by Naseem Khalili
My church has a constant stream of new people walking through the door, eager and passionate to make friends. As the discipleship pastor, I am one of the first people to connect with the many who have moved to the city for a job or short stint. We host regular newcomer events, and I always ask, "What's the number one thing you're looking for as you explore churches?" 9 out of 10 times, the answer is: good community.
I love that answer. And it also worries me.
Don't get me wrong... I love good community. I have witnessed miracles through the fruit that church community produces. I have seen the soothing balm of friendship cover the soreness of loneliness in young adult women. I have watched parents bond over dinner realizing that both of them have a heart for fostering children. Godly community reminds us that we are not alone in this world and offers a glimpse into the love of Jesus for His church. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him.”
But as much as I love community, it should not be our most important priority. Our aim should be knowing and encountering Christ. Community is a beautiful fruit of our gathering together around Jesus, but if we make it our focus, we miss out.
The Apostle Paul was clear about his focus, as he explained in Colossians 1: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
Paul’s priority was not to gather a community. His priority was helping communities gather around the person of Jesus, and help one another follow him. It’s a subtle—but crucial—course correction.
Friends, how do we get there? If you’ve been feeling like you’re going through the motions when it comes to church, here are three helpful questions for self-reflection:
1. Why am I coming to church?
Knowing ourselves and our true intentions is the first step. Think long and hard about why you are going to church on Sundays. Paul was clear about his goal: that the church would know the Word of God in all its fullness. The “glorious riches of mystery” he refers to isn’t community, profound worship experiences, or prophetic words—it’s the living Christ dwelling among us.
When we go to church on a Sunday, God himself has intentions, too: he wants to commune with us, partner with us in bringing His Kingdom to earth, and impart his nearness, comfort, and faithfulness. When we go to church focused on meeting him, we can take comfort that he promises to “inhabit our praises” (Psalm 22:3) and meet us, too.
2. How is church helping me grow as a disciple?
Paul exhorts the church to present its believers mature in Christ. One of my deepest desires as a pastor is Colossians 1:28—to grow as a disciple and to see others also growing in their desire to follow Jesus. This is exactly what Jesus says gives God glory (John 15:8).
In reality, sometimes it takes time for the desire for spiritual growth to truly spark. This is where spiritual disciplines (or practices) become helpful tools on our journey. Once implemented into our daily rhythms, practices like prayer, solitude, Scripture meditation, and others begin to cultivate consistent habits that, in turn, shape our desires, behaviors, and actions. I think this is what Paul was alluding to in his exhortation to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7).
3. Am I seeking the gift more than the giver?
My prayer for the local church is that over and above seeking out godly community, we would have a reinvigorated desire to primarily seek out the person of Jesus together on Sunday mornings. Jesus encompasses everything that we could ever desire – wisdom, counsel, knowledge, and understanding.
Every good gift—including community—should point us back to Jesus. Even if that hasn’t always been your vantage point, now is the time to step into that light. Be honest with God and confess your blind spots. Ask other safe people to come alongside you in an honest prayer to simply delight in Him.
After all, it is only through encountering the transformative power of Jesus Christ that we are able to love others. If we go to church seeking community more than the Christ-who-anchors-our-community, we will quickly run out of love to give in our own flesh; even to the person we care about the most. Without the fresh power of the Spirit, we will grow weary of doing good; no matter how altruistic we are. It is only through remaining in agape love of the one true vine (John 15) that we will be able to offer that love to our community, both inside and outside the walls of the church.
Naseem Khalili is a second-generation Iranian-American daughter of immigrants and the Discipleship Pastor at Awakening Church. She has a deep desire to empower people to abide in the way of Jesus that lasts for a lifetime. Naseem is currently in seminary at Wheaton College through the Propel 7 Cohort. Her passion and knowledge for pop culture trivia is quite impressive, to say the least.