“…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25
We live in a time when it’s easy to avoid going to church. There are so many preachers on TV, podcasts and web streams that they almost enable us to not go out on a Sunday morning. There are some really great teachers out there for us to learn from. But sipping a cup of coffee in our jammies while listening to one of our favorite speakers can become more desirable to us than physically being in a church with other believers. I believe that this is merely an extension of our social media driven culture that increasingly shuns authentic human interaction and opts for a digital substitute instead.
From where I sit as a pastor, everyone has a valid excuse. Those without children have a hard time waking up early on the weekends. Those with children struggle to get everyone ready and out the door in time for service. Years ago my own personal favorite was that church was full of hypocrites and I could be just as close to Jesus, if not closer, while surfing on Sunday mornings. I reasoned that church was nothing more than the blind leading the blind, so it would surely be more productive for me to sit in nature, God’s own cathedral, and commune with Him there by myself. Just me and Him. No hypocrites allowed.
Over time He began to show me how flawed that logic really was. He taught me that if I considered myself a disciple of Christ than I would have to consider myself a disciple of the Word as well. After all, He is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. Those scriptures that I was avoiding because they brought conviction to me were actually representing a part of the Lord’s heart and desire for me that I was avoiding. I began to see that I wasn’t rejecting the hypocrisy in the church; I was rejecting the Word that instructed me to go to church regardless of its shortcomings.
In essence I was rejecting the longing of the Lord’s heart for me to serve His bride.
So who was the hypocrite now? Submitting to Christ was a concept that I could grasp easily enough. I was a long haired hippy surfer and I was pretty sure that Jesus was too. I mean, think about it; we both wore sandals. In my mind I could follow Jesus as my guru, my master, because He was just like me. I could sit on the beach and play guitar on a Sunday morning and Jesus would be there to listen. I honestly thought that if other Christians didn’t understand me, then they probably didn’t understand Him either. That was some pretty shaky ground my theology was built on back then. Looking back now I’d say that it was downright hypocritical.
So what did I do when I got this revelation? I went back to church. I didn’t go back to either of the two big churches in my area where I had experienced judgment and criticism. Instead, the Lord my great Shepherd, led me to a small fellowship of believers who loved each other and whose pastor had a heart of gold. In short, they were legit; they were the bride and body of Christ. They took me in, hypocrisy and all, and showed me a better way. And wouldn’t you know I began to see how I could serve the body there. It was a win-win.
We live in a time when church attendance is in general decline in America and yet strangely enough a recent ABC News/Beliefnet poll found that a staggering 83% of Americans identify as Christian (53% Protestant, 22% Catholic and 8% Other Christians). Researchers point to many different reasons for this decline in attendance and there is no shortage of theories as to why this is happening. I’m not going to jump into that arena with my opinions, but I will say this; as long as Christians in America are going to stay away from church, the bride of Christ is going to suffer and the longing of the Lord’s heart to return and claim a bride without spot or blemish will continue to go unfulfilled.
So go to church because the Word requires us to. Continue to listen to your favorite speakers on podcasts and web streams, but use them to supplement the teaching of your local church, not as a replacement for it. Make the decision to attend a church in your area because you want to honor the Lord and His Word. Sure, we work all week and it’s tempting to rest in on Sunday morning. But David wouldn’t sacrifice anything to the Lord that didn’t cost him something. When we realize the value of the great salvation we have in Jesus we will gladly give all we have to Him in return.
Go to church because we need to serve the bride of Christ, not just to be served by her. When we do this we begin to understand what it means to be a friend of the bridegroom. We begin to pick up the burden of the Lord for His people and suddenly the hypocrites, the complainers and the difficult ones are easier to be around because of the Love of Jesus that arises in our hearts for them. Pray for their shortcomings and be a constructive agent of change. As we serve the body, we find that we too are served by them as iron sharpens iron.
And lastly, go to church because there are hypocrites there who need Jesus, and I guarantee you’ll fit right in.