Many years ago, I wrote “6 Reasons Not To Go to Church.” Today I’d like to do the opposite: write about two reasons to “go to church.” Except I want to differentiate between two reasons people go to church: the first one, which doesn’t make sense, and the second, which does; the first reason, which frustrates and is self-defeating for Christian life, and the second, which gives God’s life to the person and the neighborhood he or she lives in. Oddly, the majority of people who “go to church” in this country, go for the first reason.
Now I must admit, using the words “go to church” makes me a pariah in my world. Church is not something you “go” to—it is a way of life you participate in seven days a week. I’ve pushed this mantra for years. I, of course, still believe it. Nonetheless, I think there are good reasons for getting out of bed and making the effort to go to a gathering of Christians where together we worship, submit to the proclamation of the Word and the Table. This is what most people mean when they say “go to church.” This is what I’m talking about.
Recently, I suggested we put something on our website that would warn visitors coming to Life on the Vine that they shouldn’t expect much if they’re coming for reason No. 1 (which I still haven’t explained). I proposed we ask the question, “Why go to church?” We got some flack for that. I agree we have to learn how to talk differently about who we are as a people of God. Saying the words—“go,” “to,” “church”—together can work against that. Nonetheless, I thought the compromise was worth it to explain something basic to people who are not inside the missional conversation.
So here goes … two reasons to go to church: reason No. 1—to get something; reason No. 2—to submit to something.
1.) To Get Something. Many Americans go to church to get something: good teaching, good inspiration, an experiential high from a worship band. We grade sermons by how entertaining they are, or compelling in communication, but most of all what I can take away that I can use to improve my Christian life. We grade the children’s ministries for what they’re doing for (or should I say “to”) our kids. We grade the music in the same way. Pretty soon I find myself choosing to go to church when I feel I need something; when I don’t, I can skip it. We shouldn’t make “going to church” a legalistic thing after all. Soon, because church is about getting what we need to lead a good Christian life, I find myself juggling it and fitting it in when it fits my schedule. (When I try to fit God into my life, I don’t know who I’m talking about, but it ain’t God.) Many times I find myself disenchanted after the church service, it’s time to look for another church. Stunningly, most protestant churches, in order to keep themselves going, find themselves competing to become the best provider of all these services. If I were going to do this, why wouldn’t I choose a business where it was easier to make a lot of money?
2.) To Submit to Something. I propose a better way to “go to church” is to submit to something, something bigger than me, something that demands my attention: God and what he is doing in and around me in a people and a neighborhood. Each time I “go to church,” I gather to submit to the proclamation of the Word, the Table and the praise. I go to participate. This takes me out of the posture of control (taking notes and evaluating worship music). What I come away with is not more things “to do” but an orientation that shapes me into the Spirit and where now I am better positioned to cooperate with God.
Reason No. 1 makes Sunday morning the central Christian act from which all things flow. Reason No. 2 makes the whole week the point to which we bring it all as an offering in submission to God in listening to what God is saying, feeding at the Table and praising God. We are then sent out. This time together shapes me into God’s Kingdom and what he is doing.
Each reason has its own kind of discernment. People coming for reason No. 1 must discern whether this church will meet their needs, keep them interested and agree with them on the main things. Reason No. 2 must discern: “Is God at work here? Are the leaders trustworthy? Can we see humility, submission to God, listening at work here? Can we participate? What kind of person am I becoming over my years in this community?” Reason No. 1 can cause us to seek the place we are most comfortable. Reason No. 2 will make that less important. We go realizing that to subject ourselves to God will always make our lives out of our control. The call to faithfulness and mission will push us places we do not want to go. Reason no. 1 can be done in isolation. Reason No. 2 pushes us toward being in communities. Reason no. 1 will often make high-gloss, produced programming appealing. Reason No. 2 will probably have liturgical submission as central to our life together.
I try to strongly discourage a person from “going to our church” for reason No. 1. I try to push for reason No. 2. Come and check in, then check out whether you can submit to something, participate in something bigger than ourselves, whether you can become part of something going on among a people.
I believe the most important work of church-planters is calling/leading people out of our own kingdoms to live in the Kingdom where Jesus is Lord. When two or three gather under His Lorsdhip, the Kingdom break in power. How you set up a worship gathering can give either the right signals or the wrong ones. That’s why I’m OK for now that our website asks, Why “go” to church? Notice the quotation marks around the word “go.” What do you think? How can you initiate someone, or inoculate someone from joining your community for reason No. 1 versus No. 2? Or is that even appropriate?