When people came to our church building this past Sunday, I sent them away. In fact, I sent them to other churches. I told them, “Go and bless another church with your presence.”
We didn’t meet for worship this week because a Saturday storm had taken down a tree which, in turn, took down a trunk line, and the power company was not able to finish repairs until Monday afternoon. Because our fire suppression system was off-line, local building codes prevented us from meeting.
Most people got the word, but there were some who didn’t. So, I greeted them in the parking lot, told them services were cancelled, and sent them to join with other Christ-followers. As the sun rose, I paced back and forth in the parking lot, singing hymns of praise to God. It was a lovely worship time.
Still, I really missed my church family. I don’t “go to church” because it is required or even because the church employs me. I go because I want to be with people who share my commitment to God and to each other. Over the years, God has used the church to help me know him better and become more like the person he intends me to be.
I feel sorry for people who go to church grudgingly, wishing they could stay home and catch up on work or sleep. The story is told of a wife who woke her husband up for church, but he only groaned and rolled over in bed. She coaxed him, urged him, and finally ordered him to get out of bed and go to church. But he said, “I don’t want to.”
She asked why and he answered, “Because it’s boring. And because they don’t need me there. And because they don’t want me there – nobody likes me.”
That’s when she got forceful: “That’s not true: One, they do need you; two, it is not boring and, three, people do like you. And besides that, you have to go: you’re the pastor.”
Some people of faith choose not to go to church because they have been hurt by fellow-believers. Others do not go because they do not understand the important role the church plays in their life and spiritual health. The church is critically important to individual Christians.
When the church gathers, we hear God’s word and learn his ways. One of the most difficult things for twenty-first century Western Christians to understand is that entering into an ongoing relationship with God will change a person. Christians are not like everyone else. They believe things other people don’t believe and acts in ways other people find odd.
Christians live in relationship with a God who has his own ways of doing things. The word “ways,” referring to God’s ways, appears in the Bible about five dozen times. God’s ways are not naturally our ways, so we must learn them. The church helps us with this important task. Each time we gather, it is with the kind of prayer Moses prayed: “Teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.”
The church also provides us with the opportunity to do the two most important things any human can do: love God and love neighbor. The church is made up of neighbors, each of whom has come to express love to God.
When Christians gather, they are often aware of the need for assistance to live lovingly. Indeed, they require assistance from both God and neighbor. One of the principal reasons they gather is to corporately ask for and receive such assistance, from God in heaven and from the neighbor on down the pew.
We also gather for encouragement. We keep each other going. As Charles Spurgeon pointed out, “It’s hard to build a fire with just one log.” When we gather, we do what the author of Hebrews instructed: we “stir one another up to love and good deeds.” It’s like stirring up a fire.
When one person follows God’s ways (the way of love), people say: “She’s a great person.” But when a group – the church – follows the way of love, people say: “God must be real.” Partnership with the church is an indispensable component of being Christian.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter,