This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Are you committed to full church involvement? What are the benefits of such a commitment?
The church is God’s family. Church involvement means engagement with your family—beyond just attending a weekly service. Pastor Rick Warren shares four reasons why you should commit to full engagement, and he describes four vital experiences that you’ll enjoy as a result.
Continue reading to learn why you should commit to full church involvement.
Church Involvement Goes Beyond Attendance
In the third week of your journey, we’ll discuss the second purpose of your life—unselfishly loving fellow members of God’s family. God created us to be part of a family that dedicates itself to loving and honoring him. As a believer, you’re not only his child but a sibling to all other past, present, and future believers.
There are wonderful benefits to being part of this spiritual family. First, it’s everlasting—having a family on earth is amazing in its own way, but it only lasts as long as your lifetime. On the other hand, your spiritual family not only lasts through this life but also in eternity where you’ll enjoy God’s blessings and rewards together. Second, your spiritual family will never abandon you or stop loving you—you’ll always feel loved and secure in this family.
Church involvement starts with both a spiritual step and a physical step.
- Spiritual: The basic part of being part of a family of believers is believing. If you believe and accept Jesus, you already have this part achieved.
- Physical: Being part of the family is more than belonging. You must demonstrate your pride in your family by publicly identifying yourself as a member through baptism. This ritual serves as a declaration of your faith, a symbol of the end of your old life, and your initiation into God’s family and its unselfish love.
Get to Know Your Spiritual Family
“Church” doesn’t refer to the literal building where you celebrate Mass. Your church is a living organism, made up of all its members. You become a member of your church when you get to know other members, show love to them, and find your role within the family.
Being a member of the church is important because other members will serve as your support system through the hard work of fulfilling your purposes. This is why it’s important to take the step beyond attending church and start to get involved in it.
Four Reasons to Commit to Church Involvement
You may think that you can practice your beliefs alone, choosing instead to hop around between different churches without joining their communities, or choosing not to join a church at all. However, the Bible reveals that you need to find and commit to a church, for four reasons:
1) Genuine belief is shown in love. According to Jesus, the discipleship and belief of his followers are proven by their love for one another. You can’t show love for other disciples and become a genuine disciple if you’re on your own.
2) Loving your spiritual family makes you less self-centered. You won’t naturally love—or even like—everyone in your church, which makes it a perfect place to practice unselfish loving. You’ll have to care about others, learn about their experiences, connect with them, and spend time with them without focusing on what you’re getting out of it. (Of course, you’ll also receive the beneficial inverse of this—people will unselfishly love you in return.)
3) Discussion strengthens your spirituality. As an involved member, you’re constantly learning and growing, as church members are expected to serve each other, teach each other, correct each other, encourage each other, admonish each other, and so on.
On the contrary, being a non-participating spectator at church doesn’t challenge you at all. No one points out how you could improve, teaches you a new understanding of a verse, or tests your patience. Spirituality done alone is untested and therefore false.
4) Your church supports you in your spiritual life. No one is free from the risk of temptation. For this reason, God gave you a spiritual family that you can depend on to keep you away from temptation and put you back on track with your spiritual journey.
Church Involvement Offers Four Vital Experiences
With church involvement, you open yourself up to the opportunity to experience life with them. Experiencing life together—the good and the bad—is called fellowship.
- It’s in fellowship that you experience the tests and corrections to your spirituality—those in fellowship correct one another, serve one another, teach one another, and so on.
Fellowship is practiced as a small group within the larger context of your church, somewhat like Jesus and his 12 disciples. It’s better to “experience life together” in small groups because everyone has the chance to speak up, be heard, and meaningfully support one another.
- For example, you might join a small Bible study group, or meet up once a week with a small group of women from your church.
These small groups lend themselves to genuine fellowship, which grants you four vital experiences that enhance your spiritual growth and understanding of unselfish love.
Vital Experience #1: Mutuality
The base of genuine fellowship is mutuality: taking care of one another, reciprocating what they receive, and taking on equal responsibilities. Members can fully depend on one another and expect to have their needs met, and are willing to meet others’ needs—physical, emotional, and spiritual.
- Physical: A member of your fellowship group falls ill, you and the other members organize to deliver their family meals.
- Emotional: A member of your fellowship group is having a hard time with one of her children, and seeks your group’s support and advice.
- Spiritual: A member of your fellowship group who’s going through a tough time is having difficulty trusting God. He turns to the group for their encouragement and lessons they’ve learned from their own experiences.
Mutuality is the most important of the experiences of genuine church involvement. Without it, fellowship can feel unbalanced or conditional—that is, members will only give after ensuring they’ll get something in return.
Vital Experience #2: Authenticity
In genuine fellowship, you’re free to share who you really are and be fully honest about whatever may be happening in your life.
- This means you can speak openly about your failures, confess your weaknesses, ask for help, and discuss your doubts.
The more each fellowship member opens up about their life, the more other group members are willing to open up about theirs. This makes for an honest and authentic fellowship, where you are supported in your spiritual health and all your emotions and struggles.
- It’s important to note that authenticity isn’t easy, and can’t happen without your willingness to fully involve yourself in your fellowship group. Sharing your innermost self requires bravery and humility that you might not feel you have—ask God to share his strength with you so that you may push through the very human fear of vulnerability.
Vital Experience #3: Sympathy
Sympathy is the sharing of someone else’s pain or suffering—entering into the feelings with them to carry part of the burden. Having our suffering met with sympathy is important because it meets two basic human needs:
- Feeling understood: You know that the person you’re speaking to knows what you’re feeling, perhaps because they’ve experienced the same thing.
- Feeling validated: You’re reassured that your feelings are normal and okay to have.
Fellowship deepens whenever you take the time to feel sympathy toward others in your group, instead of brushing off or denying how they feel or admonishing their feelings.
- For example, if a member of your group has a death in her family, don’t avoid talking about her feelings because she’s “doing fine.” Reassure her that you’re available to listen and won’t judge the validity of her grieving process.
- Or, a group member might express feelings of doubt. Instead of shaming them, explain that it’s a normal feeling that you’ve also experienced. Talk to them about your own instances of wavering belief.
The fellowship of suffering is the deepest level of fellowship we have to offer one another. Sympathy is the most loving choice you can make when you see someone suffering—instead of taking the easy option of turning away, you offer a willingness to feel and carry the pain alongside them. In supporting you through difficult moments when God may feel absent, your fellowship group serves as tangible evidence of God’s love, goodness, and presence.
Vital Experience #4: Forgiveness
Sometimes you’ll hurt the people in your fellowship—either on purpose or by accident—or you’ll be hurt by them, but a genuine fellowship will never use your mistakes against you. Genuine fellowship forgives and moves on quickly. Here, the concept of mutuality has extra importance; if you expect to receive forgiveness, you must be willing to give it. If half of your fellowship group is unforgiving, their resentment over old hurts will always leave cracks in their relationships with the rest of the group—eventually, these cracks will cause the group to crumble.
- Imagine you accidentally say something hurtful to a group member. She doesn’t forgive you, and she lets her anger simmer. She gossips to other group members, stoking their resentment for old hurts they’ve experienced. Several months later, while discussing kindness, she mentions your hurtful comment. This unleashes the resentment of other group members, which causes an intense disagreement that splits the group in two.
Offering easy and quick forgiveness may make you feel afraid if you believe that giving someone a “clean slate” just grants them the opportunity to hurt you again. This is a simple confusion between forgiveness and trust. You should forgive right away and leave the wrongdoing in the past, but you don’t necessarily need to trust the wrongdoer right away.
- Imagine you approach a fellowship member to talk about an addiction you’re struggling with, and she berates you for being a drug user. You should forgive her hurtful reaction, but you’re not expected to approach her again anytime soon. Over time, as she becomes more understanding, you may feel comfortable opening up to her again.
You gain tremendous value when you take church involvement beyond simple attendance. If you haven’t found your place in God’s family yet, today is a great time to start on that journey.
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