I read recently in the Poughkeepsie Journal about the church-going habits of Americans. Being a Pastor, I read about this sort of thing often. Let me throw out a few thoughts on the matter of being part of a church, which can include any form of regular corporate religious activity such as joining a synagogue.
Today, some people feel the church is irrelevant, and serves little purpose. They believe they can be “spiritual” without any formal religious activity. Generally, people today are mostly concerned about “What’s in it for me?” Since some people don’t see much benefit to them by being part of a church, they’ll sleep in, watch “Meet the Press” or do something with the family.
Why be involved in a church or synagogue? Why come out on a Sunday morning? Why bring the kids to Sunday school? Let me try to answer those questions. In doing so, I’ll use Rick Warren’s five purposes of life from his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life as my guide. It is my belief that the church is the best place to accomplish those purposes.
We are called, not only to worship God, but to do so as a community of faith. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) we see corporate worship played an important role in the lives of the Israelites. The commandment to “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8, NRSV) not only means to rest but to devote that day to God. For us today I believe that commandment means attending church and refraining from commercial activity.
In the New Testament we see communities of faith gathering for worship and The Lord’s Supper. The writer of the Book of Hebrews had this to say about communal worship:
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. (Hebrews 10:24-25a, NRSV)
We gather as a community to worship because God is worthy, God commands us to do so, and we receive a blessing by doing so. Isn’t God worth one hour or so a week?
We are encouraged to be a community in that we support one another, learn from one another, enjoy one another’s company, and serve the Lord together. Unfortunately some come to church strictly for the social aspects. While that is important, the other purposes are important as well. Our main motivation should be to do God’s will.
Discipleship is a fancy word for learning more about God, growing in the faith, and maturing as a Christian. We get to know God better by listening to the sermon, participating in a Bible study, and attending Sunday school. When your children attend Sunday school, what they learn there reinforces the values you are teaching them at home. So the church can be your partner in raising your children.
The church is a good place to be engaged in ministry and mission. Different churches are involved in different kinds ministries and missions. Some are called to social justice activism, some to helping the poor, some to domestic or foreign missions, some to other kinds of outreach. The church and faith-based ministries provide the ideal vehicles for working to improve the world. Look at what the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and others have done.
Lastly, Christians are called to tell others about Jesus, which he himself commanded:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a, NRSV)
Again, the church and faith-based ministries are good vehicles for doing that. Sadly, many churches don’t see the need for evangelistic activities, and as a result are losing members. God is not going to bless disobedient churches.
So what’s in it for you? God’s grace, blessings, and joy.