I’m a pastor’s kid, so growing up, I always had to go to church. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, I usually did (except in middle school when you hate everything and everyone). But when I went off to college, I wrestled with the question that every young adult asks, every Sunday: “Do I want to go to church today?” My answer was typically “no,” followed by a litany of lame excuses: “I have homework; I’m busy. I need more rest, I don’t really know anyone; it’s not my home church.” Plus, I could always listen to way better sermons from way better preachers’ podcasts (like John Piper), from the comfort of my own pajamas. It wasn’t long, however, before I was challenged on this perspective, and I plugged in to a local church (shout out to Little Country Church: Haven. Miss you guys!)
More and more, I see this mentality among my fellow millennial Christians. It’s especially true for people who have relocated for work or school. And their parents aren’t a lot better. Sports games, messy houses, weekend outings, or simply sleeping in keep countless couples and families away from church community.
The Problem: Where there are sometimes small problems that keep us away from church community, like my lame excuses mentioned above, there’s really just one big problem. It’s something that has been slow-cooked and marinated inside of us for decades.
The problem: Individualism.
From childhood, individualism has been drummed into our heads, that we can be, or do, or accomplish anything, that we can pursue our dreams and our happiness at any cost. Think of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen, when she sings:
“It’s time to see what I can do//To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me//I’m free!
Let it go, let it go//I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go//You’ll never see me cry. . .”
For Elsa, life is about casting off the burdens and expectations of a community.
She reflects our culture well. However, in an age of individualism and self-expression, loneliness, depression, and anxiety are higher than ever. “Let it go” isn’t solving our problems; it’s creating new ones.
Christianity, while valuing the individual made in the image of God, does not see the individual as sovereign. The individual finds her identity not in her heart, dreams, or desires, but rather in Jesus Christ and his family.
With that said, here are three reasons why I think you should go to church (at least) weekly. By church, I’m referring to any consistent, intentional gathering where Christians participate in prayer, worship, and hearing God’s word. By this definition, this could be done in homes, in church buildings, or even in Dairy Queen (though the extra calories might not be good). Also, by this definition, not every building with a church sign is a true “church.”
1) It’s good for you. No, seriously, it will extend your life. From a secular perspective, one Harvard study found that “Joining and participating in one group cuts your odds of dying over the next year in half. Joining two groups cuts it by three quarters.” Provocatively, they conclude: “It’s a tough call. . .whether quitting smoking or joining a club. . .will improve your life expectancy more.” (Harvard Kennedy School, The Saguaro Seminar).
Dang! So bring your Bible and your cigarettes and commit to a church community.
2) You have a contribution to make. No, I’m not referring to tithing, though financial giving is an important part of worship. By contribution, I mean YOU. You are a valuable part of the church community. God has given every one of us gifts, gifts to be used to encourage other people and to live on mission for God.
When I played soccer, if sickness or studies kept a student away from a game, we were hurting. Each person had a part to play. Not everyone scored goals and not everyone played goalkeeper, but everyone had a role. It’s the same with the church community.
3) Love is a learned habit in church community. Again, in an age of self-expression, love is sometimes seen as whatever gives me the best feeling, whether it be pizza, a good movie, or a girlfriend. In contrast, commentator John Stott defines biblical love “not as a fleeting emotion, but a steady devotion of the will.” In other words, love is something you invest yourself in, something you commit yourself to, something you’re absorbed with.
Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with everything and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The loving ourselves is easy; we’re all born incredibly self-focused and self-absorbed. Even someone who “hates himself” actually loves himself by Stott’s definition because all he thinks about is himself. But to love God and to love others? That takes lots of practice, because it’s not natural.
We learn to love God through the weekly habit of coming to a church community. All throughout the week, our love for God cools off, and other things capture our heart’s imagination. But when we arrive on Sunday morning (or whatever day you meet), God works on us while we worship. As Martin Luther said: “at home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.”
As we are led in musical worship, and confession of sin, we’re reminded of our own weakness and of God’s goodness. As the Bible is read and taught for us, God speaks his loving comfort and correction to us. The action of actually sitting in the room instead of popping in our ear-buds trains us to humble ourselves and to relinquish control.
We learn to love people by being with them, by building relationships, praising and praying together. We learn to love by practicing forgiveness when we are been wronged, instead of finding a new community. We learn to love by opening our lives to other people who we would NEVER encounter anywhere else in life, had it not been for Jesus, people with political, socio-economic, ethnic, and generational differences.
Two Common Objections:
“You’re being legalistic.”
Maybe. But is it legalistic to eat daily? Is it legalistic to exercise frequently? Is it legalistic to regularly do things that make me a better, healthier person? You might call is legalism, but I see it as a “habit of love.” And I miss you.
“You’re a pastor, so you’re naturally more invested.
Ha, fair point. It’s like restaurant owner encouraging others to eat out more often. And I have to be at church each week for my “job.” So does that negate my whole post? I don’t think that it does. This post is actually coming from a heart of concern for spouses, singles, and families who aren’t plugged in anywhere. The church needs them and they need to church. Everybody loses when they don’t show up.
To conclude this longer post, no one says it better than the author of Hebrews:
“24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25