In my last Seven-Day Practical Faith Blog entry, I built a case that Jesus does care about religion and does care about the church. He instituted a new church that would bring Jews and gentiles together; it was his instrument for changing the world. He assured us that the Holy Spirit would always be present in the church.
In part 2 of this discussion, I want to address those who do not go to church or think that they need to be part of a church. Once again, I'll point to the Bible and to Jesus to present the view that you indeed need to regularly attend church.
Let me preface by admitting that there are seasons where we may take a break or regroup. My wife and I recently went through a process of changing churches. It was an active search, so we typically didn't skip weeks being in one church or the other. But I understand that there may be fallow times after you have left a church and before you find the next one.
However, if we use Jesus as our model, we must agree that church attendance is important to him and hence should be important to us. Jesus was raised as a Jew, and he followed the Jewish custom of attending synagogue regularly. Through all four Gospels, we see Jesus attending and even teaching as a visiting rabbi in the synagogues through Israel. If Jesus attended worship services, then we should too.
Some may say, "I can just as well worship and pray outdoors or in my own space." Jesus certainly found lonely places to pray and restore himself. He prayed to and worshipped the Father openly, wherever and whenever he saw fit. But Jesus also regularly attended synagogue. He leveraged other prayer and worship opportunities in addition to synagogue, not instead of synagogue.
I don't agree with the statement that "you can't be a Christian if you're not in a church." But I would amend that statement to say "you can't be an effective Christian if you're not in a church."
Why? Well, why did Jesus think we needed a church? Because we need each other. We need relationship. We need a place where the community can gather to worship, be strengthened and renewed, and return to the world. We need a movement where we can join forces to serve others for Christ's sake. Hebrews 10:24-25 had this message for the first century Christians:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another...
Acts 2:42 describes how the early church functioned. It's a model for us to follow as well.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Fellowship is such an important part of the Christian experience. I've only had a brief time in my life when I wasn't fully connected with a church. It felt empty and lonely. I need the community of believers to help me with my worship, my thought process, my spiritual life, my home life, my work life, the things that go haywire in my life, and on and on.
I realize you may have been burned by the church or had a bad experience. Perhaps you don't feel like you fit in with your church anymore. I would say this: There are many, many church experiences available to you. That's why so many denominations exist! We don't all think the same way or need the same things. As a young man, I thought everyone should be in my denomination, but I don't think that anymore. Believe me, there's a church out there that is different than what you have experienced and may well be the church for you.
When my wife and I were seeking another church, we identified more than twenty churches within driving distance in our metro area that we were willing to consider. (I grew up in a small town - I realize some settings do not offer such choice). We narrowed it down to six or so to visit. After that round, and after investigating and talking to people within the churches, we reduced the list to two candidates, finally selecting one that offered notable differences from our prior church. There was a new church experience out there for us, and there is a new church experience out there for you.
But it starts with being convinced that you need to go to church. My reasoning is that you should bow to Jesus's wisdom. He regularly attended corporate worship himself, modeling the right behavior. He created a church (he's the first in the Bible to use the word "church") and urged his followers to participate in it. He urges the same for you and me. Jesus promised that his Holy Spirit would always be present with the church (Matthew 28:20) and that the church would always exist (Matthew 16:18).
Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe we should do what he says? Then go to church.
If this post pushes you out of your comfort zone, good! I do more of that in my new book, "From Comfort Zone to Trust Zone: How Jesus Urges Us to Take Leaps of Faith for His Kingdom." It's a Biblically-based analysis of how Jesus invited people to get uncomfortable and take risks for his sake, and what this persistent invitation means to us today. Learn more at CecilTaylorMinistries.com/from-comfort-zone-to-trust-zone.