Something has dawned on me in the last couple weeks. And honestly, this realization could be perceived in two ways: a gift or an embarrassment. Here it is: my spiritual growth over the last 18 years is mostly due to the accountability I have had in the local church rather than my own personal drive to grow.
Being involved in various church activities year after year has been a gift because it has spurred me on. It’s also a bit of an embarrassment because, truthfully, I would not have grown at the same rate, left to my own motivation.
Mark and I married over 18 years ago and we have been in ministry together ever since. Because of our role in our local church we didn’t have a choice but to stay plugged in, consistently preparing for the next thing. We always knew people were going to show up and we needed to be ready.
Left to my own drive and motivation I would have sidelined my Bible study for a better time later in the day, or I would have sat out whole semesters of women’s ministry because it wasn’t a good season, or I would have stayed home from church because I just wasn’t up to it. But the Lord placed me in positions where people were counting on me. People expected me to show up.
Looking back, I can honestly say, it was the local church that drove my spiritual growth. If people had not been relying on me, I would have taken a much slower pace, I would not have pursued my studies with such diligence. Really, the accountability of the body of Christ is what kept me on track all those years and it still is.
Before we found our place in our current local church I felt the insecurity of not being tethered to a local body of believers. I personally felt the draw of placing church on the buffet of just one of the many things our family could do in our free time. Participating in ministry is actually a gift to me and to my family, as it grounds us in a local community and in our own personal spiritual disciplines. We thrive best when others are counting on us.
Paul instructs the church that each member has a role to play, “having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6). He says we shouldn’t think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but God has assigned us each a function. These functions are a gift for both the church as well as ourselves, as we use them to build up the body and to grow in our own spiritual lives.
You don’t have to be the pastor or the pastor’s wife to be relied upon in the church. You can be the host of women’s bible study, or the host of an apologetics book club, or the one who brings coffee—the point is that others are counting on you. When we put ourselves in a position of being relied upon, we show up—week in and week out, ready or not. This weekly attendance and participation pays off. This "long obedience in the same direction” results in great dividends over time.
My encouragement to young moms, or busy students, or stressed businessmen and women is this: put yourself in a role that will require you to show up at your local church week after week. Rather than sidelining activities that will feed your spiritual growth, put yourself at the very center of them. With both gratitude and humility I see clearly that I owe my spiritual growth over the last two decades to the accountability and community of the local church.