Why Should I Go to Church?

You might be like me.  I am very skittish about organized religion.  And yet here I am, a full-time pastor.  I completely gave up on the church when I was a youth minister.  I had become so discouraged with the way the church operated, the politics involved, people who seemed to be seeking out their own interests rather than passionately pursuing whatever God wants no matter what the cost might be.  In the midst of it, I gave up on God, but he did not give up on me.  He kicked me in the bottom, as we say it in our family to the kids.  “Judge me by who I am.” He said.  “Not by those who claim to follow me.  If you think the church needs to change, so do I.” 

According to a recent poll, 72% of Millenials, the generation after Generation X, who were born sometime between the mid 70s to the early 2000s, identify themselves as being spiritual but not religious. 

The writer of Hebrews wrote, "Let us...not neglect to meet together."  It’s true, not because it is in Scripture;  it is in Scripture because it is true.  “You’re supposed to go to church because Hebrews 10:25 says so” is not a good approach if you want to convince someone that they should come to church.

We are able and expected to ask, “Why?”  Have you ever noticed how we’re scared of that question?  “Why?”  Those three letters are scary, terrifying, and too often ignored by those who have not thought through why they do what they do and teach what they teach.  The church seems to hate that question, but we must be willing to seek answers and explain why we believe what we believe and do what we do. 

I was one of those annoying kids that always asked, “Why.”  I pestered my parents with “why”.  I wanted to know why everything needed to be done the way they said it needed to be done, and I wanted to know why things functioned the way they functioned.  I hated any subject in school or college where the answer to why we had to learn it wasn’t laid out.  “Why” might be a scary question, especially when the answers are unknown, but it is one of the greatest questions.   

As Christians we should be able to answer the “why” question for what we do and how we do it.  If you invite someone to church and they ask, “Why should I come to church?”  They might phrase it, not in the form of a question, but in a statement through which they tell you that they don’t need the church to be spiritual and right with God.  And in a way, they are right.  Church is not necessary to be right with God.  But we’re not trying to live a minimal Christianity of just being right with God; we want to live a faith of complete devotion.  We want to be all that God plans for us to be, a group of people that will cause the gates of hell to shudder when we gather together. 

I heard the excuse from a friend that they don’t have to go to church to be right with God when I invited her to church the other week, and to be honest with you, it is a tendency I have.  I struggle with hating the organized church.  I’m ashamed of the atrocities and the violations of justice that have been done through the organized church in the name of God throughout the years and are still being supported.  I’m distraught over institutions of ritual that go through the empty and endless motions of fake devotion and remain in existence long after God has left the building.  I abhor the politics involved; the disagreements and distractions from the mission we have been called to.  I get frustrated at being criticized for doing what I think is best to bring about God’s will here in Antwerp.  I despise people thinking they are right with God because of head knowledge, being baptized, asking Jesus into their heart, or their knowledge of the Scriptures.  Because of all these things, I would long to just go off on my own and do church the way I understand it should be done.  And you might feel that way too.

In the end, the way I feel is very selfish.  It is not a manifestation of the Holy Spirit but of the individualism of our society creeping out.  You could not create a more American religion than one that is self-sufficient and reliant upon the strength of the individual to stay strong without encouragement and accountability from others.  In the framework of spirituality without the church, my spirituality is about myself and myself only.  I get to use my money on what on I want, study only what I am fascinated with, live my life without anyone else questioning anything, and not have to wrestle with thoughts that are different than mine.  In an American era where we can get our news from sources that always agree with us, commentary from friends we agree with, and have the power to ignore people with a click of a button, this idea that I am the supreme ruler of my spiritual life fits right in.  

But Jesus designed us to gather together.  Jesus did not come and create his ministry in isolation. 

In one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs, Given to Fly, Eddie Vedder tells the story of a spiritual man who learns how humanity can unlock the chains that keep us down, chains he sees everywhere.  This spiritual person begins to tell people about what he has learned and how they can be free, but they respond by beating and stabbing him.  It goes on:
He still stands
And he still gives his love, he just gives it away
The love he receives is the love that is saved
And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky
A human being that was given to fly
A beautiful and inspiring story about individual spirituality, but Jesus was different.  He still sets us free, but he didn’t come as a Lone Ranger.  He surrounded himself with disciples.  Then he charged these disciples to create more disciples.  He established a kingdom, a community, a city of believers under his rule.  We are a body connected one to another.  We are a family.

We should not throw that out because the church all too frequently messes up, because we have been hurt by someone at church, or some other reason.  On the flip side, we should not settle for a church that is wasting time.  We should allow God to use us to shape ourselves and the community we are part of into what God wants us to be.  We should not give up on the church because it is faulty.  God does not give up on us because we are faulty.  We need to be open to God using us to bring about the change He desires.

As the rest of that section from the writer of Hebrews states, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" [Heb 10:24-25 (ESV)].

We gather, not for our sake, but to spur each other on toward living lives filled with loving actions and doing good for those around us.  That is not always easy.  It's easy to fall in selfish mode, to get absorbed by our own lives and our own needs.  God knew that we would have this tendency to become self-absorbed, so He came down in the flesh and established His Church.  When we, the Church gather together, we need to be focused on encouraging one another.   Maybe that means we need to rethink what we do and how we do it, but encouraging one another is not something we can do by ourselves.