So, it has been a few weeks since my last post, but I want to pick it back up where we left off: Why is it important to go to church?
It is easy to stop going to church when we think it is all about us.
If we aren’t getting anything out of the pastor’s messages or the music doesn’t speak to us, we can just watch Charles Stanley on T.V. or listen to Matt Chandler’s podcast. We can read our Bible on our own, pray as we go about our daily lives, and listen to Christian music in the car.
Sometimes these alternatives sound tempting when we think about the messiness and drama of our local churches. Trust me, I’m a pastor who serves two congregations and my least favorite part is spending weekday evenings in administrative meetings…so I know how you feel.
But if we stop going to church because of the messiness and we try to supplement corporate worship with an exclusively “private practice,” most likely it’s because we believe that church is about MY own personal enrichment.
In other words, a common misconception is that going to church is primarily about receiving a blessing from God or having some kind of meaningful experience. But when we read Scripture and look at the history of the Church, it seems that the focus of the Christian life is to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus so that we can be a blessing to others.
It would be really easy to live the Christian life in isolation–we would never have to forgive, reconcile, serve, or love someone who is different than us…but that’s kind of the point. We can only truly live out the Christian life in community.
In the remainder of this blog I’m going to highlight the importance of corporate worship, and we will unpack each of these in more detail in future posts.
- We are each given spiritual gifts, but Scripture is clear that our gifts are not for our own benefit, but for the building up of the body of Christ. My gifts are supposed to compliment your gifts and serve you, and vice versa (Ephesians 4:11-16)
- We can’t celebrate the Sacraments alone. I cannot baptize myself, I can only receive baptism. I cannot take communion, I can only receive communion. The sacraments initiate us in the body of Christ and give us grace as we continue the Christian journey.
- The Bible instructs us to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). Living in Christian Community establishes a level of accountability that we can avoid otherwise.
- Repentance. Yes, we can repent anywhere and we often need to repent for our own individual sins, but we also need to repent of our collective sins: “We have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves and we haven’t heard the cry of the needy”
- Fellowship. Acts 2:42 says that the earliest Christians devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. The word fellowship comes from a Greek word that means commonness. We need each other! Fellowship means laughing together, crying together, checking in when things are rough, and celebrating life in Christ together.
- Teaching. The United Methodist Church, along with most other mainline denominations, requires pastors to earn a Master’s of Divinity. My program was 96 credit hours and required three years of full-time study. It’s not that a person needs a master’s degree to understand the Bible, but it helps to have a working knowledge of biblical languages, textual criticism, a grasp of the history of interpretation, and other methods for interpreting and applying Scripture. Furthermore, if we do not go to church regularly we don’t get the opportunity to be wrong…we rarely disagree with ourselves! Even pastors with master’s degrees need to be challenged to see things from different perspectives.
- Service. Sure, we can serve alone, but we can do much more together than we can do apart! I’ve been on mission trips, and while I’ve done my share of hanging sheet rock, I’ve sensed my purpose is to listen to hurting people and pray with them. We are many members but one body!