When I was a kid I loved going to church. I loved the candy they gave me in Sunday School and loved the high-tech demonstrations like chalk talks and flannel graphs. I loved potluck dinners and church picnics. I loved most of the people, even though some of them creeped me out at times. I went to church for the food and the community back then. I really went because my parents said I had no choice. (Good parents bossed their kids around a lot back then.)
When I was in college, I went to church for more spiritual reasons — the girls. But it was during my college years that I also began to experience God’s love through church people. People who cared enough to challenge me when I was wrong. People who cared enough to be with me when I hurt. People who cared enough to be like Christ — faithful in my darkest hours. It was at church where I was loved by God through others. And it is at church where I’m learning how to love God in return.
I know. I know. Church isn’t a building — Church is people. I can have wonderful times connecting with God when I am alone (and I do), but because church is people (plural), I cannot have church by myself. I know. I know. The church is full of hypocrites. Noah Webster said a hypocrite is someone who “says he is what he is not; one who has the form of godliness without the power, or who assumes an appearance of piety and virtue, when he is destitute of true religion.” I’ve been a hypocrite in all of those ways one time or another in my life. Some of the people who have hurt me the most have been church people. Those who hurt me were sinful. But I, too, am sinful; I have also hurt others. Yet in spite of the hurt, there are the church people who have cared for me (again and again and again). These are the ones like Jesus — they are like how I hope to become.
The Bible shows me that the church is a community of Christ-followers who hang out with each other a lot. Among other things, they gather regularly for worship, prayer, communion, studying the Bible, and meeting the needs of others. The Bible church is a community, a culture, a way of doing life together. The church gets together as often as possible, encouraging each other and doing good things for those who are less fortunate. Over time, the church looks less like culture and more like Jesus. The church and Jesus start to look alike because they spend all their time together.
I go to church because I know that being around others who follow Christ makes me stronger and keeps me from getting my beliefs about God all screwed up. I go to church because most people I know who have permanently stopped going to church are lonely, empty, or hurting. I go to church because I’m trying to love Jesus and church is where He wants to be. When I was a teenager, an older friend of mine got married. I soon learned that if I wanted to remain his friend, I had better learn to like his bride. Jesus loves the church so much that He calls the church His bride. I can’t love Jesus unless I’m willing to embrace His bride, the church.
So what about those times when church isn’t especially exciting for me? Maybe the worship isn’t my style or the teaching doesn’t help me during that season in my life. Those are the times when God reminds me that church was never intended to be about me. I’m there to love God, to be motivated, and “to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24, 25). And the coffee’s not too bad, either.
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Calvin G. Roso © January 2014