As a young child, I thought it would be fun to see if I could fit a small metal object up my nose.

I’m not sure why I thought this would be a good idea, but I just wanted to try it.

Needless to say, it was not a fun experience. My nose started bleeding and my parents had to work hard to extract the object. They got it out eventually, but not without a significant mess.

My parents told me to never do it again, pointing out the obvious reasons why it was not a good idea to shove something up my nose. But I’m embarrassed to say I tried it a few more times before I learned an important lesson: what you want isn’t always what you need. 

My parents knew what was best for me, even if I didn’t. They had wisdom and knowledge that I didn’t. I believe this is how God views us. 

God knows what is best for us even if we don’t. Sometimes we think we know what we want, but God is wiser and knows truths beyond our comprehension. 

God knows what is best for us even if we don’t.

This same truth applies to building the church. God knows what is best, and sometimes what we want isn’t what we need. God can give us wisdom so that the things we build stand the test of time:

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. [11] For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. [12] If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,

[13] their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. [14] If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. [15] If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NIV

How we build matters. Jesus Christ is the foundation, which is what we build on. We build using his teachings, his example, faith, love, service, and purpose. 

The challenge and responsibility Christians have been given is to build God’s church. Everybody in the church is part of building it up, not just the leaders of the church (Ephesians 4:16). That’s why we should all take the time to examine the quality of what we’re building.

Why You Shouldn’t Build The Church You Want 4

We have free will to choose to build however we want, but the quality of our work will be exposed at some point. If we take shortcuts by letting our emotions, desires, or opinions drive our decisions more than the Word of God, our work won’t survive the inevitable tests of life. We may survive ourselves … but barely. 

If we want to build well, it’s important to listen to what God has to say on the subject. 

In this study we’ll look at several points to understand why we shouldn’t focus on making the church what we want it to be. Instead, each of us should make sure we are building the church that God wants and others need. 

God is stronger and wiser than we are

A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], But the LORD directs his steps and establishes them.

Proverbs 16:9 AMP

We can make a lot of plans for our lives and for what we want to see in the church, but ultimately we need to know that God is stronger and wiser than we are. He is the one who directs and establishes our steps. 

Why You Shouldn’t Build The Church You Want 5

To “establish” is to make something firm or stable. So if we want our plans to be firm and stable, we should make sure we’re listening to God’s wisdom and not just our own opinions. 

God wisely planned that the world would not know him through its own wisdom. It pleased God to use the foolish things we preach to save those who believe. [22] Jews require signs. Greeks look for wisdom. [23] But we preach about Christ and his death on the cross. That is very hard for Jews to accept. And everyone else thinks it’s foolish.

[24] But there are those God has chosen, both Jews and Greeks. To them Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. [25] The foolish things of God are wiser than human wisdom. The weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:21-25 NIrV

This scripture illustrates how much God knows that we do not. God knows more than us, and sometimes things that seem “foolish” to us as humans are actually spiritually wise and powerful. That’s why we should trust God’s direction for how to build our lives and the church instead of our own thoughts. 

If you’ve been a churchgoer for a long time, it might be hard to admit that you’ve started trusting your own thoughts more than God. So here are some signs that help me identify that I think I know better than God:

  • I think more than I pray.
  • I don’t seek out input from spiritual friends about my life.
  • I believe my emotions more than I believe Scripture.
  • It’s hard for me to admit I’m wrong.

All of these things (and more) are signs that I have begun to trust myself and my own wisdom more than the Bible and prayer.

Pause and reflect

  • Do you recognize any signs in your life that you think you know better than God?
  • What are some areas of your life in which you’ve been trusting yourself more than God? How do you think your life would change if you decided to trust God’s Word and prayer more than your own wisdom?

We take our cues from Jesus

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, [16] for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.

[17] He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. [18] Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. [19] For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, [20] and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Colossians 1:15-20 NLT

God set up Jesus as the head of the church. Jesus is in charge, not us and not another person. That means what Jesus says, goes. Just like our own minds tell our hands and feet to move, so we are meant to take our cues from Christ. 

And Jesus graciously entrusts us to minister to others:

My heart spills over with thanks to God for the way he continually empowers me, and to our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, who found me trustworthy and who authorized me to be his partner in this ministry. [13] Mercy kissed me, even though I used to be a blasphemer, a persecutor of believers, and a scorner of what turned out to be true. I was ignorant and didn’t know what I was doing. [14] I was flooded with such incredible grace, like a river overflowing its banks, until I was full of faith and love for Jesus, the Anointed One!

1 Timothy 1:12-14 TPT

Jesus entrusted Paul to be his partner in ministry. Paul was grateful for the opportunity and felt unworthy. He wasn’t entitled, arrogant, or annoyed at being asked to serve. He had a sober view of who he was, and he served out of his gratitude for God. 

In the same way, we should be humble and grateful that Jesus trusts us to build his church. This is an inspiring responsibility. 

For the love of Christ controls and compels us, because we have concluded this, that One died for all, therefore all died; [15] and He died for all, so that all those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and was raised for their sake.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 AMP

As Christians, we should be controlled and compelled by the love Jesus has for us. Love should drive everything we do, including the way we build the church. This ensures that our motivation to build the church is not a selfish one, focused on building what we want for ourselves. Our motivation is meant to be love and the willingness to do whatever it takes to build how Jesus calls us. 

It’s very easy to do good religious things with the wrong motivation (Philippians 1:15-17). You can serve at church, speak at church, and even pray without being motivated by Jesus’ love.

Why You Shouldn’t Build The Church You Want 6

Selfish ambition, jealousy, and bitterness (James 3:13-18, Ecclesiastes 4:4) are some common motivators that aren’t always easy to see but can easily replace the love of God in driving our behavior and desires.

It’s important that we take time to stop and reflect regularly about what’s compelling us to do what we do. Jesus’ example of serving, loving, sacrificing, and praying was inspiring, and our lives can be too if we make sure we’re living for him and not for ourselves.

Pause and reflect

  • How does it feel that Jesus entrusts you to be a part of building his church?
  • Have you taken this responsibility seriously?
  • What are some of your biggest motivators when it comes to building the church?

The church is built on truth and love 

[11] And Christ gave gifts to people—he made some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to go and tell the Good News, and some to have the work of caring for and teaching God’s people. [12] Christ gave those gifts to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving, to make the body of Christ stronger.

[13] This work must continue until we are all joined together in the same faith and in the same knowledge of the Son of God. We must become like a mature person, growing until we become like Christ and have his perfection.

[14] Then we will no longer be babies. We will not be tossed about like a ship that the waves carry one way and then another. We will not be influenced by every new teaching we hear from people who are trying to fool us. They make plans and try any kind of trick to fool people into following the wrong path.

[15] No! Speaking the truth with love, we will grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head. [16] The whole body depends on Christ, and all the parts of the body are joined and held together. Each part does its own work to make the whole body grow and be strong with love.

Ephesians 4:11-16 NCV

God gives us all gifts and we are meant to use those to serve others and make the church (Christ’s body) stronger. The church will be as strong as it possibly can when every Christian is working to speak the truth and love one another. When we do that we will build a tight and close-knit family that builds one another up and grows together. 

Read More: Why Serving Others Makes For A Happy Home

Oftentimes, there are people around us that are different from us or difficult to love and that pushes us to love outside of our comfort zone. And sometimes we are that difficult person. I know I can be.

One of the most special things about the church is each person’s commitment to love one another through the highs and lows of life and relationships. A strong church is built through a commitment to love one another no matter what. 

Why You Shouldn’t Build The Church You Want 7

Pause and reflect

  • What gifts has God given you? 
  • How can you use your gifts to serve others?
  • Who needs you to love outside of your comfort zone?

The church is built through friendship

[18] Jesus drew near and said to them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. [19] Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, [20] and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 GNT

Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. [20] When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.

[21] When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. [22] When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. [23] I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.

[24] Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! [25] All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. [26] So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. [27] I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:19-27 NLT
Why You Shouldn’t Build The Church You Want 8

Another way we grow is by teaching others how to follow Jesus and live by the bible, while we do the same. A disciple of Jesus should be known by their love, honesty and faith. And these qualities of Jesus enable us to be friends with anyone, doing all we can to relate to people and find common ground with everyone. 

Everyone can be a friend and everyone needs a friend. Taking an interest in other people’s lives, having compassion when someone is in need, sharing about the ups and downs of your own life and being kind to others all go a long way to connect with people.

When we are friends with people then they naturally want to know what we are interested in, including God. Having a relationship with God that people can see through your friendship with them is a powerful thing. 

Pause and reflect

  • Who has God put in your life to build a deeper friendship with? 
  • Decide to love those around you in a new way this week. 
Why You Shouldn’t Build The Church You Want 9

Build what God wants and you’ll get what you need

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

Proverbs 11:25 NIV

This is a promise from God: if you give to others, not only will they be refreshed, but you will be too. This seems counterintuitive. You may think that if I need to be refreshed then let me refresh myself.

Read More: 10 Ways To Know If Your Soul Is Tired

The truth is that giving to others not only makes the other person feel good, but makes us feel good too. Things as simple as buying someone else a cup of coffee or calling someone just because you’re thinking of them go a long way.

[31] So don’t worry. Don’t say, ‘What will we eat?’ Or, ‘What will we drink?’ Or, ‘What will we wear?’ [32] People who are ungodly run after all those things. Your Father who is in heaven knows that you need them. [33] But put God’s kingdom first. Do what he wants you to do. Then all those things will also be given to you. 

Matthew 6:31-34 NIrV

One of the greatest obstacles to building the church God wants and others need is prioritizing ourselves above everything. Sometimes, fear and anxiety make us live for ourselves. 

When we are worried or afraid we aren’t going to be taken care of, we end up living for ourselves. This not only distances us from God, but also others. We end up focused on what will relieve our worry, and relationships get less of our time and energy. 

Why You Shouldn’t Build The Church You Want 10

God promises to take care of our needs. Putting God’s kingdom first is about doing what is best for God and his people before ourselves, because we trust him. It’s about doing what he wants instead of doing whatever we may feel like doing, and trusting that God’s way will build something much better. 

Pause and reflect

  • In what area(s) of your life is it hard for you to trust God will take care of you? Find a set of scriptures that help you believe God will take care of you.
  • What are some practical decisions you can make to prioritize building God’s kingdom first?

Ultimately, God is stronger and wiser than any of us. When we think about things we want to see happen in the church or don’t want to see happen, it’s important to remember that Jesus is in charge and he wants the church to be built on love, gratitude, truth and friendship. As we follow Jesus’ example of serving and sacrifice, we’ll build a church that inspires the world around us.

More in

More in

Explore more:
Why You Shouldn’t Build The Church You Want 14

Nick Straw is a Santa Clara University alum, and is passionate about ministry and community service work in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Why You Shouldn’t Build The Church You Want 14

Nick Straw is a Santa Clara University alum, and is passionate about ministry and community service work in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Our first book is officially live.

Rebuild your relationship from the ground up with He's Not Who You Think He Is: Dropping Your Assumptions and Discovering God for Yourself.

Why You Shouldn’t Build The Church You Want 16