Why go to Church? (With a Little Bit of: Is a Local Church Body a Family?)

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.

**********
So…

Why do you go to church?
One/Some of these reasons? Other reason(s)??

ALL thoughts welcome! 🙂

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13 Responses to Why go to Church? (With a Little Bit of: Is a Local Church Body a Family?)

  1. First, I’m really glad you’ve started a blog. Count me as one of your readers. Second, dang! I’m impressed (though not surprised) by how comprehensively you’ve thought about this. I love your question, “Why go to church?” Last Sunday I began my sermon by asking the congregation to take a few minutes to share with each other the answer to the question, “Why are you here?” Given that recent sermon, this topic is very fresh on my mind.

    My own sense is that most us who go to church go to receive something. As you point out, that something can look a lot of different ways. In fact I think we do receive when we go to church, though it’s not always (or, for some of us, often) what we’d choose to receive.

    I’m convinced that, while receiving isn’t bad, as a starting point it will always disappoint. In other words, if we attend church primarily to receive (anything!) we will find ourselves disengaging from church. (This shouldn’t surprise us. As Christians we believe that we come to Jesus not to receive anything. No, we come to Jesus because he is Lord. Of course we also receive everything from this Lord, but we come not for his benefits but for himself.)

    As best I can tell, the only other primary reason to go to church has to do with our identity. When we submit to Jesus our lives are rescued into Christ. Our old selves are gone and our new selves have been reborn into a coming new creation. So while we treasure a personal relationship with our Lord it can never be thought of as an individual relationship; it will always be we and Jesus rather than me and Jesus.

    As those in Christ, our identities are now fundamentally tied to the people of God. While I am a unique individual created in God’s image, my identity – who I am at the core – is as a member of this people.

    We go to church not to receive but to belong. And not in that clichéd touchy-feely way that we Christians are so prone to. Rather, I go to church to participate in the life-long (longer than that, perhaps) process of learning how to genuinely belong to Christ as a member of God’s new humanity. Sometimes it feels like this is actually happening. A lot of time it doesn’t.
    I get your dissatisfaction with the family language to describe the church. But the Bible uses this language (children of God) along with many other metaphors (a new temple, a body, etc.) that we fail to live up to. Rather than lower our expectations by choosing non-Biblical metaphors (an efficient business, for example) I’d prefer we reclaim these metaphors knowing full well we’ll always fall-short this side of Christ’s return. And knowing full well that, for whatever mysteriously glorious reason, God still proclaims us to be the bride of Christ.

    This is turning into a sermon so I’ll end with this: we’ve got to have a robust view of our bodies for belonging to a church to even begin making sense. That is, as Christians we don’t believe in any separation within a person between body and spirit. Our Lord resurrected bodily and he is our pattern and hope for our own resurrections. Our bodies matter. We are meant to belong to one another as embodied people who are created in God’s image. Church will always be messy for this reason and redemption will always surprise us for this reason. It seems entirely likely to me that the bulk of our discipleship is worked out not through sermons or corporate worship (though, as you know, I’m convinced these things are vital) but through the very complicated relationships when we belong to those we’d never relate with elsewhere.

    I doubt any of this will be new to you, but I really appreciated your questions and wanted to add a few thoughts. Thanks Tonya!

    • stickyloaves says:

      Ask the man who preached on it last Sunday. Nice going by me! 🙂

      I agree with your thoughts about God’s people as a family, especially your thoughts on not replacing metaphors used in the Bible. What I have trouble with is how to properly apply the family metaphor to a local church. As I understand it, you are no less family with Parkview members now than you were when you were teaching there. They, you, and I are all still members of the Church. We’re all brothers and sisters regardless of the church we’re currently attending.

      Right now, I’m strongly leaning towards listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, as a family, as best as we’re able, in choosing a church; even if it means leaving the one we’re at for a reason that may not be considered by many as a “good enough” reason. But, out of a desire not to be a church-shopper in a consumeristic sense, I really want feedback about it.

      My questions come not from a place of deciding whether or not to attend church, but working backwards from the question of where to go to church. That led me to start thinking about why I go in the first place. Because why I go will determine which church I choose.

      Thanks for your thoughts, David! I have such greats thought in all these comments, and I’m really looking forward to exploring this more.

      • I doubt it’s any consolation, but I too struggle knowing how best to apply (in real time) the Biblical metaphors for the church. Sometimes I think the best we can do is to grow into these things over our lives with the firm hope that one day what has been a struggle will become the most natural thing in the world.

        I have no doubt that your family will continue to be led by the Holy Spirit through this process. It’s an encouragement to me to know how intentionally you are approaching these things.

  2. I love all these questions, they strike at the heart of what I am sure most true believers are after. I think the idea of church has been challenged for a while now, with many people who claim to be Christians saying that they don’t want anything to do with it. Also, the deeper you get into a church, the more apparent the problems that church has becomes, leading you to these very questions again. I think a clear definition of what church means can aid a lot of these questions. I have had them myself and that has sent me into looking into the bible for the answer. Here is what I came up with if it helps.

    First and foremost there are two distinct ways that the church is used in the bible. For a specific local body as in 1 Corinthians 1:2, or for the entirety of believers as seen in Ephesians 5:23-30. Both instances have very interesting things to say about the purpose of church. 1 Corinthians 1:2 shows very clearly that church is to be for those who have been called by Christ, the saints. The word saints is Hagios, a derivative of Hagiazo which means sanctified. To be a saint is to be one set apart by God. Here it is just assumed by Paul that those he is writing to are actual believers. This I think goes against a contemporary idea that we are to aim church at the non-believers. Ephesians 5:23-30 shows us again that it is assumed that the church be made up of believers. Verse 23 says that Christ is the head of the church, this of course going against any idea that a man can be head of the church such as Catholics believe. Verse 26 is the most powerful of the verses saying that the purpose of church is to be sanctified by Christ. This is to be our primary pursuit and it is found in the body of believers. This is done by being washed by the word. The word cleanses us making us holy and blameless. This matches up perfectly with John 17:17 where Jesus prays that all beleivers be sanctified by God’s truth. He defines the word truth by saying “your (God) word is truth.” This is also the charge given to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 to “Preach the word in season and out; to reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” Timothy was given the role of shepherding the people at Ephesus. The primary purpose of church, and therefore our worship is to be washed by the word of God.

    Romans 12:1-2 confirms this again by saying that we are to be transformed by renewing our minds, so that we may not be conformed to the world, but may instead know the will of God and be able to offer up our bodies to God as our act of worship in full submission.

    Maybe I should have put this first, but another reason why we should go to church is because it is commanded. Hebrews 10:24-25 says that we are not to forsake meeting together. The writer also makes a point that it is to be for the purpose of stimulating one another to good deeds, and to encourage each other. In all of this I suppose I don’t see anything that directly translates into what we ourselves are receiving except of course the word. The only reason I see for leaving a church is if the word of God is being disregarded or trampled. I will probably think of more, but this is where I have been at so far.

    • stickyloaves says:

      I love your reference to Ephesians 5:26 and Hebrews 10:24. Being sanctified and stirring one another on to good works are not on my list. I wonder which of my reasons I could find in scripture? Thanks, Jason.

  3. Amy says:

    I think we should think back to where it all began. Churches were primarily local, like Corinth, ephesus, laodicea, etc. there weren’t that many believers but I bet they were semi-mega churches. And I’ll bet they also met in homes as well, especially when the heat was on. Literally.
    We live in dupage county and are blessed with freedom and a vast number of churches to attend.
    I think god would like us to attend something local, the purpose being to act locally: invite neighbors, serve neighbors, and worship with neighbors.
    I do believe it is important to choose one in your local area. What you base your choice on is between you and God. But we are able to choose is the point.
    Once having chosen, commitment is essential because we are to practice living under authority of leaders. We are to give and serve and tithe to that church because they are counting on you for attendance, support and all that stuff that comes with being part of a body.
    We don’t marry a church. It’s okay, I believe, to date around and find a church where you can use your spiritual gifting to build up that body.
    If you find that your church has hundreds of arms and legs but no feet (and you are a foot), then you will feel satisfied in a good way. You may have to kick around to get your foot in (contribute). If you just give up because you feel no one likes what your foot has to offer, than god may be disappointed you gave up, but he’ll find another foot to balance all the arms and legs.
    If another church is all feet, you won’t feel satisfied if all the shoes are filled. Go find somewhere that needs feet.
    My point is: if your gifting is needed at the church you chose, and you leave because you felt outnumbered or not very important, than that is your failing. Well, perhaps you have just failed a stubborn body.
    I wish people didn’t hop because they were frustrated or felt alone. Get in to see your pastor. If they can’t give you work to do, start it yourself.
    I’ve put the word out about my heart for testimonies and I’ve gotten quite a few hits.
    If you’ve got a heart for, say, sewing, and the church doesn’t need new curtains, start a damn sewing club to make blankets for manna.
    Want to run a library at church? Create one. Ask permission to put something in the bulletin and for space on Sunday mornings. Even if you have to set up and tear down each week.
    All that to say, date around, find a church that you like and that likes you. You don’t have to marry it, but you do have to work at it to make the relationship beneficial for the body as a whole.
    If you’ve committed to a church family, still feel fee to visit other churches to get ideas for your own (and tithe that week at that church as well as your own).
    Love your local church body. Think it’s too big? Then maybe you’re too small.

    • stickyloaves says:

      It’s really funny that you said that about a library. I tried to do that at my last Chruch and they said no. 🙂 But I have been known to give up too easily. I really appreciate your thoughts, Amy. Thanks.

  4. Joanne says:

    Always good to examine why we are doing what we do. I believe God’s word teaches by strong inference and the examples of the early church that God intends for us to be part of a fellowship of believer that gathers together regularly. Churches are a visible representation of Christ followers. Paul and Peter, etc. under the direction of the Holy Spirit went around in the book of Acts establishing and strengthening local churches. Paul gave much instruction on how church leaders should be selected, instructions on shepherding their flocks, how church members should submit to the elders, etc. The saints go to church to be taught, equipped to serve, built up into maturity (Eph 4:11-13) Some commands in the bible can only be obeyed in the context of belonging to a local body of believers. Like appreciating those who have charge over you -1 thes 5:13 and obeying your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls – Hebrews 13:17. Spur one another on in good deeds, don’t give up meeting together… Heb 10:24-25 Love as Christ loved the church – you need to be in community to love. Real easy to love those in our small group but a larger body calls for Christ like love because people are annoying.
    The Great Commission tells us to go and make disciples, baptizing them, teaching them to obey all God has commanded. These things are done in the context of a church with leaders entrusted to guard the gospel and the flock from straying from the truth. We are called to exercise our gifts among believers needing each part of the body. When we come to faith we are then part of God’s family which is invisible. The outward visibility of this spiritual reality to a watching world and the saints is the local church. God had His people in the OT set apart and identified as His through circumcision. Now it is through baptism and taking of Lord’s supper which are done in community and celebrated in community. God throughout His history, gathered his people together to worship him.
    As far as the family metaphor, metaphors aren’t perfect. I don’t think you have to take it so far as you can never leave because you are always part of your family. When I use the family metaphor for dealing with struggles in the church, I mean, when you run into butt heads in the church or annoying people and problems – as you should in a family, you should care enough to speak the truth in love and try and work through issues as opposed to avoiding the annoyance of dealing with it all and simply cut and run. In other words, you can cut and run with people you are not truly invested with but are more about your own needs but you take extra measures of pain and suffering to try and work things out with family at personal cost. That’s all. If there is a missing element in your church or something that grieves you, should my first option be to leave and go where I think I can find that missing element or do I take my passion for that element and in partnership with God work humbly to bring that element to the church I’m in making it more balanced and more pleasing to God? There are times a biological family needs to be cut off because it is completely unhealthy but you hopefully would exhaust attempts to work through issues before taking that final step. For me, heresy would be and has been a reason to leave a church (though I did try to combat and confront the heresy) but it was between me and God when it was time to leave and He made it clear to me. I know of others that stayed and fought to regain sound doctrine and that leadership eventually stepped down and sound doctrine returned. Does that mean I should not have left? No, I knew God was leading me elsewhere. I think you can be called to leave but running away is not the same as following a call to another place. Martin Luther did not start out wanting to leave the Catholic church but to reform it. He ended up having to leave. The big idea is commitment. If you don’t work through stuff where you are, you will likely bring baggage to your new church that will become evident after the honeymoon wears off because life is not static.
    So, once again, there is no black and white rule or test we can administer saying A, B, C, I’m out. As with everything with God and life, it comes down to abiding in Jesus, listening to the Holy Spirit, knowing Scripture, live in obedience, repenting of sin, using your intellect, pray, pray, pray and then do what you believe is pleasing to God in your situation trusting Him to direct your path and use you. Our allegiance is to Christ alone. His family, we can never quit, praise God and His electing grace and deposit of the Holy Spirit!!!!

    • stickyloaves says:

      This is so helpful, Joanne. So true. And I love the confidence that God was leading you elsewhere in your story. I know that’s ultimately the answer: listening to the voice of God. Terrifying. But to where else shall I go? He has the words of life… 🙂

  5. Amy says:

    What Jo said.

  6. momco3 says:

    Wow, Tonya, way to take on a big question.

    I go to church because God made me to worship Him. Yes, I can worship Him in the grocery store and in my bathroom and as I do the dishes, but there is something totally different—and more wonderful—about worshiping with other believers. Revelation 4:9-11 talks of it this way: “Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’” Revelation 5:13-14 says, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’ The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.” I am a creature created by God with the purpose of offering Him worship. That’s it. I’m not here for anything else but that. And at church I am meeting with all those other beings—all across Time—who have been created to worship, and who fall down to worship God with me.

    But I hear you asking not just “why Church?” but “why this church?” And I think this is where our American—or modern?—consumerism is one more flavor of human covetousness. Yes, there are times when a local church, or someone in leadership there, is standing in the way of my capacity to become the creature He made me to be. (Such as in the case of abuse.) But short of that, there are simply a lot of choices out there, and we are accustomed to having a choice. To change. To moving on to the bigger and better, or New & Improved. I don’t know that it’s wrong, but it may not be what’s best. If my search for something better leads me to nit-pick with my local congregation, then my eyes are stuck here on earthly things, instead of heavenly things (Colossians 3:2), and I need to refocus on Jesus.

    “Sorry to write you a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one.” –Mark Twain
    Blessings, Annie

    • stickyloaves says:

      Yes, “why this church?” may capture it better. I love the thought that even if it isn’t wrong, it may not be best. Thanks for your thoughts! I have so much great stuff in these comments.

  7. Pingback: 2013 Book Thoughts –> “Parenting in the Pew” by Robbie Castleman | stickyloaves

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