I travel a lot, most of it on weekends, so I miss Sunday morning service with my family often. There was a time when I only made it to church about 6-8 weeks a year. This is what I like to call "the miserable years". There was a time in my life I wondered if a local church was even something that was needed. It was common for me to question whether the organized church was a mistake for Christianity; maybe church wasn't supposed to be so organized? Because of this I stopped making it a priority to be involved with a local church and instead leaned on the idea that "church" was simply all Christians I came into contact with. This seemed ideal as it removed a bunch of obligation from me and allowed me to live by a schedule I determined. The problem is that I didn't realize what I was saying goodbye to. I said goodbye to the local church, but I also said goodbye to accountability.
The organized church provides such a safety for the Christian. It "dummy checks" a person's faith to maintain a minimum that keeps a Christ follower, following. People might be offended by my qualifying the church as "the minimum", but it is. It isn't a minimum requirement for salvation; please don't think I am submitting that. It is a minimum if you want to be in a growing relationship. I am a firm believer that if you lack a relationship with the local church you lack the fundamental element to a growing relationship with Christ. You are a baseball player without a team, a swimmer without a coach, an employee without an employer, you are a non union stage hand at a union house. It isn't going to work - you can try and pretend, you will fail to grow closer to Christ. Christ hangs out with his wife - if you refuse to hang out with his wife, you won't be hanging out with him.
It all changed for me when I reached the bottom and I had no one to pull me out. I had no real relationship with the church and when I was in need I looked around and had no one. When you reach this place it is easy to live a sinful lifestyle because there is no shame and there is no guilt. I was lost like I had never been lost before. I had Christ, but I had no relationship with his family. I was the lost son that took half the truth my Father had and ran into the world thinking I could do it better on my own. It would have gotten worse and worse, but I loved my wife and the evidence I refused to see in my own life I saw in Kelly. It made me hurt and a change had to happen. We decided to attach ourselves to the church Kelly grew up in and the church we were married in. The result was a new love for "the minimum". We checked in on Sunday mornings (and I hit Sunday nights when I could). I sat under the teaching of scripture regularly and the change in my life was remarkable.
I go to church because I need to be taught, I need to have accountability, I need to be in a place that will help me feel guilty and full of shame if I am living in sin. It makes my life better - it makes my relationship with Christ closer when I am okay with hanging out with His wife. It is coming back home to my father's house and giving up the pigsty. I need the better life that the local church offers.
To my friends that are doing their faith on their own and not a part of a local church. They are judgmental, they are inclusive, they do call sinners out, they take our money and spend it on useless things, they act like they are better than us and then hypocritically do as we did. They are messed up and broken people who are often too full of pride to admit it. In short, they are just like you and you should be friends.