Monday, March 12, 2012

Why do I go to church?

If you are a frequent reader of Out of My Hat, you already know that I am a follower of Jesus. Most might simply say that I am a Christian, but I feel that the term has become too generic in its meaning and is often misused and misunderstood.

This post is purely a sharing of my heart and is not meant to be an offense to anybody. It is certainly not meant to be critical of other believers. I just want to share the reasons that I go to church ask why others go to church. To be fair, the reason for this post is some confusion (on my part) over a recent sermon that I heard. I know that several pastors/preachers read Out of My Hat and this is not meant as a critique of their messages. I'm just wondering why we do church the way church.

Why do I go to church?

The simple answer is that I go to worship.
I go to worship my God.
I go to worship my God with other like-minded believers.
Together, we worship our God.

That's pretty much it.

It may sound strange to hear a preacher say this, but I don't go to church to hear a good sermon. I go to church to worship.

On most Sundays, I would be happy to sing praise and worship songs for an hour! I would be happy to stand before my God, praising, thanking, worshiping in song or prayer ... and then going out to lunch with some friends, never having heard a preached message.

To be honest, the structure of our services often confuses me.
It would appear that our services today are structured to center around "The Message."  Maybe that's the way it is supposed to be. Maybe the "You get out of church what you put into it" mentality of actually getting something out of church is how I should view the whole worship service.

But to my way of thinking, worship is about giving; not about getting!

If our purpose in going to church on Sunday morning is to get something from the experience, are we going to worship God or are we going to exploit His good nature and see what we can get from God? Are we coming with open hearts to meet with Him and honor Him as God, or are we coming with open hands to receive gifts and blessings that we somehow think we deserve because we managed to show up on a Sunday morning.

Two very different attitudes.

Time for a story break.

Back when my kids were young and we were pretty new members at Hopedale, there was a man named Gil Mitchell at our church. Gil was a friendly, white haired man that had a stick of Wrigley's Spearmint chewing gum for every kid in church on every Sunday morning, every Sunday evening and every Wednesday night. The kids didn't have to ask Gil for a piece of gum, they just had to show up and Gil was there with gum.

They might say, "Good morning, Mr. Gil!"
Gil would say, "Good morning, sweetie," (it didn't matter if it was a boy or girl, it was 'sweetie') and give them a piece of gum.

Sometimes a child would come up when Gil was speaking with somebody. The child would just wait patiently until Gil reached into his pocket and, without a word exchanged between them, handed him/her a piece of gum. A quick "thank you" from the child and off they ran!

In a simple way, I think this story gives us a picture of God. I'm not implying that the kids worshiped Gil. I'm just saying that they never had to ask Gil for a piece of gum. They knew that just being around Gil (in his presence) was enough to get them a blessing. That was just the way Gil was.

And it is the way God is. It is His nature to bless His children. When we gather for worship, it is the nature of God to bless us. When we stand before Him giving thanks and praise, it is the nature of God to bless us. He just can't help it. He wants to lavish His love on us. And I know that the blessing often comes as He speaks to us through His Word. But part of me really wonders why we need so much sermonizing about His Word.

Is it so unclear that we need countless commentaries and a degree in biblical studies to understand it? Is it really necessary to listen to a preacher read a few verses and then expound upon them for 30 minutes or so? I know that sharing some cultural background and historical notes can give better understanding to the Word. And I know that learning what the Bible has to teach us is important.

Is that why we go to church?

When a sermon turns to social issues or becomes about government oppression of (our) religious freedoms, I tend to turn off and feel a little bit cheated. If sharing persecutions is to encourage us to pray for one another or to realize that we're not alone; that's okay. We need encouragement and we need to encourage others. But if talking about the banning of crosses or other religious symbols or activities on public lands is to incite anger and outrage, what good is accomplished?

When will we stop expecting a secular society to behave like followers of Jesus?
And when will we, as followers of Jesus, stop behaving like a secular society?

I really believe that our time of corporate worship is for God and God alone. I don't think that He should be expected to share that time with mothers (on Mother's Day) or fathers (on Father's Day) or veterans or country (on any of our patriotic holidays). He is God and should have all of our worship.

Our church activities on Sunday mornings will not change laws or governments. They are not meant to.
Our church activities on Sunday mornings will not change lives. We are powerless to do that.
Our church activities on Sunday mornings will not even change us until we are willing to give ourselves as living sacrifices to our God and Savior.
Our church activities on a Sunday morning will never convince a lost world that they are living lives contrary to the will of God. Only God can do that.

The world has more than enough messengers of gloom and doom.

We have been chosen as His messengers of Hope.
We have been chosen as His messengers of Truth.
We have been chosen as His messengers of Life.

And so my message today is a simple one:

God loves you.
And Jesus died for you!

John <><


Anonymous said...

Great post, John, with a lot of good things to think about.

However, as much as anything, I need the sermon to learn what HE expects of me; what the bible teaches me; what being a follower is supposed to be.

When a pastor takes a verse and really teaches about the meaning, I always appreciate the "AHA!" moments! :)

Worshiping is certainly the primary reason to go to church. But, by learning, that worship becomes so much more powerful.

Anonymous said...

I primarily go to church to worship my Lord and Savior. I do enjoy the other benefits as well. For example: fellowship with other believers, encouragement given and received, and hearing a message inspired by the Holy Spirit, just to name a few. I like sharing lessons with children. It is exciting watching them grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In a nutshell, I go to church for a number of reasons but mostly to worship my God!

Anonymous said...

I believe the Bible is very clear on this point. This is a very good reason to regularly attend church.

Hebrews 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Anonymous said...

I've given this a lot of thought recently. Church is a lot more than just the main service. But in the main service, I have found there to be 3 important elements:
God's Power

In countless conversations people will say the same thing: I want a place to belong. I feel like I really connect here. (Or the opposite - there is no one my age, my ethnicity, my occupation, etc.) This matters to people a lot!

In my short experience as a lead pastor - about a year and a half - I've heard plenty of opinions about the Bible, many of them far afield from what the Bible actually says, as best as I can tell. Reading the Bible is not a popular activity these days, and if I can communicate ANYTHING at all that day that will people feel like they can connect with the Bible, then I feel like I've really done something. A person will likely be able to hear God's voice better when they know what God would say. How would we know? The Bible - at least that's how I feel about it for now.

As for God's Power - one of the major aspects of faith for me is that God acts on behalf of those who love Him. If I am not creating space for God to work on behalf of His people, I believe I have lost an opportunity.

Now that said, churches in and of themselves are about much more than this. There is finding who you are created to be - being empowered to be the part of the body that you are - loving and caring for our communities and each other. There's certainly more to it.

But these three things: Community, God's Power and Teaching seem like the big ones for the main service.

Now, that said, even those three things don't have to look like church services do today...