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Is Church Really that Big of a Deal?

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus states: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Notice how Jesus refers to the church in this verse: he calls it “my church.” The church was founded by Jesus himself. It’s not something we thought up. It’s not like a few Christians had a brilliant idea one day and said to themselves, “Hey, we should start the church.” That’s not what happened. The church was Jesus’ idea. It’s something that he himself started and has caused to be handed down to us.

So Jesus says, “I will build my church.” The literal meaning of that word “church” is an assembly, a congregation of people. So Jesus is basically announcing to his disciples, “I’m going to build my assembly, and I won’t let anything stand in my way.” He says not even “the gates of hell” will be able to prevail against it. It’s unstoppable. That’s how committed Jesus is to his church.

Unfortunately, a lot of people have a relatively low view of the church, even those who might identify themselves as Christians. They don’t think the church is that big of a deal—certainly no more important than the other charities or organizations around the city. It’s nice if you’re into it, but it’s totally fine if that’s not your thing. And as our society continues on its current trajectory, it seems like less and less people consider it “their thing.” Private spirituality is in, and religious institutions such as the church are out.

A few years ago, I was working as a chaplain at a hospice, and I was talking to one of my coworkers, named Karen, the hospice’s social worker. And Karen knew that I was still in school getting my master’s degree, so she asked me what I planned on doing after I graduated. Did I have any plans beyond the hospice? I told her that I did and that I actually desired to be a pastor. And that actually sort of caught her off guard, and she asked, “Really?” Like, “Are you serious? Are you really sure you want to do that?”—almost like it was beneath me, like I would clearly be taking a step down to go from hospice chaplain to pastor. And here’s the thing: Karen was a regular churchgoer. She wasn’t hostile toward Christianity but actually attended church, and yet she had such a low view of the church that led her to have that knee-jerk reaction.

I believe that comment from Karen is representative of our society as a whole. Who would want to devote their life to the church? Maybe if you couldn’t do anything else—like you wanted to do this or that, but you didn’t quite make the cut—then you might become a pastor. The assumption, even in the minds of many who identify themselves Christians, is that the church really isn’t that big of a deal.

But Jesus has a bit of a different opinion. He founded the church. Not only that, the Bible even describes the church as the bride of Christ. In Ephesians 5, it talks about how Jesus loves his bride and is devoted to her to such an extent that he even gave his own life to save her. Think about that. Jesus laid down his life for the church. That’s how much he loves her and cares for her.

You know, if you told me you wanted to be my friend but then let me know that you didn’t much care for my wife, I can tell you right now I don’t think our friendship is going to work out. It’s a package deal. I’m not going to be friends with someone who isn’t open to being friends with my wife as well. And it’s the same way with Jesus and the church. If you think you can just be friends with Jesus even while you demean his bride, you’re not thinking clearly, because that’s not the way it works. You can’t really be all about Jesus if you’re not all about his church.