By Starr Meade
The church has come under harsh attack in our time.
Those outside the church have long maintained that they do not need church involvement in order to have valid spiritual experiences. One can worship alone in a beautiful, natural setting just as well (maybe even better), they say, than in a building with walls. In our time, though, even many who profess Christianity have no use for the organized church. They maintain that churches are filled with hypocrites or led by those whose doctrine is hopelessly corrupt. They despair of finding any church leaders worthy of following. If they gather with other believers at all, they do it in “The Church of the Living Room,” where decisions and beliefs are based on the consensus of a few like-minded individuals. Or they connect with an electronic church. Even to attend, let alone join, an actual local church that meets regularly in a building is considered unnecessary at best, and possibly even detrimental to one’s Christian faith.
The problem with such thinking is that it directly opposes the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular. From the beginning, God’s purpose has been to have a people, not simply a collection of individual persons, as his own people. We first meet the promise “they shall be my people and I shall be their God” in Genesis, and we can follow it through the entire Bible. (In fact, it can be a worthwhile exercise to use a concordance with children whose reading skills are adequate and trace those words through the Bible. God says them to Abraham, to Moses,
to the Israelites in the wilderness, to kings, to prophets—and apostles continue to quote them in their epistles.) To be joined to Christ is to be joined to his church. The entire New Testament calls believers to active involvement in that union. Summarizing God’s purpose for his whole creation as described by Paul in Ephesians 3, J. I. Packer writes, “It [the church] is the centerpiece of God’s plan to display his mind-boggling wisdom and goodness to all the angelic powers.”
Three New Testament metaphors can help to show children how important the church is from the perspective of Christ and his apostles.
The Bride Metaphor
The first metaphor is that of a bride. The church is Christ’s bride (Eph. 5:25–32). Ask your children to think of a story or movie where a man has to do brave and difficult things to earn the right to marry the woman he loves. The prince in the story of Sleeping Beauty has to break the sleeping spell and, in Disney’s version, fight the dragon. In Beauty and the Beast, the Beast has to find a way to get Belle to love him in spite of his frightful appearance. You can also tell any stories you might have of a male relative or friend the children know who had to meet a protective father’s demands or surmount obstacles in order to marry the woman he loved. Christ’s love for his bride brought him from the glory of heaven to our broken world, then caused him to give his life in the place of his bride. If we claim to love him, how can we not care about the bride he loves so dearly?
The Human Body Metaphor
The second metaphor is that of a human body (1 Cor. 12:12–27). The Bible tells us that the church is the body of Christ. Christ is the head. He directs, commands, gives life itself to all the members. They are united under him into one whole, each useless and unable to function if cut off from the rest. To illustrate the importance of each member of Christ’s body to the body as a whole, you can give children tasks to accomplish while not allowing them to use specific, necessary body parts. Move an item from the floor up onto a table without using your hands. Travel across a room without moving your legs. Find page 139 in a book while wearing a blindfold. The New Testament tells us that God himself has gifted each believer with abilities to use for the benefit of other believers, and has then put them all together into a body. Each member needs the others. Each member is required to minister to the others.
The Building Metaphor
The third biblical metaphor is that of a building, intended as a dwelling of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:19–22). You can draw a picture of a building with your children, labeling and discussing the importance of a foundation (the teaching of the apostles and prophets), a chief cornerstone (Christ himself), and every single brick (individual believers). What good is a brick when it is all by itself, separate from the rest of the structure?
About: Starr Meade
Starr Meade served for ten years as the director of children’s ministries in a local church and has taught Bible and Latin classes in Christian Schools. She lives in Mesa, Arizona, where she is currently teaching classes to homeschoolers.