Pastor Tracy Ottenbreit
Slave Lake Alliance Church
In the last two articles, I made the case that church attendance provides both character education and it keeps us aligned with reality. Another bonus of church attendance is relationships.
I have listened to many people bemoan there is no place to meet “nice” people and they balk at going to bars to meet others. While I believe there are very nice people at bars, I understand the desire to expand their social network beyond the local alco-halls.
Relationships are getting harder, it seems. I have witnessed the breakup of many marriages – people that I deeply care about – all because the relationship was too sick to continue. Even though we can communicate with one another through a few clicks on our phones, it doesn’t seem to translate into tighter friendships. Many of us are deeply and desperately lonely.
Not that long ago, I worked with a couple who was having problems. It was the usual array of fighting about housework and childcare and bill-paying, but then I met with them separately. Within a few very pointed questions it became clear that what they both wanted was to be loved. They wanted to be affirmed, acknowledged, treasured. Isn’t this what we all want?
This is one of the reasons I have grown to love the church. This is a group of people who are taught that you have immense value before you do or say anything. You are treasured. The church is also a group of people who will admit they are not perfect, that they are flawed. In fact, the only way to join the Church is to admit your flaws and failures (a.k.a. sin) to God and others. Perfect people are not allowed.
The result is the potential for lasting, deep, enriching, invigorating friendships that can withstand the test of time. This is one of the reasons that Bible refers to the church as family. These connections have a positive effect even on our health. Did you know that according to Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a psychiatrist who directs Duke University’s Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health, that churchgoers have a 25 percent reduction in mortality, stronger marriages and families, healthier lifestyles, cope better with stress, and have less depression?
Many people, though, have walked away from church for many reasons. Author Joshua Harris has this to say, “Going away is easy. Do you want to know what’s harder? Do you want to know what takes more courage and what will make you grow faster than anything else? Join a local church and lay down your selfish desires by considering others more important than yourself. Humble yourself and acknowledge that you need other Christians. Invite them into your life. Stop complaining about what’s wrong with the church, and become part of a solution.”
Relationships take hard work, but a church provides both the commitment to and the teaching about strong relationships that are honest, real, giving, and loving. Some may belong to circles of friends where there are unwritten or unspoken words of commitment, but the church is up front about our need for relationship.
Jesus takes the call to relationship one step further than most of us might want to go. He said, “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13:34) Jesus gave his life up for us and tells us we should do the same for each other. Now that is friendship and that is the call of the church and one more reason for you to attend.