I had a friend who was from a Northern town who supported his local boyhood football club. I, however, knew him when he lived down South nowhere near the place he grew up. I also discovered that he followed the local team down South. I remember speaking to him about it one day and he said, ‘if you’re into it, you’ve got to support a local team’. By which he meant, it is all very well supporting the club in the town he grew up in, but if he could never see the team play, it wasn’t all that great. It was his view that supporting the local team where he had now made his home meant he and his son could go and enjoy live football together and actually care about the result.
I’ve often thought about that comment. So much so, I have debate following the local teams in a few of the places I have lived. Having shifted around so much, however, I never did in the end. Now I have a settled and (hopefully) long-term home in Oldham, the thought has arisen again in my mind. I love Oldham and I would love to follow a local team. Perhaps it is time I became a fully paid up Latics fan?
But I was set to thinking about this in respect to the church. I have met a number of people who insist on remaining attached to churches miles away – even at other ends of the country – because it is, ‘my church’. Sometimes it is an emotional attachment as the church they grew up in, other times it is the place where they became a believer, for others still it is the place where they experienced some real growth in the Christian life. But, for whatever reason, that emotional attachment leads them to want to remain formally attached despite being unable to participate in the life of that church. It is a bit like an avid football fan following their boyhood club despite living nowhere near that place anymore and never being able to attend (or even access on TV) any of the matches.
My friend’s advice seems pertinent. You’ve got to have a local church. There is nothing wrong with having a strong emotional connection with a church you grew up in, became a believer through or grew much in. But to insist on remaining formally attached whilst you can’t involve yourself in any meaningful way in that fellowship is pointless at best. Good churches worth their salt wouldn’t let you remain in that position either. They should be encouraging you to find a fellowship locally at which you can serve and fulfil the commands of Christ meaningfully where you are.
The importance of having a local church to which you are formally attached and able to serve regularly cannot be underestimated. Church is not a club to which you belong, it is a family that you join and to which you commit. There are a lot of things you simply can’t do from the other end of the country. Likewise, there are commands you can only fulfil by being present regularly in a local church. Just as my friend felt the importance of having a local team, there is even more importance attached to having a local church.
Just as following certain teams becomes nigh on impossible if you live miles away, remaining a meaningful member at churches miles away is also nigh on impossible. If you care about the church, and you care about your own spiritual growth, you really must find a local church to whom you can commit and serve.