I am running down a street without a sidewalk early on a Saturday morning. I would not be doing this but for my friend Chris, who has exhorted me come along with him on this three-mile run. I do not usually run, nor do I get up early when I don't have to go to work. But I know it will be good for me, and I told Chris I would be there, so I am there. Upon arriving at the starting point, I found that two other men would be running with us.
I quickly remember all the reasons I hate running: my breath gets short, my heart feels like it's about to explode, and I can't even quit because I'm far away from home. I can stop and rest for a bit, but I have to keep going. With Chris and the other men continually encouraging me, it's hard to rest for longer than I need.
We near the two-mile mark, and I'm dragging. Even with the continued kindness toward me, I feel like I need to take the escape hatch on this run and cut it to two and a half miles. I tell Chris as much, and he agrees; I and another man split off, wishing the other two the best for the rest of their run.
After returning home and cleaning up from the exercise, I am thoroughly glad I ran. I was pushed and stretched; I was outside my comfort zone. It was good for me. I wouldn't have had the benefits (such as not falling over in exhaustion during Ultimate Frisbee games!) if the community hadn't pushed me to do what I ought to have.
A good church is much the same. A good church will exhort you to do what you ought, and hold you to what you’ve committed. Your fellow memebers will give emphatic or gentle exhortations to keep going in a way that you ought, but they will also slow down and walk with you when you need to walk. There should be those that can run much longer and harder than you, but who do not lord it over you. They use their discipline and experience for encouragement, not discouragement.
And honestly, there are a lot of things in the Christian life that I wouldn't do if I didn't have other people holding me accountable. It's a lot easier to be selfish with time, money and care when no one knows that you struggle with them. But once I'm running with someone, their care and exhortation strengthen my resolve to continue. When you're by yourself, it's easy to quit running, even if you're far from home. But it's not so easy when you're with someone. A sane person won't leave you sitting on a curb in the middle of nowhere because you think you can't go on. A God-honoring one won't do the same for you spiritually, either.