As Peter lifted up his head, a smile covered his face. The joy of his new conversion to the Lord filled his eyes. The Uncle who led him to the Lord excitedly spoke, “I’ve got to catch a plane, but let me leave you with some advice. To grow as a Christian you must get involved with others in a church! Body life is what causes you to grow.”
“Where should I go?” asked Peter.
“Not being from this city, I can’t help you. Look up churches in the yellow pages and let the Lord guide you. I’ve got to go; I’ll be calling,” said the Uncle as he dashed out the door.
Peter , for the first time in his life, quietly prayed alone as he had been instructed, “please, Lord, lead me to Your church where I can grow, whatever means.”
The next Sunday, Peter arrived at a church he had read about in Saturday’s paper. It was known for its great preaching on topics relevant to everyday life. As Peter sat through the sermon he was impressed with the style of the preacher’s delivery. The message was on self-realization and finding your true self in God. On the way back home, he thought to himself that this must be where he should go, since he felt so good after the words the preacher spoke.
At that moment, for the first time since conversion, Peter heard God speak to him. It was not an audible voice, but he knew it was not his mind speaking to him either. “Son, I want you to become like Jesus. The preacher you heard today only made you feel good about yourself. Hope is good, if it is hope centered on what I can do for you. My first priority is not to make you feel happy but to introduce you to who I am. Great teaching is of me, I gave this preacher his gift. But teaching is to bring you into an encounter with Me not yourself or the preacher.”
The next Sunday, Peter excitedly went to a new church he heard about from a fellow coworker. It supposedly had the best music in time with the largest number of musicians, instruments, and singers. The music was said to be so good it must originate in the throne room of God. Peter was overwhelmed with the service. It was indeed good and was so well organized it was better than many concerts he had paid to see. As Peter was making his way home he said to himself, “I can surely grow here with such great music.”
“Peter,” the voice of God spoke again. Hearing this voice again was the greatest thrill Peter had ever experienced. “This is not where I want you to go.”
“Why, Lord,” Peter replied?
“I want you to meet Me at church. You didn’t think about me once during the service. The musicians were good. I know, I gave them their gift. But all you thought about was them. You went to church thinking about them, and you left thinking about them. Music is to bring you into an encounter with Me. ”
Peter knew this was right. But his heart was sad because he had abandoned the Lord in going to church.
On the third Sunday after his conversion Peter again set out to find a church where he could grow. This time he chose an entirely different type of church, one which reached out into the community. During the announcements he read over the bulletin. The list of outreach activities and programs were astounding – a soup kitchen, senior citizens home visits, teen outreach, homeless ministry, and many others were on the agenda for the week. Peter thought about the good things Jesus constantly did for those around Him. Before he could even say it, the still small voice inside of him spoke, “Son, this is not where I want you to attend. This church is caught up in doing. My church does reach out, but it first concentrates on being rather than doing. I want you to learn how to be then we will do.”
Peter was becoming discouraged in finding a church. As he rounded a corner in his car, God spoke, “that building over there on the left is where I want you to go to church.”
Peter couldn’t believe what he just heard. He replied, “But Lord, that is the biggest church in town. I am afraid I will get lost in the crowd. Do you really want me to go there? I thought you would want me to go to a smaller church.”
God continued, “I do only inhabit certain type of churches but size is not the criteria I choose for my inhabitation. I am in big churches and in small churches. I inhabit churches which allow Jesus to be the head and let Him be over the church. You will grow at this church I am showing you not because they are big or small but because they emphasize what I emphasize – people. Jesus died for people, not programs, performances, and buildings. Church is where you share and live life with your fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. Jesus and the disciples had church for three years. They cared for one another and bore one another’s burdens. They challenged each other to be more like Me. This is real church life. Full maturity comes only through this type of church life.”
“It is not attending meetings and watching someone perform, being blessed and then going home. Lone rangers never become all they can be. They become self-centered and don’t see their weaknesses. This happens with large and small churches. Sometimes it will be painful as others challenge and correct you. But the unity and growing together will be one of your greatest joys. Sunday is not an end unto itself. It is a celebration of an on-going lifestyle with others and Me. As you participate in church life, get ready for an adventure.“
“Ok, I’m in,” said Peter, “let’s do it!”
As Peter turned his attention back to the highway he didn’t notice the Lord smiling.
“And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul” Acts 4:32
“Bearing one another’s burdens and thus fulfilling the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2, paraphrased.