Recently, I’ve been thinking about why should we go to church? Then, I was reading Matthew 6 and these words jumped off the page.
Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. Matthew 6:1 Message
This idea of God applauding got me thinking, What does God applaud? What things happen here on earth that make Him jump out of his seat and say, “YES! You’ve got it! Right on! Way to go! I’m so proud of you!” Obviously He does do that from time-to-time. We don’t have to look much farther than Job’s life to see an example of it. The faith chapter in Hebrews is another place where those who kept their eyes firmly focused on Him received accolades.
Reading Matthew 6 made me start looking at things through that lens wondering, what is God applauding and what isn’the applauding?
What We Argue About At Church
As I see some of the tiny things that we find to argue about as fellow church members, I’m as baffled as a mother watching her two kids get in a row over one hovering his finger just above the arm of the other taunting, “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!”
As I was preparing to go to church this weekend, I thought about the issue of music, in light of this idea. I began wondering, what makes one person’s Christian music “right”? And what makes another person’s Christian music wrong? Has God bequeathed us with a standard musical score I’m not privy to? It’s obvious I haven’t seen it, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post. I wondered to myself (because I don’t like kicking up a stink at churches) how can 3-5 songs, sung, during a one-hour church service (if you’re not attending an African-American church like I did growing up) be enough to make people move their membership, tithe and offering and resources from one church body to another or to none at all? Is that all we needed to do to get you to leave?
How Invested Are You in Your Church?
Why do you go to church? How invested are you in your church? I’m not asking how much you’ve donated to the building fund. I’m wondering, how invested are you in what’s happening in your church – in the ministry your church does, the people who attend, the community the church is in. How invested are you? Has your church become like family who you keep up with, meet with, minister with and do life with? I imagine if you’re fully invested in your church there’s nothing anyone could do to push you out of it. You’d have too much stake in the game.
What’s the Purpose of Church?
It’s only been in the last 3-4 years that I’ve really started to appreciate church and its purpose in our lives as Christians. I often asked myself as well, why should we go to church.
Church is not for our entertainment; it’s for our growth. It’s to make God known. It’s for God.
In all honesty, I struggle with church. I struggle with attending. I was very comfortable as a child. It was the done thing. The members were like family. I knew they were fully invested in my life and in my well-being. Adults told my parents if I did something wrong (and I’d get in trouble). They encouraged me on the piano and made me feel like I had done the best job in the world, even though I ALWAYS needed more practice. They poured into the community and church activities on Friday nights, Saturday mornings and evenings and Sunday mornings for extra activities. They were all in, and it made all of the difference in the world to my spiritual life, even today. The church was about community and discipleship. They bickered and fought, but I remember doing life with those people.
Going to college, though I went to a very spiritual University, I didn’t really attend church. The same was true after Uni – I went where I knew there’d be other young people. I wasn’t going for the spiritual food but for the potluck feast I knew would be following!
It wasn’t until after living in Lebanon — where I spent the last 6 months of the experience skipping church and watching lifestreams and studying at home — that the concept of church started making sense to me. It was in the moments in Lebanon of not attending that God impressed the importance of attending on my heart. It was then, as I prayed and fasted and delved into my Bible, that God helped me understand (and I’m still learning to understand) the purpose of His church.
Here are a few reasons I’ve come up with:
Purpose: To Make Jesus Known
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. Matt 5:14-16
Purpose: To Be One as the Son and the Father are One
They will know you are Christians by your love. Hey, let’s be honest. Not everyone in the church is easy to get along with, and if you don’t know anyone like that….you might be that person. Chin-up! We all have something to work on!
Purpose: To Show a Picture of Christ by Our Love for One Another
Because not everyone is easy to love, learning to love them, and showing others a picture of that love helps us understand Christ’s love for us. It says in Romans 5:8, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Purpose: To Build Our Characters
Church is for community. Church is our sandpaper experience. It’s the bootcamp of our spiritual life. It teaches us how to love and be loved. It provides us a place to journey with people. It gives us an opportunity to rub up against people and sand down the rough and bumpy parts of our personalities.
When we wonder, why should we go to church, we should know that church is the place we should feel safe to grow in our Christian experiences. It should be an incubator of love. The same way a newborn baby basks in the warmth of the incubator, we should be able to bask in the warmth of community. I heard a preacher say, no one goes to watch a sports team in the huddle for the whole game. Church is our huddle. It’s where we go to get an “atta boy!”, a quick pat on the back and the game plan. But after that word of encouragement, you head back into the game.
Don’t Create Church in Your Own Image
Just to be clear, I’m not condoning or criticizing any particular style of worship. I’m just wondering, is God applauding the amount of time we take to focus on, point fingers at and criticise those who don’t ascribe to my style (or your style) of worship?
Here’s some perspective. I’m African-American. I grew up in an African-American church. Since then, I’ve lived in Spain (almost a year), Brazil (2 months), Lebanon (2 1/2 years) and now Australia (2+ years). I’ve lived outside of my country and cultural context for about 6 years of my life. Nonetheless, I’ve still managed to praise God and fellowship with his church in the different church contexts I’ve experienced.
If I were go into every church building and demand they create a church in my image – in the image of my music, the music that speaks clearest into my cultural context it would sound like this:
(I could go on and on)
but instead, it sounds like this
And that’s cool. I can appreciate both styles and I sense Jesus in both ways.
The first few songs speak to my soul. They feel familiar and remind me of summer camp, camp meeting, church of my childhood, college and everything in between.
But church is not about recreating my childhood and creating something in my own image.
Imagine people who live outside of their countries. Imagine, while some people argue over drums or no drums, hands in air or no hands in air, many people never get to experience music they’re used to yet they still somehow manage to appreciate church, find community and praise God.
Church is not the only time you get to hear music that you connect with. It’s not a concert; it’s not a substitute for your iPod.
When asking the question, why should we go to church, the answer should be about us. We must be careful to avoid creating a church service or church community in our own image and then become disappointed when the church doesn’t mirror our reflection. Church is designed to praise God, not us. We don’t get to create something perfect so we enjoy attending. I’m not saying the service should be unenjoyable, but it should be reflective of the people in the congregation, not just you. When we plan our services, when we choose our music, we should always ask, what does God applaud. What makes Him happy? What makes him smile? Not what makes me applaud, happy and smile.
Which brings me back to my main question, how invested are you in your church community?
Why Should We Go to Church?
More than that, we should look at our actions, our arguments, the things that consume our time and ask, as we spend energy on this, what are we not addressing? What thing is not getting our attention? What should we be doing that we’re not doing?
If you ask your child to do their homework and their chores and they ask if they can go out and play, won’t you surely make sure they’ve done the things you’ve already asked them to do?
Is creating a solemn and holy worship environment important, yes! But have we done the things Jesus explicitly asked us to do, especially in light of the times we live in. We say Jesus is coming soon. Do we act with urgency in the things we do. When’s the last time we told someone about Jesus? And no, paying your tithe so your pastor can tell them doesn’t count! Jesus didn’t say, in His final conversation with the disciples, “Go, get a job, pay one overworked person to go and tell others about me, and make sure He’s making disciples. He told us to do it! It’s our responsibility. Are we doing that? Are we taking care of the widows and the orphans, because He explicitly told us to do that. He told us the poor will always be among us. Are we taking care of them? He said people would know we’re His disciples by the way we love one another….have we got that covered? He prayed that we would be one just as He and the Father are one. Can we say, check! check! check to that? What about loving one another (even when we disagree). Let’s not overlook that one!
I mean, once we have those things taken care of, then I guess we can worry about the other stuff that we’ve scribbled in the margins of our Bible as being of utmost importance.
We need to make the main thing the main thing!
The main thing, is making disciples. There is a lost and dying world out there, longing to hear about the changing power of Jesus in their lives. Are we doing that?
Once we put the same time and energy into doing the things Jesus talked about over and over and emphasized, as we do into rebuking one another over music, then I’ll sit down and be quiet. If you’ve been wondering how to get me to shut up, yes, that’s all it would take….maybe.
What do you think? Why should we go to church?