when Paul gave Timothy special instructions about the public meetings, he said, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Part of the emphasis in public worship includes these three things: hearing the Word, being called to obedience and action through exhortation, and teaching. It is only in the context of the local assembly that these things can most effectively take place.

Acts 2:42 shows us what the early church did when they met together: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” They learned God’s Word and the implications of it in their lives, they joined to carry out acts of love and service to one another, they commemorated the Lord’s death and resurrection through the breaking of bread, and they prayed. Of course, we can do these things individually, but God has called us into His Body—the church is the local representation of that worldwide Body—and we should gladly minister and be ministered to among God’s people.

Active involvement in your local church is imperative to living a life without compromise. It is only through the ministry of the local church that a believer can receive the kind of teaching, accountability, and encouragement that is necessary for him to stand firm in his convictions. God has ordained that the church provide the kind of environment where an uncompromising life can thrive and His people can grow spiritually.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the fundamental institutions and functions of the church, and how they have a direct impact in your spiritual growth and your usefulness to the Lord. We’ll also look at God’s design for the church, and how that design is part of the foundation for your spiritual life.

We frequently hear from conscientious, faithful believers struggling to find solid, Bible-teaching churches in their areas. My hope is this series will help you know what to look for in a local church, and how you can be most useful within your congregation.


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#1  Posted by Lauri Livingston  |  Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 1:52 AM

Thank you for starting this series. I've been pulled between two churches not being sure which one God would have me attend and belong to. One is looking for a new pastor and as the search is going on has three under pastors which have taken up the reins. All teach the bible as truth. This church is over 25 miles from my house. The congregation makes you feel as if you belong and my sister and her family go here.

The other church is very close to my house and the pastor here also teaches the bible as truth, but there is always the undercurrent of strife or disinterest among the congregation. They make you feel welcome but there is still the feeling of not being a part of them. I see the pastor struggle each week to try and reach his congregation.

There are times I feel I should come here to help support the pastor in his struggle but than I don't feel that all my needs are being met.

But than, it's not supposed to be about MY needs.

Of course gas prices are a factor as well.

I pray this new series will help answer the question of which church to attend.

#2  Posted by Lois Begly  |  Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 6:07 AM

Even in a good church-Bible believing, teaching,-the accountability factor is not there. It's difficult for people to 'get involved' in the personal lives of others without feeling like you're interferring and not minding your own business. In that sense, you can lead a double life easily. People live in different neighborhoods, towns. It's hard to know what a person is like when they're not in church. But the folks that want to be accountable have a hard time finding it for the same reason. No one wants to 'stick their neck out' and confront the sin or problem in another person's life. Our church is a good church, but the elders are more or less deacons, and we never hear sermons about how to hold one another accountable. We have a course called 'self-confrontation' and if you take the course there is some opportunity to have input from the teachers while taking the course, but that's as far as it goes, as far as I know.

#3  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 12:54 PM

This is a topic I've been waiting for! I have my church's membership application on my desk but can't seem to pull the trigger. Hopefully Dr. MacArthur will enlighten some of the gray areas that are hindering my decision. Does anyone have a biblical description of the word hospitality when applied to the requirments of a pastor?

#4  Posted by Karen Koeberlein  |  Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 2:31 PM

I am in the same situation as Lauri mentions regarding two different churches. I am married but attend alone and thought if I could be close to the church I would grow more in every area and in service to The Lord as well. It certainly has been a growing and refining experience. There is one thing that seems to be happening in the new church and I met with the pastor and he called it re-purposing. This was my concern regarding the stretch of faith classes offered in the church. It is a yoga discipline that I want no part of but now I feel as if I am judging my brothers and sisters. I have to say they have shown me love and peace. However they aren't interested in any of my gifts to host a women's ministry event or bible study. Please pray if the Holy Spirit has really lead me there. They also have a drive thru prayer event I participate in monthly. We see approx 20 cars and work in teams and have regulars who come every month. We are working along with the doctrine that we may come in self centered but evidence of Christ centered should manifest. I want to be faithful to Christ and honor Him in all service. I will be looking forward to more posts and please discuss with us how to squelch the worldliness in truth. God bless you!

#5  Posted by Jerry Slade  |  Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 3:23 PM

Interesting that I didn't think belonging to a local church was vital until I started listing to GTY and reading the Word on a daily basis. Now the fellowship I get is critical as is the hearing of the word.

#6  Posted by Wayne Lemcke  |  Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 7:59 PM

Having been saved for 38 years, ordained to the gospel ministry and being active in ministry for 28 years, serving as jail/prison chaplain, assistant pastor positions, various other ministry positions, 2 years ago I again left another ministry position in a church due to gross unrepentant ongoing immorality within yet another ministry/leadership team and had not attended church anywhere since. After seeking the face of God these two years, a very wise missionary associate advised me I needed to "think outside the box" and abandon established "religion." Mind you, these were not mainline denominational churches, but supposed conservative evangelical churches I had been involved with. I could not find a decent church in which to worship for 75 miles of my home. This past summer the Lord moved me from my home of 35 years and into an area for which I have had a soul-winning burden for 25 years. Following the Lord's bidding and direction, a "home-church" was established in my very large residence(another gift from God) and on New Year's Day 14 people met for a meal, fellowship, prayer, praise, worship and teaching from the Word. The group stayed for FOUR hours and did not disperse until solidifying plans to begin meeting on either a weekly or biweekly schedule. I haven't seen such excitement in years among believers. There was open participation and sharing from all, following exactly the model of the REAL New Testament Church. There will not be much formal organization, but we WILL be organizing exactly according to the principles espoused by Paul in several of his NT epistles regarding how the church should operate. I have been mentored by Pastor MacArthur's teaching ever since I was saved, have read and studied every book and commentary he has written and can highly recommend his lifelong ministry to anyone without question. Years ago I can remember Pastor John saying "If you cannot find a good Bible-teaching church anywhere near you, get together with other serious like-minded believers and START one."

Thank you, Pastor John, for your deep committment to conveying the TRUTH of the Word of God. I have finally taken your advice and done just that. To God be the Glory!!

#7  Posted by Laureen Wilson  |  Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 8:04 PM

My husband and I have not been to a local church in two and a half years. We live on a small island with very few options. Hopefully this series will enlighten us and help us to make the right choice.

#8  Posted by Leonard Garden  |  Friday, January 4, 2013 at 11:31 AM

Pastor John, thanks for this post. Grace Churchs is an inspiration for what I believe our church should be in teaching, but is not there yet. We are a young assembly with young pastors and I guess we could do worse. but your clear statement of the purpose of the local church provides me courage to stay the course in hopes that we might be more learned and accountable to each other--not easy. Thanks for being so prolific on so many topics pertinent to Christian life.

#9  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Friday, January 4, 2013 at 4:14 PM

This series is an answer to prayer. Thank you John and thank you GTY staff for the wisdom you possess in your sensitivity to the needs of so many saints. Your loving, tender, earnest dedication to minister to us for the glory of God is almost inexpressible. Hallelujah!

#10  Posted by Brian Strupith  |  Friday, January 4, 2013 at 5:11 PM

I love my Church. I love my Pastor. We travel a few extra miles to get to Church but it is so worth it. My wife and I are very thankful to have found this Church.

#11  Posted by James Brown  |  Friday, January 4, 2013 at 11:02 PM

Hello Brothers & Sisters in Christ, Fellowship is very big part in trying to connect with God through his son. On my own the relationship is stunted. But by sharing in Christ with you folk is how I grow in understanding which brings me into a more intimate knowing of the Lord. Thank you I'm looking forward to this new year. "Happy New Year" to all!

#12  Posted by Daniel Wilson  |  Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 3:13 PM

My pastor gives me a copy of his sermons so I can follow along during church.. Helpful.. :)

#13  Posted by James Brown  |  Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 10:24 PM

Thank you, I will check them out.

#14  Posted by Kathy Falavolito  |  Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 4:52 PM

My husband and I would feel blessed to find a local church to attend that has good Bible-centered preaching and a Godly loving Pastor and does not have a rock concert every Sunday morning. We live in a large city and each church we have attended over the years has fallen down into the pragmatism of filling the new stadium seating with more and more people and programs and CCM and less of God's word.

#15  Posted by Jean Selden  |  Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 2:13 PM

I am with Keith. The signature on a membership application no more qualifies me to be a leader than if I don't. As an attendant of that church and supporter of that church I should be made aware of the covenants and doctrines, but I can't find in scripture where anyone was qualified to lead based on being a "signed-on member." A persons life, conduct and character should reveal in time whether they are capable of leadership.

We were actively involved in leadership for many years and saw more members in leadership positions that were not men of integrity. The leadership had a pecking order and they just shifted seats each election with no thought to their personal life, integrity, or maturity.

I will have to agree to disagree on this matter of church attendance. We left the local church after exhausting our attempts in finding a church with honest to goodness solid leadership.

It disturbs me when I hear people harp on "not being perfect" or not finding a perfect church. I believe that statement has caused more backsliding and misuse of grace in this generation. If we were purchased and bought by the Body and Blood of a perfect God, Jesus Christ, we should be living our lives as saints being perfected not sinners always slopping around in our sin.

I would like to personally thank GTY and John MacArthur for this website. We have home church on Sundays and Bible Studies weekly using his materials and after having been in a local church for 15 years, we have finally found sound challenging teaching that has cleared our scriptural foggy minds and has set us free. We are more active in marketplace ministry than ever before. Our fellowship is regular and we are moving forward. Bless the Lord.

#16  Posted by Abel Yu  |  Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 8:06 PM

I was baptized on last December 9th in a big church in Dalian, China. That church is so big that people come and go in flocks. People could hardly be allowed to stay there for an extra while.

It is not hard to imagine that no personal care, inter-personal communications would ever be possible.

Luckily I have found a new church nearby my home, though it takes me 40 minutes hiking alongside the seashore.