Jun 24

How to really love your church

As youth leaders, it is so important that we love the church that we belong to. We need to be helping the young people we lead to be finding their place in the wider fellowship of believers and to enable them to thrive amongst their peers in their church. Sadly, for far too many youth leaders, this is not a given.

love your churchI can remember being at a conference for youth workers many years ago now and being overwhelmed by the amount of conversations I had with other leaders who were disenchanted with their churches. It seemed especially true for those who were employed by a church. Inevitably, they joined the fellowship because of the job and hadn’t taken sufficient time to decide whether this was a place where they could worship as well as work.

We need to do all we can to love the church we belong to. Churches are never going to be perfect as they are made up of imperfect people like you and me. We need to stop expecting perfection but we should not give up striving to be better. As youth leaders we play a significant role in growing the church as we see young people coming to faith and growing in relationship with God and his people. If we don’t love our church, we could put the young people we lead off going to church for life.

If you struggle with your church, here are 5 things you should consider doing:

1. Commit to pray

Oh how I wish we would all pray more! I’ve been challenged recently about how selfish my prayers can be. It seems easy to pray for those closest to me and for the activities I am involved in, but how God must delight when we are less selfish and asking for his blessing on people and activities we are not connected with.

If we struggle to love our church, we need to pray that God will give us a change of heart, that he will help us to discern what negative attitudes we have and to transform them into godly attitudes.

2. Build relationships

Have you noticed that when you do not love someone, you tend to not spend much time with them? What would happen if we did the reverse and spent more time not less with people? If you struggle with your church, get closer to people. Avoid the inclination to separate off. Invite people round for lunch, have coffee, make sure you are part of a small group if there is one, attend prayer meetings and other irregular church events. By getting in closer we will find that church is less about a function but is a living community. This is much harder than we can imagine. When we struggle with our church, everything inside will say to distance yourself rather than to step towards. I believe we must take that step closer.

3. Speak up

By being in good relationship, we can have the opportunity to speak up about those areas we struggle with. If the services are dull, offer alternative suggestions. If the worship is dated, encourage the worship leaders to choose new songs (maybe by buying them a new worship CD).

Please don’t just complain. It is so easy. I can remember visiting a church once where, to be fair, the service was seemingly stuck in the 1970s and was ‘nice’ but lacking in dynamism. As we queued to leave, I noticed each person before me shaking the church leader’s hand and offering a complaint, whether it be about the service itself or some aspect of the church life. Complaint after complaint came flowing out and filling this leader up. My heart went out to him. How awful! He had just given out and led the people in worship and his replenishment was criticism. It is so easy to be critical. It is much harder to be constructive and to offer alternative suggestions. My personal rule for myself is to never offer criticism unless I can suggest an alternative way forward. That way it shows I want to share the issue and to resolve it together. This also helps me from getting carried away with a critical spirit and expecting others to solve it for me (a resonant of a consumerist heart I suspect).

4. Encourage the church leader

Leading God’s people is a difficult calling and we need to do all we can to build up our leaders. If they are on fire for God, filled with the Spirit and open to new opportunities, the church is more likely to grow as God leads. Look for every opportunity to encourage them. Ask them about their family, when they are getting time away, how you can pray for them each week and if there’s anything you can help with.

Look for opportunities to buy them a gift, and not a ’10 ways to lead your church better’ kind of gift! Gifts show you care, that you thought of them and that you want to delight in them.

If you are struggling to love your church, start by loving the leader. Do all you can to encourage them and to enable them to flourish.

5. Leave

It happened to me in the church I grew up in. I started a youth group there when I was 18 years old. By the time I was 20 there was a good number in the group. However I just could not connect with the style of worship nor the lack of biblical teaching. I discovered that it was fine to teach the young people in their youth group but as soon as we crossed over into church it was a whole different ball game. I agonised for ages but knew that I had to leave. If I couldn’t fully support the leadership and the church was not being what I thought church should be like (i.e. aspiring to be like the early church in Acts 2) then I would have to leave. It was a painful decision and one that took a long time to reach but it turned out to be the right choice.

Sometimes leaving is the best option. I wonder how much energy is wasted by youth leaders not putting themselves in churches where they will thrive. Life is too short to remain frustrated or worse, and who knows what we are modelling to the young people who no doubt see our frustrations.

Leaving is the last resort. My hope is that all churches that proclaim Jesus as their Lord and Saviour might be so revived that we would never need to leave.

If your heart is poor for your church, would you commit to trying some of these steps over the course of three months? I think you would definitely start to see a difference as you start to see God’s church from his perspective.