Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why Do (or don't) You Go To Church?

What is church for?  Or, better yet, who is it for? And what is it supposed to be?

We attend a local church every Sunday.  We have, in the past, traveled several towns away to attend larger churches, but I really believe I should be staying in my own community.  Because church is community.  It is supposed to be a group of people who are joined together.  That is harder to accomplish when the people physically live far apart.  But it's also hard to accomplish when people think of the church as a Sunday morning obligation, rather than a family.

"I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God."  We used to sing this song in Sunday School when I was a child.  Wow.  Can you imagine?  The family of God.  He is our Father.  He has children all over the world, but we are all related because we're in the family!  I have brothers and sisters in Africa and Europe and Asia and Australia and South America and North America and maybe even Antarctica!  Wherever I go on this great big globe, I'm home.

I live in a different state from my physical family, although some of my husband's family lives nearby.  It can be hard to keep in touch, living so far away, but whenever I return to my hometown, I can pick up where I left off with my family.  We have things in common, including the memories that we all share.

We have something in common with other Christians, too.  We have a common history, and a common spiritual experience.  Our physical experiences may differ from place to place, or person to person, but we are connected spiritually.

We can be Christians without ever setting foot in a church.  We can have a relationship with God all by ourselves.  But then why is so much of the Bible about relationships with other people?  Jesus summed up the whole law with "Love God and love other people."  I ask you, how can we love others when we don't spend any time with them?

It is pretty well known that children learn better if they are able to interact with the lesson.  Reading for themselves is a little better than just listening.  Seeing pictures is a little better than just reading facts.  Writing things down helps them to remember better.  But if you really want them to learn something, have them do it for themselves!  How much more can you learn by watching a plant sprout from a seed than by hearing someone explain the process?  And if you get to eat the vegetables that were grown from that seed, so much the better!  Then you have a full picture.

If we spend all of our time hearing about God, and hearing about love, but don't ever do it, it is just like having someone tell you about a seed sprouting.  We learn about God's love by practicing it ourselves.  We have to be close to people, to learn to love even when people are being difficult or unlovable.  We have to be vulnerable enough to be hurt and to love back, or to cause hurt and still be loved.  Then we begin to know God a little bit.  This is why God put people into families.  And this is why his people are a family - his church is a family.  But it is a family with a difference.

We are still all sinful, fallen human beings.  We are all capable of hurting each other and of being hurt.  But we are also capable of love.  We have the Spirit of God flowing through us, teaching us and strengthening us as we go along on God's business.

Yes, we are called to love everyone, even our enemies.  But we have to learn in a safe environment before we can do that.  We give children swimming lessons in shallow water, rather than throwing them into the deep end and hoping they figure out how to swim.  The church is that safe place.  It is a place where we can try, and fail, and try again.  And slowly, carefully, under the watchful eye of our teachers, we can swim into that deep end.  And then we can joyfully dive off the diving board, knowing that we will come back to the surface, and that we can always go back to the shallow end when we are tired.  Or lay on the beach and soak in the warmth of God's love until we are revived enough to do it again.

So why don't people want to go?  I think that church has become something other than that to most people.  It has become a Sunday morning obligation, or a show, or a lecture, or something else that has absolutely no relevance to its original purpose.  I think that people are less likely to wander into a small country church with a small congregation, because they just want to see the church, instead of being the church.  If there aren't many people there, they might be noticed.  And then someone might find out that they're not already perfect.  And that would be bad, because if you're in church, you're supposed to be good, right?  And if you're in a church near your house, someone might see you going in there.  And then they might expect you to be good from Monday through Saturday, too.  And since you can't do that, you'd better not go.  Right?

But this should not be!  No one in church is perfect.  And no one in church expects anyone to be perfect.  You just have to be willing to try, and fail, and try again.  We are all on a journey to the throne of God.  And we will all get there eventually.  The difference is whether you will arrive as part of the family or not.  For God's family, judgement day will be a joyous homecoming.  But those who rejected Him in their life will be rejected by Him in their death.  And then, there's no chance left.  It really will be the end.

I know that churches aren't perfect.  They can really be a mess.  But they're the way God provided for us to move closer to Him.  So don't leave yourself out.  Bring the gifts God has given you, and find a good local church.  Make sure that they preach God's word through God's spirit, and follow Jesus, God's son.  And wade on in!

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