I’ve been having conversations about this with people lately and have decided to write a post about it in hopes of more input. Many of the conversations I’ve had have been with children present which makes the conversations fragmented and often unfinished. I’d love to have everyone I know around my dining room discussing this while all of our children either contribute usefully to the conversation or play happily and lovingly with each other in another room, but I that is not going to happen in my life right now, so I’m trying a blog post!
So the questions is: Why go to church? Obviously, I do not expect to find a “perfect” church. I am fully aware that no such church exists. My question is: Why do I go? Why do you go? It seems to me that the reason we go determines the church we choose. And determines when, if ever, it’s time to leave.
Do we go to church to get something for ourselves? Let’s, for the sake of the discussion here, say that our motives are entirely unselfish. That the something that we want is God. We go to be filled with the Holy Spirit by spending time in the presence of God, praying, learning, and worshipping.
Is it to give something to God? Are we bringing something to God when we attend a church that we cannot bring him otherwise? Aside from spending time studying the Bible, being part of a small group, praying, and spending time with other believers outside of Sunday morning service, is there something we bring on Sunday morning that we do not bring through all those other means?
Is it corporate worship? This definitely seems very valuable. We are filled up and we are bringing a sweet offering to God when we corporately worship.
Do we go to form relationships with other believers? I certainly believe that all believers comprise the body of Christ and we must be living in community. And this reason definitely makes sense in instances where someone moves into a new area or just becomes a follower of Jesus. But it seems like there’s a lot of cases where people do not go to church with their closest believing friends. Often each friend goes to a different church. Also, I’m not sure if this is some weird insecurities I have or if this is as common as I think, but it almost seems like you’d need to ask someone’s permission before you attend their church. “Hey, do you mind if we try your church this weekend?” It would seem, if forming relationship with other believers is the primary reason for a local church, that we should all try to be getting in the same church. Getting in each other’s small groups. But tell me I don’t sound like a needy boundary-buster if I’m really connecting with a friend that doesn’t go to my local church, so then start attending their church and their small group? Or try to convince them to come to all of mine? The alternative is to form close relationships with those in your local church in addition to the relationships you already have. But since many (most?) of us do not have the resources for that, then it seems like we’re left with dropping some of the friends we have, or burning ourselves out trying to maintain more friendships than we can handle, and probably having to keep them superficial in order maintain them all. (Can you tell I have major struggles with this?! Ha.)
Does God allow us to choose a church based on any criteria we wish, as long as we are faithful to pursue him in all we do? Maybe God allows us the freedom to choose where we go based on any criteria we want and just uses us wherever we go.
Do we attend a local body so that we have a place to contribute our tithes and offerings, so they can be distributed more effectively than if we were to individually distribute? This doesn’t seem very likely. What if you don’t agree with the way your church starts to spend the money? Doesn’t it seem like handpicking charities and outreaches would be a more effective way to do this?
Does God call us to a specific church? What if we believe our presence at some specific church is going to bring glory to God’s name, although we cannot see how? For this to be the case, we would have to be able to discern God speaking to us specifically about this. I would think using the other reasons we come up with would be a valid way to discern God calling us somewhere; I am including this for the “it doesn’t make sense otherwise, but I know God is calling me to it” possibility.
Are we going because we have committed ourselves to a specific body of believers? If so, at what point is the commitment to be made, and what releases us from this commitment? God says that his church (all Christ-followers in the world) is a family. I have heard people say that a local body of believers is also a family. Often I have heard it in reference to people’s decision to leave, or not leave, a church.( i.e. You don’t just bail on your family when things aren’t going your way. You stay and work it out.) This may sound nice, but in order for this statement to be consistent, we would either have to stay in the church we are born in forever, or we would have to choose one as an adult and stick with it for life. (Like marrying into a family, I suppose. You can choose your mate, but once the choice is made, it’s for life.) I think we can all agree that moving out of area would be a legitimate reason to switch churches (as the church being left would no longer qualify as a local body), but are there any other legitimate reasons? I would certainly agree that a conflict with another church member or the color of the carpet is not reason to leave, but what about everything in between? What about the reason you go to church in the first place? How about false teaching? A lack of mentors? Other family members dislike it or feel called elsewhere? A burden for something the church doesn’t have, or doesn’t have the resources to support (adoption, larger scale social justice, an outreach to the homeless, multi-ethnic worship)? And if you have a list of what releases you, where did this list come from? I haven’t come across it in the Bible yet. (Yes, I have read the Bible in its entirety; and no, I do not believe I have it mastered to the extent that I am sure I have not missed something.)
For anyone who believes that nothing releases you, I think it’s worth noting that this leaves no room for God calling us to a different church. (If I am married and have made a commitment to my spouse before God, I am not open to the possibility that God is calling me to a different spouse.)
For those who think there are exceptions, I just don’t think family language for a local body makes much sense. (Again, unless we are talking about all believers, in which case, it is a perfect term.) Wouldn’t ‘fully committed for the time I am here’ be a more appropriate way to describe our local church body? I know it doesn’t sound as warm and cozy, but it seems much more honest. And it releases people from the implied guilt of “bailing on their family” if they choose to go elsewhere. And it doesn’t water down what family really is.
Why do you go to church?
One/Some of these reasons? Other reason(s)??
ALL thoughts welcome! 🙂