Which Church Shall I Join by J R Miller
All the passages below are taken from J R Miller, “Intimate Letters on Personal Problems.”
Referring to the matter of churches, concerning which you write, I scarcely know how to advise you, not knowing anything about the ministers or churches of your home city. Very frankly, there are not enough ministers who take personal interest in their people. They preach well and organize well — but many of them are lacking in the element of personal helpfulness. You cannot go to them and sit down beside them to unburden your heart, to ask them questions, and to get help in this way.
The other day a young woman was saying to me that she went once to a Philadelphia pastor, one of the best preachers in the city, with some little questions which had arisen in her mind. He thought that she was heretical and began at once to give her a severe lecture on the subject of orthodoxy. The result was that he shut her heart up tight, and for two years she carried the burden, with no light and no help. Indeed, she was only saved from growing utterly indifferent and even bitter in her heart, when she came to me and was encouraged to state her difficulties. Instead of listening to her recital with blame and criticism — I happened to understand her and tried to help her, The result is now, after a year and a half of life in our church, she is one of the happiest women I know, her soul full of sunshine and her heart full of God's peace. I mention this not to commend my own pastoral way — but simply to say that many pastors fail to understand how to help people in personal ways. Let me ask you therefore to bring me your questions, if you will, and let me help you with them.
What you want, is to get into close and perfect relation with Christ himself. He is a personal Friend. It is not the church that helps you. Whatever church you join, you will find that the vital thing, after all, is your personal relation with Christ. Let me say to you for myself, that after all my years of teaching and helping others, and all my experiences as a Christian, my whole creed is summed up into one little sentence — "Christ and I are friends." No friend in all the world is so near to me as he is. I trust him, I love him, I take everything to him, I lay every burden upon him. I go to him for wisdom, for help, for the love I need in my own heart. He is everything to me as Friend. Then for myself, my whole duty is summed up in being a friend of Christ's. He says, "You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you." This includes all Scripture commands.
In telling you this, I want to help you to understand that the essential thing in the Christian life is knowing Christ, trusting him, loving him, following him, having Christ for your Friend and being his friend. Then as to the church in which you will have your spiritual home, everything depends upon your convenience and opportunity. You want a place where you will feel at home, where the people will be congenial, where you can have some personal friendships. If you like some one church, if the preaching helps you, and if the services are interesting — why should you not make your home there for the present at least? Then if, in the future, some other church should prove to be more a home to you, you can readily transfer your membership at will.