You won’t hear this from many columnists, but you might want to skip this piece. No compelling story. No metaphors. Just some straight talk on a touchy subject I’m passionate about.
Across North America, Sept. 15 is Back to Church Sunday, designed to encourage Christians to head back to public worship after leaving it, for whatever reason. It also encourages people to try church for the first time. Many would rather have a triple root canal. I get it.
But if you want to be faithful to the Biblical view of life, or reach your full spiritual potential, or be open to common sense considerations, being a regular, involved member of a church is the right and smart thing to do.
Let me be clear. Non-believers are under no obligation, and I’m not talking about people of other faiths, because I’m not informed enough to know what their beliefs teach. I’m not saying anyone who doesn’t go to church is a lousy Christian or a bad person.
Nor do I think anybody should worship regularly just to punch the ticket, or stay in a congregation that’s toxic or manipulative. But there are solid, sensible reasons Christians should be part of a wider fellowship.
- A Worthy Consideration — Church should never be about entertaining or serving you. The number one reason we’re called to worship together is because God is worth it. He’s worthy and deserving of our praise, gratitude, and effort, which is why the root word of worship is “worth-ship”. Put your focus where it belongs.
- A Commanding Argument — Regular worship with a church is a Biblical command, not an option or suggestion. “Let’s think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works,” says the Book of Hebrews. “And let’s not neglect meeting together, as some do, but encourage one another…” (Heb. 10:25)
- Church Matters — As Ephesians 5 says, Jesus loves the church and gave His life for her. His bride. His church. She’s not perfect, and she often hurts Him (and others), but that doesn’t make Him love her less. We are that she. Jesus expects every follower be part of the church. It’s the normative, assumed response in the entire New Testament. No exceptions. Not then. Not now.
- Hypocritical vs. Hypercritical — If you’re staying home because of all the hypocrites, good news! We’ve got room for one more. No believer fully lives up to divine expectations (including you), and a hypocrite is not someone who’s flawed. A hypocrite is one who pretends to have no flaws, and I’ve seldom met a Christian who makes that claim.
The church isn’t a place for those who’ve got it all together. It’s a safe, supportive place to struggle with our flaws and move closer to God with help from fellow strugglers. Sure, there are some hypocrites. But they’re everywhere and they don’t stop you from going to work, the mall, or anywhere else.
- Backup to Move Forward — Besides, faith was never meant to be a solo endeavour. God made the church so we’d have encouragement and accountability. To do life and faith well, we need the help of others who will keep us going and tell us the truth in love when we need to hear it. Church reminds us we’re not in this alone, and draws us together with powerful group reminders like baptism, communion, and corporate worship.
- On Purpose — Church is also the vehicle through which God expects His people to work in the world. The Bible says God gives every believer a talent and we’re all expected to use it by working with other Christians, like interdependent parts of a body.
“Christ makes the whole body fit perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so the whole body is healthy, growing and full of love.” (Eph. 4: 15, 16) So church isn’t keeping house for God. It’s using who we are and what we have, together, to make the church and the world a far better place for the poor and hurting.
If you think the church needs fixing, do it from the inside.
- Risky Business — Yes, people and the pastor will let you down, hurt your feelings, and get on your nerves. You’ll be challenged and have to put up with ideas and personalities that don’t match yours. Good. Too often, we surround ourselves with people just like us who agree with us on everything. No dialogue or dissenting opinion means no growth.
But in a healthy, loving church, other Christians will show you things about God and yourself you’ve never seen, open fresh ways of thinking and living, and remind you we’re all flawed but loved and valued anyway.
For everybody who disappoints and annoys you, you’ll find many more who love you, inspire you, and walk with you through even the toughest times.
If you’ve been hurt by churches, leaders, or pastors — maybe even by me — remember, people and perspectives change. And not all churches are the same. To write off all is as unfair as lumping together everyone in a specific race, or profession.
So, if you’ve had a bad experience, find a church that will value and respect you. There are plenty. Just do an online search of Brantford and Brant County churches then check websites to see their values and approach. If you need help, let me know.
For many, Back To Church Sunday could even mean a spiritual rebirth day. Many happy returns.
Share your thoughts with Rick Gamble at firstname.lastname@example.org He pastors an independent, nondenominational church in Brantford called Followers of Christ (www.followers.ca) and teaches Media at Laurier Brantford.