“Why do you go to church? What is your main purpose of showing up? (not collectively, you personally)
I was asked this question sometime before Christmas, and my initial reply was, “Way to ask me a question I’m not sure I want to answer.” This was following a discussion where I vomited out my distrust of Baptist churches, megachurches, and celebrity pastors (and other celebrity Christian leaders ie James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr, Franklin Graham, Mike Huckabee, etc).
So why do I?
“But I know if I don’t go, I’m going to drift back out into the wilderness riding on my self-righteousness. Still, if I wasn’t serving, I don’t know if I would go. Even though I don’t ever regret going.”
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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 10:23-25 ESV
I went to church during the Christmas season even though I wasn’t serving. But in full disclosure, it was largely because my friend Stacey was singing again and I was NOT going to miss her first Sunday back with the worship team. And our campus pastor was preaching, so it was like a double bonus. And I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience from arrival to departure. Pastor Trent mentioned early in his sermon about our campus feeling like home, which the sermon series wass “Home for Christmas,” so it stands to reason. But as I thought of it, I thought, “Yeah, this church has always felt like coming home.” I have always felt welcomed. I have always felt “a part of.” I have made many friends there, some very close.
Through the course of the sermon on the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, Trent pointed out that we can do all the right things, but if we are doing it for the wrong reasons, it’s just as much of a sin as the “obvious” sins. (I greatly paraphrased that.) I can attest personally to that as the “good little Baptist girl.” Though I was just really good at hiding the “obvious” sins. Anyway, as he wrapped up he said, “If the only place Jesus has led you is to church, you might be following religion and not Jesus.” That didn’t complicate my attempt to answer why I go to church at all. (That was sarcasm which doesn’t always come through in written form.)
When I was a kid, I went to church because I had to. My parents’ rule was, “As long as you live under our roof, you will go to church.” Because they did not further qualify that statement at the time, and because I was already a master at finding loopholes (when I began writing this, I had just had a convo about that with one of my blunt friends), this good little Baptist girl went to Roman Catholic mass with her best friend for several months. Granted, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to church, I just decided I didn’t want to go to the one I thought I wanted to go to when we moved to town. (That’s a whole story in itself that I’ve probably written about before.) But I eventually found a Baptist church where I felt “a part of,” and that’s where my relationship with church started going wonky.
I loved that church. I went on my own without coercion, though a lot of that was because I had a couple of good friends there. But I felt “at home” beyond that. There was no “air” in the air there. Just a bunch of ordinary folks. Until we moved into the new building. I don’t know if there is a correlation. That’s been many years ago, and I was just a teen. But it was after we moved that I heard the thing that caused me to leave. I don’t remember how long it was after we had moved to the new building, but I vividly remember the openly racist sermon. That was the Sunday that church was no longer home because if ALL of my friends were not welcome there – white AND black – then neither was I. I walked away for many years. When I started going back to church it was for a lot of wrong reasons. But I found a church that felt like family, that wasn’t lily-white, and was Baptist. I got burned again because there was so much dysfunction due to factions with control issues. And when a faction tries to control a control freak who hasn’t yet learned that a controlling nature is a character defect, there’s going to be acting out. And I acted out. And then I quit. And I think I have been to a certain degree shunned.
I went into the next church search leery. However, it wasn’t a long search before I found another church that felt like home, and I went all in. I did it because despite all the issues at the previous church, I had a fresh encounter with Jesus, and it changed everything. Slowly though, because I still have a lot of issues.
I still have a lot of religious resentment. I don’t know for sure if that is why I am having such a hard time answering that question. I’m not entirely certain of my motives. I love my church. I love serving there. But sometimes I question if I made the right decision in choosing my church. I know I don’t have to go to church to worship God. I can worship Him anytime because He isn’t confined to a gathering of believers nor a building (and a church is the people, not the building). I have believing friends outside of church who are blunt and have no problem calling me out for my self-righteousness, so I don’t need church for accountability. I can listen to sermon podcasts anytime. Every “good” reason I can think of for why I would go to church can be accomplished outside of church.
So at this point, I have pretty much talked myself out of going period. I mean, why go at all when I don’t have to go? I occurred to me that there is something that I can only participate in at church. Communion. Generally all Christians believe that there are only 2 sacraments that are instituted by a “local, visible” body of believers, and that is baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion). I could argue the baptism with the accounts of Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, but it is not relevant. Besides, I’ve already been baptized – twice. But communion was always done in a context among a group of believers gathered together to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice as the once for all Passover lamb. Yeah, I could show up at a church just for that (and I’m not going to go into the whole open/closed communion debate), but from Jesus instituting the practice at Passover before his crucifixion to throughout the epistles, communion was done among a group of believers who knew each other. While I just popped off with the argument for closed communion, I don’t think the point of commemorating the Lord’s Supper with a local church you are a member of was to be implemented as a legalistic requirement. Because my dad and I are living proof that you can go to the same church every time the doors open and still be covering up sin. But I digress. I believe the point of doing it local with folks you know is for the community aspect of it. Communing with fellow believers in commemoration of the one thing we all share in common: Jesus, and Him crucified.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 19-20, 24-28
If I make going to church about what I get from it, I make it all about me. This is not what Christ calls us to. Following Him is not a self-centered, self-focused endeavor. If we are to be followers of Christ, if we are being remade into the image of Jesus, then our lives should reflect a desire to serve others. And since I am a member of the body of Christ, it stands to reason that I have a role to play that benefits the entire body. I have been uniquely gifted, just like my brothers and sisters, to serve the body. This is perhaps why I love to serve in the capacity I do. And so I guess ultimately, this is why I go to church.