Why Church Matters is like your 6 A.M. alarm. It is absolutely necessary, but it can be rather painful. With humility and humor, Joshua Harris walks us through the often-overlooked topic of why church matters.
'The church matters because Jesus chose it to tell and show the world the message of His love.' pg. 10
In his own words, that is this book boiled down to the core. Throughout this book, there are two things that Harris notes are absolutely essential in a church; commitment and passion. These two things form the foundation for what the majority of the book is about. His seven chapters in this fairly short read move along at a crisp pace, not wasting words on side topics or wandering at all from the main thrust of the book.
Why Church Matters, formerly called Stop Dating the Church is written by bestselling author Joshua Harris who has written numerous books, including I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Dug Down Deep. Having been mentored by popular writer and pastor C.J. Mahaney, Harris has now been made senior pastor of Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Harris is an immensely gifted writer who has mastered, in this book, the balance of giving practical, experiential advice while still leaning primarily on Scripture. He remained solid theologically throughout, sticking mostly to that which is explicitly about the church in Scripture.
In Why Church Matters, Harris powerfully drives home the point that church is not something that is optional for Christians. It is not something that will merely enhance our spiritual lives, it is essential to our spiritual lives. Beyond that, the church plays a major role in God's plan.
'The things we do together as Christians aren't extracurricular activities. They're not optional benefits to be claimed when we find the time. When we worship, pursue godliness, and live God's Word together, we are expressing an integral part of what it means to be His followers.' pg. 44
This book was published back in 2004. In our fast-moving world, a book written over a dozen years ago would be irrelevant for many subjects. Interestingly enough, God built the institution of the church to last. Harris' book is relevant now and shall very well be relevant until Christ raptures His people.
The principles in this book are not specific to a particular generation, time period, or cultural setting. They are relevant for you and me today, tomorrow, and for every year we spend on earth. I believe that this is because what Harris says comes not from his own mind, but from the Word of God, which will never fail.
A thing to consider for this book, should you read it, is that Harris has written this so that it can impact a very large age range. However, not all of his suggestions may be applicable to you, depending on your age. For example, many teens will not decide where they end up going to church; that decision will be made by the parental units. That being said, this book is still full of solid principles by which you can evaluate where your church is at, where you are at, and where the two of you need to be headed.
Harris' book is one that will remain on my shelf for many years, and I recommend you consider adding it to your own.
"Why church matters" by Joshua Harris is a 140 page book made up of 7 chapters addressing the issue of the local church and why becoming a passionate, committed, member of the local body is important.
In chapter 1 the author speaks about his past experiences going to church and how he felt about it at one time. He also begins to discuss what the rest of the book will be about and uses the idea of a relationship to relate how many people flirt with the church but are not committed or passionate about the local church. He speaks about people dating the church and encourages people instead to "marry the church".
In chapter 2 he relates how he felt at his own weeding and how he feels about his bride walking down the aisle and then relates that to how Christ feels about his bride, the church. He also states the goal of the book on page 21 where he says "My goal in this book is to help you get connected and committed to a solid local church."
He also makes some comments on denominations and how different denominations can be "united" by holding to the major things (doctrines) that really matter and having an attitude of grace on those things that don't matter but of course there are different denominations because they don't see things the same and/or hold certain doctrines to be essential while others see them as secondary and nonessential. The good news here is he doesn't really get too involved with this and so we can simply read through this section without paying too much attention to it.
I do like what he says on page 30 concerning the love Jesus has for the church. He says "If Jesus loves the church, you and I should, too." I agree and there is way too much church bashing going on by those in the church. Really good point, I though.
In chapter 3 he discuss the attitude many have today about going to a local church. Many people feel that they can be Christians and worship God on their own and never be part of a local body. It's as if they think the local church was invented by men and not a God ordained institution. The author shows that this is simply wrong and unbiblical. On page 40 he says this "The longer I'm a Christian the more aware I become that I cannot live the Christian life on my own."
In chapter 4 he deals with passion and commitment and tells the story of a man he knows who is a Christian but this man loves his Jeep and even joined a "Jeep club". He tells how this man spent all his time thinking about and doing things with his Jeep and the Jeep club. The author points out that the things we talk about and are consumed with are the things we have passion for and are committed to. He urges us to have passion and commitment for the local church and then goes on to give suggestions on how to cultivate this.
Chapter 5 is all about what to look for in a local church. For example he says to seek out a church "_where God's word is faithfully taught_" and another question to ask is "Is this a church that is willing to kick me out?" and of course that question has to do with leadership holding people accountable and not allowing open sin to go unchecked.
Chapter 6 was an interesting chapter dealing with how to make Sunday the best day of the week. On page 94 he says "My premise in this chapter is that you and I are very likely to be missing out on God's best for the day (Sunday) unless we learn to build our week around Sunday, and not the other way around."He goes on to suggest some ways in which we might prepare to worship and enjoy Sunday. One suggestion he gives is to turn the TV off on Saturday night and to read the scriptures and pray so we prepare our hearts and our minds for the following day. I liked this suggestion and will give serious consideration to it.
Chapter 7 is simply the concluding thoughts of the author and his wrapping up the book.
In the end I enjoyed reading this book. It's small and easy to read. I spent one afternoon reading it. There are some issues related to worship and doctrine that I didn't agree with or that weren't given a very full discussion but this isn't a book that is really dealing with those subjects so I found it easy to read through and not get bogged down with those issues. He simply doesn't spend a lot of time talking about those other things.
So, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who has had a bad experience with a local church and now doesn't attend or to the person who simply thinks they don't need the local church and can go it alone. I also think that anyone who is already attending a local church can gain some wonderful insights or maybe a renewed respect and appreciation for the local church.
A great book reminding us "why church matters".
Disclosure of Material: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's CFR Title 16, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
I wanted to give a note of explanation as I begin this review. The church, small "c," is used to speak of the local church. The Church, big "c," indicates the Christian family as a whole both living and those who came before us ever since the start of the Church 2,000 years ago.
Many may know this author from his more famous work, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Essentially, the principle is similar but applied to the Church. Joshua Harris was a church shopper/church hopper himself. However, he came to the point where he felt that he needed to stop consuming and begin committing to the Church. Not to do so would be missing out on God's program through the Church to fulfill the Great Commission.
In this book, he identifies church as many of us have come to know it. He then explains the biblical nature of the Church and the word pictures that the Bible uses to describe it. With metaphors such as the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ and a Temple, the Word of God is pointing at something greater going on than most people realize and have personally experienced.
Each of us has passion for various things and Harris urges a passion for the Church, both the big and little "c." The lifestyle of the Christian should be such that we prepare for Sunday, invest in our churches passionately and in a variety of ways and that we live out what we have heard and believe. All of this is crucial as it is our time to carry forth the Gospel to a new generation even as it has been brought to us and God's chosen vehicle then and now is the local church.
Harris helps the reader to think about what is important in looking for a church. Just like in choosing a marriage partner, there are certain qualities or preferences that can be jettisoned for the more important elements. For those who don't have a church near them with all of those qualities, Harris gives some advice that may seem surprising but doesn't leave the person off the hook in going deep with a local church family.
This book is a good one. It is practical, easy to read with lots of great quotes from a spectrum of Church leaders both present and past. I would encourage anyone who has struggled with church attendance or moving beyond showing up on Sunday morning to real commitment to read this work.
As Joshua Harris points out in his quick read, "Why Church Matters: Discovering Your Place in the Family of God", many people in our culture have begun to shy away from the traditional church. I see this more and more in our world, especially as people are hurt by the church or see negative stories about the church in the news. The concept that "I can believe in Jesus and do just fine on my own without going to church" is a growing one. I was intrigued by this book because I work with high school and young adults everyday and see that attitude often. I was hoping this might be a resource worth sharing with some of them who question the value of church involvement or a way to encourage those going off to college to find a community in which they can connect.
While Harris does a great job of outlining reasons (supported with Scripture) for which being a member of a local church, as well as the worldwide Church, is important, I wonder if the people who need to read this book would make it past the first chapter. He starts off sharing a story of a relationship between "Jack and Grace" where Grace wants Jack to "define the relationship" and Jack just isn't ready. Harris goes on to compare people who think they can grow in their faith outside the church to Jack saying they're just "church-daters" afraid to commit. While the shock tactic may work for some, it seems as if the way in which the first chapter is laid out may cause people to just stop reading. Instead of listing benefits of being in a community of faith, he says that when we resist a relationship with the church "everyone gets cheated out of God's best. You cheat yourself. You cheat a church community. You cheat your world." (pg 8). While this is true, I'm guessing people would likely feel judged, rather than listened to, after reading this.
With that said, I do think the book had a lot of great points and I hope truly that people would keep reading. It presented a very Scriptural and helpful picture of the functions of the church and why it is beneficial and even fun to be a part of a local congregation as well as the greater Church as a whole. For those who may have been hurt by the church or see negative media about church, Chapter 2 provided a great reminder of the church as the bride of Christ and though we may look around and see an ugly, persecuted, stained, and corrupt bride, Jesus still calls us his bride and is constantly at work making us beautiful (Ephesians 5:25-32).
Chapter 3 finally gets into the actual benefits of being connected with a local church and reasons with those who believe church is just a "formality" or that they can "just listen online" and it's the same thing. I appreciate that many of the reasons people give for not going to church are countered in this chapter (in a slightly less abrupt way that the first chapter) and based in Scripture.
It's one thing to logically believe that church is important, but as I interact with friends who have been hurt by local congregations again and again, it is very difficult for them to invest in yet another community despite knowing they need it. When I received this book to review, I hoped that Harris would address this and was excited to see that it seemed he would at the end of Chapter 3. I found myself very disappointed when the only "hope" given was basically in telling readers that if they're struggling with that, it's just because they're too focused on themselves and they need to get over their pride and see that the church needs them just as much as they need the church. Again, there is truth in what Harris says, that if we're only focused on what the church can do for us, we'll likely never be satisfied; but it doesn't seem to be of much help to those who truly have been hurt by churches.
My favorite part of the book was chapter 5 which outlined questions to ask yourself when looking for a congregation in which you can invest. This great list is a necessity to anyone exploring church options in order to find one that "teaches_values_ and lives God's Word." It also reminds people that they'll never find the "perfect" church, but to seek one growing in the right ways and living in line with God's Word.
Chapter 6 was a great wrap up and it was hard for me not to label this my favorite instead of chapter 5. This would be a great chapter for any Christian church-goer to read and be reminded what Sunday is all about. Harris describes how many of us can likely relate to Sundays when we have, "woken up late, walked into church groggy, worshiped distractedly, listened occasionally, left, early, and remembered very little." (page 92) Instead, Harris challenges us, and explains how to create a "game plan" to experience God and worship him more fully each week which includes tips for preparing before hand, listening well during the service, and applying to your life after you leave.
Despite the good and the bad of this book, I loved the way Harris ended it with this call from Scripture:
"I was glad when they said to me, Ã¢â¬ËLet us go up to the house of the LORD!'" (Psalm 122:1). May we all joyously find ways to connect with and serve through the Family of God to accomplish God's goal of bringing all to saving faith in Him!
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review."
This small book is a very important book. It just might need to become the one small book you hand to anyone or any family who walks into your church and says, "I'm looking for a church home." It needs to be the one book you hand to someone who says "I don't really need to belong to a church; I can just show up when I can."
Joshua Harris writes in a homely and winsome style. As you're reading, you think to yourself, "This is good stuff. Why haven't I heard this before?" You probably have; you just may have not heard it put so simply, so plainly, so understandably clear that all can receive it. This is a really good trait for a book (I know, that seems like an understatement, but if no one understands what you're saying, no one's going to read it). This is a really good trait for a book like this one.
I can't tell you how much energy I've poured into talking to people about joining our church. I have some who refuse to become members because we, as the leaders, should just know that they're committed to being here. Others have been convinced by the absence of the word "membership" in the Bible that we don't need to have it in the church. Still others (and many of these are pastors I know) believe that church membership is old and out-dated and it's what keeps people from coming to a church, let alone joining that church. Harris writes with conviction, not just in his own heart, but with the conviction that you need to have implanted in your own heart about belonging to a church. For such a short book, it packs quite a wallop!
Harris begins by talking about the church: what we miss out on by just hanging around instead of becoming a part of her; seeing the church from Jesus' perspective--the Bride He died to redeem; and then he wraps up his opening salvos by helping the reader to see how belonging to a local church serves the global church, not the other way around.
From there, the author gives many a practical, hands-on set of points to use in re-thinking what membership in a church should be about. Chapter 5, "Choosing Your Church: The Ten Things That Matter Most" is a wonderfully laid out piece that states it very succinctly--here's how you should find the church you're going to join (he states that as an expectation, not a groundless hope)
In Chapter 6, Harris does what I think needs to be done at least once a year, if not more often: remind people that they are the ones who "make or break" the church. Do you find church boring? It's most likely because you're putting nothing into it. Do you find it hard to stay awake during the sermons? Ask yourself what time you went to bed the night before. You think your church lacks passion? Where have you been placing the focus of your heart lately? These are great questions that every person going to church should ask, as well as lay out a path of implementation to put their all into their local church. After all, Jesus did, didn't He?
With the included study guide questions in the back of this edition, one could use this easily for a membership class in the church.