This is a topic I’ve been giving some thought to recently. It probably will strike you as self-evident that Christians typically go to church. It is expected.
When I ask new clients about their faith or their spiritual journey, they will often respond with, “I go to church at….” Alternatively, they will say, “Well, I’m a spiritual person, but I don’t go to church.” Either way, I usually offer the observation that I hadn’t asked them about church. What I wanted to know was the nature of their relationship with God, not whether they show up at a particular building once a week. This sometimes leads to a longer conversation about what church attendance means as an aspect of spirituality, and why they do or do not partake in corporate worship and fellowship.
So, I got to thinking about how I can better articulate my own motivations to always be part of a church body, to choose community with other disciples.
In the 35 years of my walk with Jesus Christ, I’ve probably only missed weekly corporate worship about a dozen times. In these cases, I was sick, exhausted, traveling, or simply needing to be alone. But the next week, I’ve always looked forward eagerly to being back with my people in a house of worship. Seriously. Why? Believe me, I know it is very easy not to go.
The first reason—not the most spiritual or holy one perhaps—is that it is my habit. It is a healthy habit, like eating my vegetables or taking my daily walks. It is part of the rhythm of my weeks and years, and therefore is an essential element to remaining grounded in all my other spiritual disciplines. It is part of my rule of life. I always go because I always go. I don’t question it, like I don’t question whether to brush my teeth in the morning. I’ve questioned at times where I’m going to attend on a given Sunday, because I like to experience new worship environments from time to time. But I very rarely lack the motivation to go someplace where Christ-lovers are gathered together.
The second, the one that underlies all the rest, is that I love God. He says in his book that he really enjoys when people come together to worship and exalt him. So, I participate in this for his pleasure. I sing songs and dance and show him with my whole body and soul how much I appreciate his greatness and goodness and kindness. I bow publicly in confession and repentance and awe, assured of his mercy and forgiveness toward all of us. I do these things at home alone as well, and always will. But extravagant praise and worship in community is at good times a feast and a celebration, and at difficult times, a shared suffering in God’s presence. Either way, I wouldn’t forsake it for anything.
The third is that I love to hear the spoken word of God, to bask in his truth as believers have done throughout the ages. Scripture is my treasured possession. I never take it for granted or tire of hearing and studying it. I trust that God inspires messages in the hearts of his shepherds that will minister to those who come near to listen. My presence and attention demonstrate respect for God’s word and the men and women who are anointed and positioned to speak it into my life. I go to church to receive.
Related to this is the fourth reason I assemble with others. All that we receive through the various spiritual practices that form our corporate worship should prepare and equip us to live in its light and walk it out from Monday to Saturday. As Aaron Niequist puts it, “The goal of any group (or church or life) is to be transformed into Christlikeness for the sake of the world.” * My conviction is that what I receive from my participation in at church has to be put into practice, making me more present, more loving, more in tune with the wind of the Spirit blowing through my days (Jn. 3:7-8).
Finally, I go because I am part of the body of Christ. Every part is needed, and when a part is missing, the body is not functioning in wholeness. I go because there may be someone there who needs what I bring. If I go with an open heart and an expectation to hear from the Holy Spirit, he will show me those who need a hug, a prayer, a Scripture, a word of encouragement, or maybe the courage to break free in worship. These are the things I carry best, so I go to church to give them away.
I also need a regular reminder of my need for what the other parts of the body bring. I desire to intentionally honor all of the gifts I see around me. I understand deeply that my walk with God is incomplete without the contributions of my beloved companions in the faith.
I’m grateful to live in a country where we can attend church without fear, and I pray America stays that way. I’d like to believe that if I lived in China or Pakistan, or any other place where Christians are oppressed and persecuted, I would be among those who risk joining with others to praise God and seek his face.The church is all of us, and we need one another.
*Aaron Niequist, The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us from Drowning. New York, NY: Waterbrook, 2018, p. 134.