JOHN PEARRELL: Don’t distance yourself from fellow believers

Rev. John Pearrell

For the last few weeks we have been looking at the importance of the church as a gathered body of believers. Many today are discounting the church for various reasons. Those who have made that decision all feel justified in making it. They believe they have good and legitimate reasons for making the choice to walk away from the church.

For some, it was a bad church experience. We started this series looking at what the church might have looked like if the early leaders acted the way some modern believers act when things don’t go their way. Truth be told, we could easily have understood why they could have given up (all legitimate reasons) had they chosen to. Many have given up and walked away for far less.

When we walk away from the local church, we suffer and the church suffers.

There is an interesting story in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings 18 and 19. It centers around Israel’s most famous prophet, Elijah. Elijah was considered by the Jewish people to be the greatest prophet who lived. He did many great things. One of his greatest miracles occurred on Mt. Carmel. That account is found in 1 Kings 18. At that time Elijah was, for all intents and purposes at the top of his game and on top of the world. But his accolades soon succumbed to accusations. His fame faded, and when we come to chapter 19 we find Elijah fleeing in fear for his life. During that journey, Elijah ditched his faithful servant; he walked away from his support system. That is what you do when you walk away from the church.

Having ditched his support system, Elijah went into the desert. Depressed, if you read the account, he became suicidal — he just wanted to die. The lesson for us in this is it is far easier for us to get in a spiritually dry place, in a spiritually dangerous place, suffer spiritual depression, and find ourselves spiritually defeated when we choose to go it alone. As far as I know, there are no such things as successful spiritual lone rangers. Satan loves to isolate us from others because when he does, he knows it is far easier to break us. I think that was a lesson learned by our POWs in Vietnam. The enemy used isolation as a way of breaking their captives down. Some of the more resilient prisoners recognized this and found ways to communicate with each other, keeping one another’s spirits up in that dark place!

Over my years of ministry, which span now a half century, I have observed a trend among God’s people to distance themselves from fellow believers the very time they should be drawing close to them. The result of that is spiritual catastrophe! When you walk away from the church you hurt yourself.

Right about now some of you are saying, “John, if you only knew my story, you would understand why I left.” Probably so. I have my story as well. What I learned in my experience is that letting someone else’s sin lead me into sin was neither wise nor a valid excuse for my behavior. Consider that. When you walk away from the movement Jesus started and Jesus promised to bless, you are walking away from Jesus’ blessings in your own life. Not only that, but you are harming the body of Christ itself!

Last week I used the illustration of waking up and finding your hand still laying in bed. That would not only be alarming, but it would be debilitating as well. When you refuse to participate in a body of believers as a believer, you harm not only yourself, but you cripple the body who needs your presence in their midst.

Bottom line to all this: I get it that there are times to walk away from a dysfunctional church. However, having bad church experience should never become an excuse to avoiding any church experience. If you get a bad haircut or coloring, I bet you didn’t swear off salons and only cut your own hair. If you get that with your hair, which is minor, why do you follow such logic with the body of Christ, which is major?

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit www.gatewaycommunity.org or email john.pearrell@gatewaycommunity.org.

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