Monday, September 10, 2007

Why Go to Church

I seem to run into so many folks that come to the Service Center who say they believe in Jesus but are not currently active in a church. They may have either stopped going quite a while ago or just pop in and out of a Sunday service periodically.

Others I've known over the years have said they've accepted Jesus, that they believe in Him, but they never took the step of obedience in baptism and haven't yet experienced the richness of regularly connecting with other believers in Christ.

I've been an active part of a local group of believers ever since my conversion and baptism at a small church in Southern California 30 years ago. Having been a vagabond for many years, I ended up being active in churches in Dallas, Arkansas, Memphis, St. Louis and the Northeast. Some of the churches I've loved. One or two were too sectarian and I started going elsewhere. But in all of them God did His work of forming me in Christ and helping me to see Him work in the lives of other Jesus-followers. And I pray that He's used me to impact other Christians in those faith communities.

The Highland Church has been my family's spiritual home since 1990. I feel deeply rooted in this church and have experienced so many rich moments in this fellowship -- teaching and being taught, being shepherded by some wonderful elders and now privileged to shepherd others, going on mission trips to Mexico and Brazil, participating in small groups, working with the prayer ministry, baptizing both of our children and watching them learn the value of Christian community. On and on it goes.

I could not imagine being a lone ranger Christian whose main spiritual nurturing comes from watching Christian T.V. or dropping in and out of a church. I must admit that at times I find myself in a routine of going to church and not really thinking about why I keep going Sunday after Sunday, and usually Wednesday night after Wednesday night. Occasionally I'll skip a Wednesday night, wanting to stay home and chill. And yet invariably I regret doing so -- not out of guilt over missing church but rather over a missed opportunity to build up the body and be built up by them.

Why do we go to church?
Why should we become deeply involved in a local band of believers?

Our minister of adult faith formation at Highland, Mary Lee Mattis, triggered this thought when I received from her this wonderful quote on the power of staying committed to Christian community:

"In answer to the question about why go to church, writer Nevada Barr answers, "...Why go inside with a bunch of hypocrites instead of staying outdoors in God's country? Because God made we hypocrites, too. Because Jesus said, 'Whenever two or more gather in my name, I am there.' The mountain is for finding and adoring God in the wilderness. Church is for finding and adoring God in community: with others, through others, because of others, in spite of others. Only by finding this place of human interaction focused around the need for the spiritual was I able to recognize God in other people and so, in myself.

Without community,

How would I learn to share?

Who would I help?

How would I learn to accept help?

Would I learn to serve others without others to serve?

And could I know how if I wasn't taught?"

Great thoughts. Jesus has promised us that He will be in the midst of a gathering of believers in His Name. And if He's going to be there, I certainly don't want to miss that opportunity to experience His presence again and again. At church. Week in and week out. Not out of duty but because it is such a privilege and necessity for my growth in Christ to be with others who are indwelt by the living God.

How has your involvement with a church -- imperfect as it is -- been instrumental in your formation in Christ? If you really thought about it for some time, I’m sure you’d be convinced that the living Christ has become more real to you and to those you encounter as you've stayed regularly connected with other followers of the Way.



At 11:17 AM, Blogger Susan Clark said...

Wow! Powerful words about community in Christ. I need to think about this more before I can comment intelligently. Thanks, dear Jim.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Agent B said...

My involvement with churches early on in my faith was VERY instrumental to my current relationship with our lord. I am thankful for those experiences and times.

My family and I have been outside the church culture/circuit for almost 5 years now. It's a quirky, desert-like calling at times. And can be very lonely.

"Lone-Ranger Christian" is a pejorative term designed to slightly belittle and shame those believers who are not "on board" with a local congregation of sorts.

Please be careful when using that term on non-church attenders.

Thank you.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Jim Clark said...

Thanks, Agent B for the gentle rebuke. I didn't mean to be pejorative or to shame you. It's just that I've had personal experience in this, such as two brothers who came to or returned to Christ when I did back in the late 70's. But they drifted away from regular fellowship with the body of Christ and it has really seemed to hurt them. I realize that we believers have a hard time fitting into more institutional or established churches. And at times we may need to disengage from church for a season in order to get some healing from the Lord and to rethink somethings before becoming engaged again in a local body. John Eldredge didn't go to church for a year before he wrote Wild at Heart and other great books.

I guess what I'm saying is that from my 30 years or so on this journey with Christ, He has shown me that to grow in Him I really need continual interaction with a group of Christians for encouragement, exhortation, admonition and an opportunity to serve and use my gifts.

Thanks for your honest words, brother.


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