For many Christian “church” is an optional event that comes around every Sunday. Some say, “Well church isn’t for me, I haven’t found a church where I’m comfortable, I’ve been turned off from church because of cattiness in the ministries, they’re always asking for money, our beliefs don’t line up, after a long week I just want to sleep in and relax, and I pray at home all the time, isn’t that good enough?” For many Christians and non-Christians alike, the reason for church or the purpose of church has been lost. Perhaps you were dragged unwittingly to church as a child, or had to sit through a Mass that you didn’t understand. These are all valid reasons to dislike church. But God’s church is bigger than that, better than that and should be more fulfilling than that.
WHAT IS CHURCH?
What you may not know is that church really isn’t an event, it’s a relationship: a relationship with people. Church is not a building, but a community; fellowship with other believers. A church building is just where people meet. Fortunately for us, where there are people, God will be also. In Matthew 18:20 it says,” For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Church is community of the divine kind.
God’s house is the church (Psalm 27:4). It is where he hangs out, where he relaxes and kicks his feet up, where he abides Monday through Sunday. God is a homebody. If you are ever praying and are unsure if God hears you, go to his church where you know he always is and you will be sure that your prayers are heard.
This family-oriented community is how the first church began. The Early Christians would meet together in one another’s homes, have dinner, pray, and sing. In Acts 2:42-47 it says:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
At my church home in Los Angeles, I feel that community. I am part of a family. I have a certain section where I always sit. My brother and I come to church and greet those around us, all familiar faces with hugs and kisses. They ask how we have been and we ask the same of them. And if we’ve had a hard week, or something has been weighing us down, we can speak freely and know that we will be supported by the people we love in our community. There’s a connection between those of us who have spent time together and gotten to know each other week after week, something that I find myself missing in between gatherings.
Bishop Joseph W. Walker III of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, TN sites Psalm 133 as encouragement for church attendance, saying that “people struggle with going to church because they don’t understand what going to church does for them.” He adds that “we must stop acting like we can do it on our own.” David could not wait to dwell in the house of Lord so much so that he cried out to be closer to God and found that this was how (Psalm 27:4). The Bible tells us that as believers in the body of Christ we should come together and encourage each other: “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.”(Hebrews 10:25). We are part of a church to bless others, love God and give back to our community. As a Christian there is an amazing feeling that comes when you are surrounded by others who believe just as you do, it’s almost like a sigh of relief. Guards can come down, and hands can go up in praise of the life and unity that only God is capable of creating.
SOME DIFFICULTIES & DEBUNKING OF CHURCH
For those of you who’ve had a bad experience with church, you are not alone. Unfortunately, things happen in churches that are not pleasant. People can start to condemn others when really they should be looking at themselves, or the church priority can shift from loving people to simply doing good deeds and gathering resources, to name a few. People are imperfect and as the church is made up of people, we have to expect some imperfectness. This does not excuse sinful behavior, but we should not forget that we are to honor God and we do that by loving one another. When rumors flood the church and cattiness seeps through the ministries, we must remember that we are to live for God and have grace with others.
Theresa B., 28, from Gardena, California who does not attend church regularly, writes that her grandma was furious when many people in her parish “gossiped cruelly about a woman we knew who got pregnant out of marriage and refused to marry the father.” Sometimes this happens in churches, people tend to flex their beliefs upon others and condemn them when really they should be looking at themselves to see how their behavior is either building up God in the view of others or distancing Him from the view of others. Remember that judgment is God’s. There is nothing that pleases God more than when we are unified, when we are connected. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12: 12). We need each other to lean on, grow with, speak faith filled words, practice forgiveness, learn how to love freely, and God’s church fosters such an environment.
Tithing (giving 10% of one’s income) often seems to turn churchgoers off from attending church regularly. It’s no surprise that when we’re asked to part with our finances, our defenses go up, but as the Bible states, “each person should give what they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7). One of my heart’s desires is to give 10% to God all the time, but God knows when I can give and when I cannot. So don’t worry about what others think you are or aren’t giving. Do not let not being able to give discourage you from faithfully attending church. Please God with what’s in your heart. Similarly, do not let the manner in which a church asks for money make you stop attending church altogether. If there is confusion about tithing or if you feel the church leaders are pushy with the offering plate, talk to the pastors. Let them know how you feel. Misperceptions have often damaged the true purpose of tithing, which is to love and honor God. Remember, giving should be a delight and not drudgery.
For those who’ve seen a poor example of church leadership, either in a personal context, with a rift in your community through a disagreement, a fall to a sin, or simply the news of pedophile priests now make you cautious to trust any authority figure in the church–we must remember that just as we are all imperfect and need forgiveness from God, so do they. If a leader has tainted your ideal of a church community in the past, don’t let it stop you from belonging to a church community. Church leaders play in important role in your growth as a Christian.
God has prepared leaders, priests, pastors, bishops, and evangelists to preach the gospel, interpret its meaning, and help believers become more empowered readers of the Bible themselves. “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction–because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 2:7).
S.T., a Christian who was active in his hometown church in high school, but hasn’t quite found the right fit in his new city, says, “When you attend church, you learn new things about your faith and God that you can’t discover on your own.”
Many of us read the Bible and often misinterpret the scriptures. It’s easy to do. Without the proper knowledge of language, culture, context and history, it’s easy to miss things and take God’s words to mean something different entirely. That’s where church leaders come in. They usually are far more versed in Biblical matters and help to shed new light into scripture that was convoluted before.
Churches around the world have weekly bible studies to examine specific texts and discuss them with peers and qualified leaders. One of the best feelings I have in church is when I’m sitting in the pew and the words coming out of the preacher’s mouth are just for me, speaking fully to the situation that I went through that week, or encouraging me to keep my head above water and reminding me that God’s hand is forever outstretched in love towards me. God uses the leaders of the church to deliver words of hope straight from His mouth to our ears. Psalm 119: 105 reads, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”
EXHAUSTION & THE INDEPENDENT CHRISTIAN
I enjoy a day off just as much as the next person, but committing to going to church helps us grow in our faith. When we become more embedded in God’s word and grounded in his church “then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” Ephesians 4:14. Our minds will be strong, our vision on the straight and narrow, and our spirits will not be broken. Perhaps you were going to church, but felt like you weren’t getting much out of it, so you stopped. It’s good to remember that it’s often through perseverance that God works in us. Having a commitment and keeping it. Pushing through and faithfully relying on him to make a change or help us change. Being committed to a church even when some messages feel stale, and others hit right at home is a testimony to being patient and letting God work in his timing.
Additionally, without weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) church attendance, one is liable to encounter a disconnected feeling from the body of Christ, biblical misinterpretations, and ill preparation for the week ahead.
Bishop Walker III outlines seven reasons why we should go to church: going to church is an act of obedience, an expression of our love for God, it builds us up spiritually, and brings a special visitation of the Lord’s presence, provides fellowship for us, provides accountability to spiritual leadership, and combines our spiritual strength in prayer.
All these things happen by being present and available–and being in community.
Church, in the true sense of the word, is meant to fill us, restore us, and remind us that we are not the center of the universe. It’s where we can enjoy being in God’s presence, pray for each other, listen to each other and love God together. When we stay away from church, our faith starts to dwindle. The connection we have with God and his people begins to weaken. S.T. reminds us that “it’s easier to forget about your faith, and about living in a morally structured manner, when regular church-going is not a part of your life.” I’m certain that God loves it when we meet together—he is overjoyed that we are not only with him, but also with each other.