By David Prairie
First, let me explain the title of this post. I am not saying that going to church is the only part of God’s will for your life, but I hope to show that it’s an important part. I am also not meaning to oversimplify the often-misunderstood topic of God’s will, but I suggest that it is much simpler than we often realize.
One missions agency I have worked with has said something like, “We believe that it is God’s will not just for the world to go to church, but for the church to go to the world.” I like that statement. It rightly reminds church-goers that attendance at services is not ultimate. Christianity not only says “Come and see” but also “Go and tell.” Believers should continually be great commission-focused. I would only want to add to the conclusion of their statement, “…so that the world can belong to the church.”
God’s Will and our Individual Lives
Paul (the missionary) taught the members at Ephesus (the local church) to be careful how they “walk” and to “not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:15-17). It seems that there is an intentional connection between God’s will and how his people “walk,” that is, what they do in the normal course of life. This idea is prominent throughout the letter. For example,
• “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1).
• “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (4:17).
• “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (5:2).
• “Walk as children of light…and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (5:8-10).
Many people who fret over knowing the will of God seem more concerned with the “big decisions” of life (such as career paths, marriage partners, educational choices, children, etc.). Paul is more interested in how the believers walk through the typically mundane things of daily life. It is in those ordinary tasks and decisions that we can demonstrate reliance on the Lord, pursue holiness, and love others as he has loved us. In doing these things, we are accomplishing the will of God for our lives.
God’s Will and the Church
Another way to talk about the will of God is to speak of what God has purposed. The opening paragraphs of Ephesians make three statements about the purpose and will of God. First, God has adopted us as his children “according to the purpose of his will” (1:5). Second, God is “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ” (1:9). Third, God’s children have “been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (1:11).
“The mystery of his will” (1:9) is the inclusion of Gentiles (that is, all nations) in the body of Christ (the universal Church) along with the Jews through the gospel of Jesus (3:1-6). Paul was a minister of that gospel, sent to declare these mysteries to everyone (3:7-9). He did this, not for his own benefit, but “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10).
Notice the high calling of the church. God makes his wisdom known through the church. God is known and made known through churches. And this is not by accident. “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (3:11).
The church is primary in the accomplishment of God’s purposes from eternity past. God has willed to join people to himself through the efforts of the church. Those people then become the church and carry on the mission. Therefore, it is God’s will for people to go to church.
God’s Will and the World
The end of Matthew’s Gospel records the “great commission” given by Jesus for his followers until his return. Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth” and thus commands his followers to “make disciples of all nations” by “baptizing them” and “teaching them” to obey Jesus, who promises to be with his people “to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20). Where is it that people are most directly taught to obey Jesus? In the local church. Where are people baptized and formally welcomed into the body of Christ? In local churches. Where is the presence of Jesus most observable? In the local church.
The local church is not the end goal. Its purpose is to make God known by making disciples among all nations. Then, as people from all nations become disciples, new local churches will be established so that people can be baptized and taught to obey Jesus. Therefore, it is God’s will for people all over the earth to attend church.
God’s will for your individual life cannot be separated from his purpose for the world. His purpose is centered on gathering people into churches so that those churches can disperse into the nations and gather those people into local churches. Disciple-making doesn’t always take place in the church, but it does seek to guide people into the life of a church. So attend your church every Sunday. Invite others to join you. Use your normal everyday routine to make disciples. Then seek ways to extend your influence to the nations by going or by praying and sending others on their way.
Our family is trying to obey God by getting to Eastern Europe. You can help by sending us. We are in need of monthly financial partners. We’d love to share our vision with you. If interested, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit abwe.org/give.