In an essay on the life of Dwight Eisenhower, historian Stephen Ambrose recounts the following story:
In 1963, when he was filming with Walter Cronkite a television special entitled “D-Day Plus 20 Years,” Cronkite asked [Eisenhower] what he thought about when he returned to Normandy. In reply, Eisenhower spoke not of the tanks, the guns, the planes, the ships, the personalities of the commanders and their opponents, or the victory. Instead, he spoke of the families of the men buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy. He said he could never come to this spot without thinking of how blessed he and Mamie were to have grandchildren, and how much it saddened him to think of all the couples in America who had never had that blessing, because their only son was buried in France.
What Eisenhower was relating was the value of people. What was important was not the battle itself, the guns, the ships, or even the accomplishments of a few exceptional individuals. What was significant were the people themselves. He could not look at the place without thinking of the people that made the place possible.
He was describing Normandy, but he could have been talking about a church. What makes a church a church is not a place, a mission trip, a worship service, a small group ministry or a building. What makes a church a church is people.
While we come in different heights, weights, colors, personalities, families, and intelligence, we are united by a common need: Christ. The church is a gathering of people who have recognized that need for Christ and are committed to working together to encourage each other in their faith in Christ and to introduce others to Christ. This is the essence of Paul’s reason for wanting to see the Romans again — so that they can be mutually encouraged by each other’s progress of faith (Rom. 1:12).
The church exists so that individuals can serve one another’s needs, love one another, accept one another, encourage and build up one another, submit to one another, tell the truth to one another, and honor one another. You can’t encourage a building. You can encourage an individual’s heart. That’s the church — responding to the needs of others to demonstrate that those needs are a God-given opportunity to demonstrate the glory and grace of God.
When you look at your church, don’t see a building with bricks and mortar; see the people who years ago had a vision for a place to meet the needs of people for the glory of God. When you look at your church, don’t see people that think differently than you, but see people who have been graced and gifted by God to serve alongside you for God’s glory. When you look at your church, don’t be afraid of people whose problems and needs appear overwhelming; rejoice that God has given you an opportunity to minister to them in His name.
The church is not a place; it is a people. We do not “go to church.” We are the church. So do you need a little encouragement? Give thanks for the people to whom God has connected you in the church, and give thanks for their spiritual progress and their work of ministry to you and to one another, so that you are both maturing in Christ.