We have all done it. Faced with a life-changing decision, we revert to the go-to, decision-making method: trial-and-error. Consider the way Ben explained his choice of college major to his parents:
Well, I’ve always liked the court system. This one time when I was in middle school I was on the mock trial team and I crushed it. Plus, people tell me all of the time that I’m really good at arguing. I mean, at the end of the day, I’ll try it out, and if I don’t like it I’ll pick something else.
This process often results in an unending journey of frustration–not to mention a massive amount of wasted money. As a result, The New York Times reports that college students like Ben are using their time in school to explore their options–some waiting years before declaring a major or choosing to double, or even, triple major.
Trial-and-error, while the default method of decision-making for most, is a painstaking journey, filled with challenges. We often end up squandering time, energy, effort, and money seeking to figure out who we are and why God has placed us on the planet.
Decision-Making in a Fallen World
College students like Ben are not the only ones who use this flawed method. Adults are prone to make decisions ranging from who we marry, what job we take, where we live, where we go to church, and what we spend our time doing in the same way.
Is there a better way?
For some, their family plays a primary role in helping them make critical life decisions. In a fallen world, though, many lack such a godly family structure, leaving them to figure out how to move through life on their own. Without any external sources of guidance, many move through life as a toy boat tossed into a raging river.
The Gift of the Church
The church is God’s answer to the rampant individualism and trial-and-error process by which the average Christian makes life’s most important decisions. Life in the family of God provides a built-in community to encourage, exhort, and help others discern who they are and how they should use the life God has given them.
Consider the familial language throughout Paul’s words to the church at Galatia:
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 ESV)
Clearly, the emphasis of Paul’s argument is on the fatherly relationship that those who are in Christ have with God, Himself. The implications, however, extend to our relationships with one another. Joseph Hellerman, in his book When the Church Was a Family, writes:
Paul’s point is not simply that God is now my Father and I am now His son. God, in Jesus’ great work of redemption, was not establishing a series of isolated personal relationships with His individual followers. He was creating a family of sons and daughters–siblings – who are now ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ (v. 28). The saving work of Christ therefore has a corporate, as well as an individual, dimension. For Paul, the church is a family.
If the church is the family, then it is vital for Christians to walk with one another to make wise, God-honoring decisions about all of life (see Proverbs 15:22). This is what a family does. No parent worth the title would say to their children, “You’re on your own son. Call me once you’ve got life figured out.” No! We walk carefully with our children–seeking to join with them in the process of self-discovery, wise decision-making, and effective stewardship of all of life.
The church does this for one another. We do not merely walk with each other in so-called “spiritual” aspects of life like Bible reading, prayer, or evangelism. Certainly, those things are vital, but church is much, much more than that. If the church is a family, then every aspect of life is family business. The family shapes not only those dimensions of life that we typically think of as spiritual, but also the practical choices we make each day.
Think about the magnitude of the decisions that people are making in their late teens or early twenties: who they will date and marry, if and where they will go to school, what they will study, where they will live, and on and on we could go. These decisions will have a life-altering impact, in terms of both their relationships with their spouse and their relationship with God. I mean, is there any more spiritual decision than choosing a spouse or a vocation? These “practical” decisions will have bearing on every dimension of a person’s life moving forward, and it is vital that they choose wisely.
Or, think about a middle-aged family who has just sent their final child off to college. Now they must make decisions about how they will give their wisdom, time, and energy to participate in God’s work around the world. The decisions they make in these areas will not only alter the trajectory of their lives, but could influence many long after they are gone.
Sadly, many people sitting in churches week-after-week are making these decisions in isolation from those who can provide guidance and direction. We all need the church. We need people who are walking a few steps in front of us to do more than say, “Good luck. Hope it all works out for you. We are all messed up and broken. Do the best you can.” We need bold disciple-makers who model Paul’s practice in his letter to the Thessalonians: “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” (1 Thess 2:8).
The church is meant to be a place where people share their lives with one another–their experiences, mistakes, perspective, insight, and direction. This is vital work, as Hellerman notes:
Faced with decisions that people were never meant to make in isolation, we self-destruct emotionally and relationally, we never grow up, and we turn to therapy or medication to prop us up against a world that is just too much for us to handle on our own…
We know this to be true intuitively. The gravitational pull of individualism, however, wars against these types of relationships in the church. We do our own thing, other people do their own thing, and we show up in the same building on Sundays and call it church. This is a far cry from the Biblical notion of the family of God and ensures that God’s people will continue to make all sorts of unwise choices.
A church family models the type of love that parents have for their kids by seeking to ensure that the collective, God-given wisdom found in the church is shared by all. While the world may ping-pong through life, figuring out has they go along, the church, as a family, can work together aid God’s people to make wise, God-honoring decisions in the days God has graciously given us.