Since becoming a Christ follower 28 years ago, I learned how to enjoy Sunday service. It wasn't hard, unlike my first foray into church attendance as a preteen (Lord, help). Whether an old hymn or one of the newest Hillsongs tunes, whether the preacher's message has me singing "Happy," or sends me to God's woodshed, corporate worship and study of the Bible draws me.
depress me. But yet, I keep showing up. Is it simply out of duty, or is it something deeper than that?
Sunday's message got me thinking--or should I say read my mail on what I had been thinking. Our sister campus minister, Brother Casey (message is here), asked the question "Why am I here?" Not why am I on the earth, but why am I in church?
I know several people who say they are Christians, but don't believe attending church is necessary. I also know people who go to church on Sunday, but during the rest of the week act like they don't know Jesus from Adam's housecat. So what's the big deal about this church thing? Is it really necessary, or is it simply a socioeconomic move? Is it a crutch for the weak, or a mere religious country club for the strong? What is it, and why is it?
First, Jesus Himself in Matthew 16:18 was the first to call the collection of believers "the church." He was not in a building with a steeple and soft pews (or hard ones); He was hanging out at the beach with His disciples (hey, it says they were at the coasts of Caesarea Philippi). Jesus' emphasis was not on the building, but on the people. His message was that if the congregation of believers puts the emphasis on who Jesus is as paramount to their gathering, then "the gates of hell cannot prevail against it." A true church gathering centered on Jesus keeps the enemy and his forces at bay. Attacks come, but no one is left to fight alone.
Second, this world is broken and sick, and we need each other to get well and stay well. Pastor Rick Warren in his message to the 2011 Celebrate Recovery Summit brought this out, "We always get well in community. There are 58 'one anothers' in the New Testament...It is the mutual ministry of the Body [of Christ] to itself. We do not get well on our own." In other words, for us to do the "one anothers" we need to gather with "one another." In fact, one of the "one anothers" instructs on this very thing:
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (KJV)
Third, no one can feed themselves without help. When were babies, we needed someone to bottle and spoon feed us When we were toddlers, someone cut our food into pieces we could safely consume. As we grew older, we could choose our own food, but someone had to grow it, manufacture it, ship it, stock it in the store, and cook it. Even if we cook our own food, it still takes someone's help to get it to the table (thank you, farmers).
When we begin our journeys as Christ followers, we are known as "babes in Christ" (I Corinthians 3:1, Hebrews 5:13). Not only must we feed on the messages of trusted teachers who prepare spiritual meals for us, but we must also learn to feed ourselves. "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:" Notice, I said trusted teachers. As we grow in the Word, we get to the point where no one can just shove anything in our mouth and call it spiritual food. Those who do not gather to learn from others are doomed to be tossed back and forth with every new thing that comes along (Ephesians 4:11-16). Gathering together is necessary for real growth and maturity.
Look, I know that church can be a rough place sometimes and everyone's not there for the right reasons. But life is so much rougher solo (trust me, I know). If you are not part of a gathering, let God show you where to plug in. Hook up with people who are there for the right reasons-- a small Bible study, a prayer meeting, a local congregation's weekly service, or a Celebrate Recovery large group meeting--somewhere the truth of Jesus is shared. A word of caution though: don't go looking for perfection. Church is just like a family, and every family tree has its nuts and squirrels. In the words of my home church Pastor, "Don't go looking for the perfect church because if you find it and join it, you'll mess it up." True that.
Want to hear more? I taught a Bible study along these lines at my home church back in 2010. The audio is here.