How essential is the local church in developing strong, godly families? One man told me the church definitely takes second or third place in his list of priorities. "Family has to come first," he said. So, he and his family don't attend church regularly any more.

Is active church participation optional for today's Christian families? Maybe if you have money, health and a busy schedule, you don't feel the need to fellowship with other Christians.

But when the storms of life hit -- and they will -- suddenly you'll find nobody's there. If you remain shallow in your relationship to your local church, you will lose out on the support of other Christians when you need it most.

By neglecting to minister within your local church, you also cause other Christians to lose something. The Lord Jesus Himself says in John 15 that He is the Vine, and we are connected to Him as branches. As a result, through Jesus, we are connected to each other. We are members of His Body, the Church.

In 1 Corinthians 12:26 we read, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." How you relate or fail to relate to the Body of Christ directly affects other Christians. We need each other!

As Christians, we need to plant our family's roots deeply into the local church. But how?

First, make a commitment to your local church. My wife Pat and I are active members of a local church in our home city. Although we travel part of every year to minister at evangelistic festivals and conferences throughout the United States, Asia, Europe and Latin America, we're not excused from taking an active part in our home church and remaining in subjection to the elders. We feel it's important that we consult with them on major decisions involving our family and sometimes even our entire evangelistic association.

My advice to every Christian is the same: Attend church regularly. Follow the prescribed procedures to become a member of your local church. Observe the Lord's Supper and follow Him in baptism. Inform the church leaders that your desire is to become an active member and submit to their authority.

Second, speak well of your church. Even though it has faults, don't allow yourself to develop a critical spirit (1 Corinthians 1:10). Your church is your "family" in Christ. Defend it! When others grumble about it, remind them to take the matter to the elders, not to the rest of the Body.

It is important that parents learn to speak well of "our" church. Let your children hear you talking about "our" pastor, "our" elders, "our" deacons, "our" Sunday School, "our" church retreat. This will help them claim the church as their own as they grow older.

Also, speak well of your church by inviting others to attend with you. A church historian found that the average person in a particular denomination currently invites others to church once every 28 years. Surely we can do better than that!

Third, seek to minister within your local church. Ask what you can contribute to the Body of Christ through your involvement. Remember, "to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7). It isn't enough to know we have spiritual gifts -- we must use them!

Beware of the mind-set that looks to see if the church will meet your needs. Since when is the church a country club where you pay your dues until you find something more exciting to do?

Instead, the attitude that should characterize us as Christians is love -- a love that gives. The Lord Jesus said, "All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another" (John 13:35). When my family is ready to leave for church, we take certain expectations about what we want to get and leave them home with the dog. Consequently, everything we do receive is a blessing. We're not there to get, but to give.

Fourth, give financially to support your local church. Although the New Testament doesn't give a fixed percentage for what we should give, it does emphasize the importance of regular giving. In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul explains that we should give proportionately (8:12), abundantly (9:6), purposefully (9:7) and cheerfully (9:7).

Although some may be able to give only 10 percent of their income to the Lord, others may give much more, depending on their resources and the needs of the church. But the amount we give doesn't impress the Lord. He looks at our reasons for giving and our sacrifices to give, not the amount. Pat and I taught our four sons to tithe from the time they were young. Their small contributions may not have seemed important at the time, but now giving is a regular, exciting part of their lives.

Fifth, meet the physical needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Whatever we do for the least of God's family, we actually do for Him (Matthew 25:40). Don't wait until someone asks you to help. Take the initiative to visit the sick and elderly. Take food to those facing financial difficulties.

Several years ago, a friend lost his job. Some months later, we heard that his family's house would be taken away if the payments weren't met. They already had sold their vehicles trying to meet their financial obligations. Pat suggested that we pay one of their house payments. We invited others to help, too. Together, as a Body, we can support each other in even the most difficult of times.

Finally, show hospitality to your church's missionaries. Have you ever invited missionaries home to join your family for dinner? Try it! Missionaries can be fascinating to chat with around the dinner table. And your children will fall more in love with the Lord because of those special visits.

I've seen this take place in the lives of my own sons. Over the years they have been more outspoken about their faith than either my wife or I were at their age. In part, I believe this has resulted from their friendships with missionaries.

It hasn't always been easy for me to follow the six principles I've discussed above. Sometimes I face tremendous pressures, because of my other commitments, to pull back and limit my participation in the local church. But I'm convinced from Scripture that as I continue getting my roots deep into the local church, I will be the winner in the long run--and so will my family and my church.

I challenge you to reevaluate the importance of the local church in your own life. God's desire is for his people to commune with each other in the local Body. Do you? Now is a good time to begin planting your roots deeply into the local church.

Copyright 2001 Luis Palau -- All Rights Reserved