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How Fingernails Changed My Relationship with the Church

Fingernails changed the way I relate to other church members.

Shortly after my wife, Leah, found out she was expecting our first child, the doctor told us our baby had them. I couldn’t care less about keratin, but that little collection of proteins represented something greater, something glorious. It represented life.

So when the doctor mentioned the fingernails, here’s what I didn’t think: But why can’t she talk yet? When will she be able to do long division? No, I just sat there with a silly grin on my face—struck by the reality that my daughter was growing, actually growing.

Our brothers and sisters are developing in Christ, just like my little girl in the womb. We can’t expect all church members, or even most, to be full-grown stalwarts of faith. They may not yet have a biblical view of x or y, but are they growing? If so, the Father is smiling, and no one can wipe it off his face (Heb. 13:21). He knows his children will continue to develop until his work is complete.

Because we’re promised glorification, we can approach sanctification expectantly. To paraphrase Eugene Peterson, a church flourishes when we view each other with expectancy, wondering what God will do today in this one, in that one. When we’re in community with those Christ loves and redeems, we constantly find out new things about them. It shouldn’t be possible to be bored in such a family.

How to Contribute to Church Growth

So how’s your church growing right now? Not “How should they grow?” The latter’s a great question, but don’t miss out on how Christ is remaking your church into his image right now.

Here are five ways you can be part of that.

1. Commit to a church.

I understand the hesitation. Committing to a church can feel restrictive, like signing up for student loans. But it can also be liberating, like writing your name on a marriage covenant.

Married couples argue and disappoint each other. But in a climate of faithful, gracious commitment, they notice qualities in their spouse nobody else does. They’ve traded their ideal spouse for a real one, and as they fulfill their promise to extend grace, true friendship flourishes. The same principle applies to church community.

Because we’re promised glorification, we can approach sanctification expectantly.

Idealized visions of church destroy community because, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, they extract mercy from the bloodstream of Christ’s body and replace it with moralism. Like carbon monoxide, moralistic dreams of a quasi-glorified community deoxygenate the church, leaving her gasping for mercy. They’re deadly. But noncommittal church attendance often inhales these fantasies—attending or not based on the likelihood of seeing an imaginary community realized.

True community operates differently. Joining a gospel-preaching church might suffocate your dreams, but your gospel blood cells will fill with mercy. You and your church will argue, disappoint each other, and destroy every dream of perfection, but you’ll also notice mutual grace nobody else sees. You’ll sin against one other, but you’ll breathe deeply with one another.

2. Eat with your church.

When conversation moves from the church parking lot to the dining-room table, a shift happens, doesn’t it? Pretense subsides. Dialogue deepens. Relationships blossom.

Don’t underestimate the value of a lunch invitation, the power of a paper plate. If you want to see visible grace in your church, eat with them. Before the Sunday morning gathering, make more gravy, buy an extra pie, and add a few more chairs around your table—for the easier members and the harder ones.

If you want to see visible grace in your church, eat with them.

Harder friendships make it easier to look for grace, because what else explains those friendships besides Jesus? If you don’t vote like each other, dress like each other, joke like each other, or do anything like each other except follow Jesus, what grounds your friendship? Not politics. Not style. Not humor. Not anything or anyone else besides Jesus, the true foundation of Christian community. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, “One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience.”

Hosting harder members probably won’t feel like an “extraordinary social experience.” Lunch may get awkward. But as you see Jesus in each other, it’ll be glorious, and God’s grace will be the obvious centerpiece of your friendship.

3. Pray for your church.

It’s been said you cannot easily pray for someone and hate them at the same time. So if you’re struggling to see God’s grace in fellow church members, pray for them.

Over the years, a practice I’ve found helpful is praying through a membership directory. Each morning, I write several one-sentence prayers based on my Bible reading. After praying for myself and my family members, I’ll pray for the next letter in the church directory. Today, drawing from my reading of 2 Chronicles 7–8, I thanked the Lord that “everything needed for [S last names] to dwell in his house has been accomplished.” Simple, right? It only took a couple minutes, but even a short prayer quickly reoriented my heart toward those members.

4. Text your church.

When you think about how inconvenient letter writing was in Paul’s day, the volume of encouraging mail he sent is astonishing. Just think how many texts he’d send with unlimited data.

Why not message a fellow church member right now? Point out how you see God’s visible grace in his or her life. Be specific. Perhaps share one of the prayers from your Bible reading. As Paul exhorts, “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).

5. ‘Gossip’ about your church.

After you’ve texted church members, weave them positively into other conversations. I’ve heard Mark Dever refer to such edifying conversations as godly “gossip.” The apostle Paul sure did a lot of godly gossiping. He constantly talked about other churches behind their backs—celebrating God’s work among them. To the Thessalonians, he wrote, “Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (2 Thess. 1:4).

When you have church members over for dinner, ask them, “Who at church has been an encouragement to you?” And when other members come up in conversation, consider how you can speak well of them and identify God’s visible grace in their lives.

Give it some thought. Look for the fingernails. And praise God for their growth.

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