One of the defining characteristics of our age is the vast opportunities for personalization. You can go to Burger King and “Have it Your Way.” Spotify will curate music just for you. Netflix will do the same with movies and shows, Amazon with books (or anything “from A to Z”).
And not only are there opportunities for personalization, personalizing our lives has become a core value, a matter of defining one’s identity: “I am the type of person that eats at (insert restaurant), follows (insert influencer), and watches (insert latest show).”
And this situation has not left the church unaffected. We can “have it our way” when it comes to our teachers, our churches and our ministries, when it comes to when and how we engage other believers (online, in person, rarely). We can curate our own list of personal pastors, leaders, and influential figures: “These are the people that I listen to, that I agree with, that encourage me; these are the churches/ministries that I follow.”
Now, there are many things to say about this situation. But in light of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 (which we covered this past Sunday), one clear concern arises. First, the relevant verses:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.1 Corinthians 3:5-7
How does this apply to our current moment? When we are more dedicated to, and more willing to be led and fed by pastors and influences “out there”–that we have carefully curated for ourselves–than we are to a local church and its leaders, we are, like the Corinthians, trusting in the skill, charisma, and wisdom of an individual, or the impressiveness of a church or ministry, rather than in the power of God to work through his word. And we are at risk of giving glory to man that belongs to God alone.
It is probably the case that your local churches don’t have the resources and talent, the range of ministries, or the marketing appeal of churches you find online. It is probably the case that your local pastors don’t have the communication skills, backed by helpful technology, that you can find online.
But none of that is ultimately what matters about a church! None of that is what makes God’s word affective and alive and powerful!
If a local church is preaching and seeking to live out God’s word, making much of “Christ and him crucified” for sin, then it is probably worth committing to. Yes, there are other matters of doctrine, church leadership, and church health worth considering, but much of the time, these are not the items at the top of our priority lists. Rather, it’s, “How does this church match up to my curated list of churches and preachers I like?”
To state the issue baldly: church, faith, following God is not about your personal preferences and likes. It’s not simply another way to establish and communicate your identity. It’s not even about finding the teachers you most connect with, or who most encourage you, and following them.
The values that we are being taught everywhere in our society—that every part of our lives should be carefully curated by no one but ourselves, to match the preferences and priorities of no one but ourselves—actually undermine our confidence in God to work through his word, as was the case with the Corinthians.
Only “God gives the growth,” through his word clearly explained and lived out in community. If there is any real spiritual growth, real heart and life change happening as a result of a church or ministry or individual, it is not due to the greatness or skill or impressiveness or persuasiveness of any individual, but to God working through his word and Spirit.
So, make much of God by committing to a local, unimpressive church that doesn’t tick all the boxes for you, but which is faithful in communicating and living out God’s word.