The following blog post is a coffee date that didn’t make it into my eating disorder book. The timing is ironic in that many churches are not congregating together in person, instead they are streaming services online. With that said, though, the principle of remaining engaged and active in your local church body may take different forms, but the concept does not cease to exist even if there is a pandemic.
The beauty of this whole sanctification process is that you are not alone. Primarily, you are not alone because you have God’s Word, the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, and unencumbered access to your Father in heaven. But God has also given another gift to believers, it is called the church. Many from the outside looking in are under the false impression that the church is a bunch of perfect people that enjoy talking about how perfect they are. That could not be farther from the truth! The church is full of sinful people who recognize their desperate need for a Savior.
Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). The church itself can be described as the universal church and the local church. The universal church encompasses all believers who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Since we are “in-Christ” we are adopted into a new family, the body of believers (Ephesians 1:5). The local church is exactly what it sounds like. It is a community of believers who live near each other and meet regularly.
What is the point of the local church if you have the internet? First of all, the local church is not the building itself, it is the people that congregate there (Romans 16:5). Second, God has gifted each believer with certain gifts that enable them to contribute to the body of believers (1 Corinthians 12:7). So, each member plays a role in supporting, encouraging, and strengthening the body so that the church can spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Of course, you may find encouragement and knowledge by watching or listening to a sermon online, however, you are missing out on two benefits. You are missing out on the ability to discover your God-given gifts and use them to love others, and you are missing out on reaping the benefits of the gifts of others.
I am very introverted as my natural inclination is to be by myself. I feel energized when I have many hours alone to read, study, listen and write. This personality trait has lent itself well to making time for studying God’s Word and meditating on it. That comes quite easily for me. However, spending time with other people and serving them is quite exhausting for me. Therefore, I do not jump at the opportunity to go to a small-group Bible study or church.
While my personality comes with its strengths and weaknesses, God uses both for His glory. A strength of my introversion is that I spend much time studying God’s Word and use it as a framework to analyze the world around me. Instead of keeping this knowledge to myself, I share it with others, hence this book and my mentorship program. However, a weakness of my introversion is that I prefer isolation over fellowship with other believers. But God has called all believers to meet together to love and encourage one another to do the good works God planned for us (Hebrews 10:24-25, Ephesians 2:10). God has used my husband who is quite extroverted to help me in my weakness. My husband is a fellow believer and thus my brother-in-Christ, he uses his gifts to encourage me to be obedient to God’s command to serve and congregate with other believers.
Additionally, I have been significantly impacted by two women within the church body. Clearly, the pastor’s wife had a significant impact on my life. Her gifting in mentorship lead me to seek Scripture to discover my identity in Christ. From the universal church, I have been greatly impacted by Jen Wilkin and her mission to enhance Bible literacy among women. Both these women and their ministries have directed me toward Scripture which was instrumental to my recovery.
If you would like some guidance in finding a church, I suggest that you look for a fellowship of believers who are Christ-centered, teach directly from the Word of God, and share the gospel with the local community. The teaching should guide you in the way of Scripture and equip you in using your time here on Earth to bring glory to God. A great resource for finding such a church is 9Marks under the “church search” menu. If you are a college student, a local church is highly recommended, but also look into your campus’ church organizations. Oftentimes, these organizations host small groups by dorm or major, have weekly gatherings, built-in social activities, and attend the same church together.
Once you find this community then get involved in it by devoting your time, talents, and treasures to it. There are many needs within the church body and there are always opportunities to serve. You do this out of reverence and obedience to Christ. If you attend, volunteer, or donate to the church out of obligation then just stop. Don’t do that. Jesus did the hard work of dying on the cross. He desires you to genuinely have a heart for serving Him. He does not want you serving or giving out of guilt. By doing so you are just serving your own guilty conscience which does nothing for furthering the Kingdom.
I begrudgingly followed Ben to church early in our marriage because I felt like I had to. Ben prayed that God would transform my heart to want to serve Him through the church community. It was not an overnight experience, but my heart did change. Over time, and this is no surprise, I found that I prefer behind the scenes service while Ben prefers being around people. Currently, we serve at our church’s coffee bar. I work behind the counter making coffee drinks, meanwhile, Ben is at the front taking orders and chatting with people in line. We love serving together, but we know that we have different God-given gifts.
God has also used the church to bring about my strongest and closest friendships with other women. They have been such a gift from God during different seasons of my life! These friendships are unique because we both know and acknowledge that we are sinful women. Yet, we desire to use our God-given gifts to encourage one another to fight our sinful flesh and walk the godly path. That is why conversations with these women can get deep very quickly or they can be superficial. We can talk about sin we are struggling with (James 5:16) or we can talk about our favorite coffee shops.
Women struggling with eating disorders often do so in secret and prefer isolation. Therefore, finding and getting involved in a local church is a method God uses to sanctify us, making us more like Jesus Christ, the head of our church. So, I highly spur you to find a local community of believers, get involved, and make friendships with other women. If you feel comfortable, be honest with those women you trust about your eating disorder struggle. Expose the sin of the eating disorder (Ephesians 5:11) and ask those women to pray for you and to hold you accountable.
Having an accountability partner was simultaneously annoying and fruitful. It was annoying when I was engaging in the eating disorder; it was fruitful when I needed the nudge to choose God’s will not my own. Indeed, I was very careful with whom I confided in about my daily struggle with bulimia. The pastor’s wife and her husband moved to another town, and God brought another mentor into my life quickly thereafter. I immediately felt safe with her and confided in her. She would have me over for coffee, check-in with me when Ben was out of town, and send me encouragement when nursing school was particularly stressful. She became a big part of my life and I became a big part of hers. Our husbands also happened to get along and we still maintain our friendship to this day, even hundreds of miles apart!
- Question: What are some strengths and weaknesses of the giftings God has given you?
- Question: How will you use these giftings for the benefit of the church body?
- Action: Find a local church community and get plugged into a small group! If you are already in a church community, pray for and seek a woman to mentor you.