This Sunday, I will be in church as I have been on 99.9% of Sundays for my 64 years of life. I have attended mega-churches with thousands, little country churches with dozens, churches with organs and choirs and those with a single guitar providing the music. I have been blessed in ornate churches with incense and bells and in little unadorned halls with simple, unstructured worship. I have endured terrible services and enjoyed wonderful ones. I’ve been bored out of my mind and engaged to the very core of my being. And, I remain a person who loves Christ’s Church.
I am now part of a minority in America. The percentage of Americans that ‘go to church’ is falling rapidly and a small percentage of those who do go to church attend regularly each week. There are numerous reasons for this decline. About a third of those born after 1990 in the US no longer identify themselves with any religion. Scandals have rocked the confidence of people in pastors and diminished the value of organized religion. Many other activities compete with church for attention.
But, I believe that many do not make church attendance a high priority because they do not really understand the reason for it. Church has become something of an entertainment venue, though many would not consciously think of it that way. A prime question that shapes the choice of many concerning where, when, and how often they attend church is ‘how does it make me feel?’ The focus has turned completely around from “I go to worship and honor God” to “I go to find something of value for me.” We should hope to find some benefit, some joy, some inspiration when we gather to worship the Lord BUT that is secondary to making the choice to present ourselves to Him intentionally, in a place of worship, in devotion. Any emotional lift we may find is a bonus!
While people think they go to church for a program, in reality we go for a Person!
Eugene Peterson describes three reasons that being ‘in church’ for worship is important.
- Worship gives life a working structure.
- Worship nurtures our need for a relationship with God.
- Worship centers our attention on the wisdom of God. – Life at Its Best, Zondervan, 2006
When we take a break from the things that consume our attention in daily life, there is an opportunity to regain our perspective- a kind of weekly reset of our understanding about what/who we were created to be. Regardless of the style of our church’s liturgy – from rigidly formal to charismatically chaotic – behind it all is the Spirit reminding us that we are finite and He is infinite, the illusions of our Self set stripped away by an encounter with the Divine!
Worship gives us a language for loving God. The choice to go ‘someplace’ and to gather with others for the purpose of worship says, “I’m reaching out to You.” Worship includes an encounter with mystery – as we take the Cup and Bread in hand – and hear “This is the blood of the Covenant, this is my Body broken for you.” And, hopefully, there is the renewal of wisdom that comes from hearing the Word of God. One of the tragedies of some churches is the scarcity of the Word, replaced with philosophy, poems, and preacher’s opinions. It is the Word, infused with the revelation of the Holy Spirit, that shapes us into the people of God who live for the purposes of God.
I am told, too often these days, “I have better things to do, Pastor,” by those who see little value in making worship a priority over family gatherings, sports, and sleeping in on Sunday morning. Let’s hear the invitation of the Spirit to come into God’s Presence. I know He does not live in church building, but those places give us a place to focus, to be with others who are seeking Him. The reality is that ‘going to church’ and entering into the worship is an investment of time! One Sunday will do little to change us. Week by week, engaging in worship, will transform us!
Let me pointedly say this. We must rid ourselves of the consumer expectations that poison our worship experience. Discard any attention to how you feel, what you think you need, or who spoke kindly to you. Show up and present yourself to God! Here’s a bit of practical advice – go a few minutes early to sit quietly which will allow your soul catch up with your body. Attend with your heart and mind as well as your body! In other words, pay attention and participate. Sing! Pray! Listen! Respond!
Here is a word from the Word – “And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:21-25, NLT)
Light of the world You stepped down into darkness,
opened my eyes, let me see;
Beauty that made this heart adore You,
Hope of a life spent with You.
Here I am to worship! Here I am to bow down!
Here I am to say that You’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy,
Altogether wonderful to me.
King of all days, oh so highly exalted.
glorious in Heaven above!
Humbly You came to earth You created,
All for love’s sake became poor.
Tim Hughes © 2000 Kingsway Music CCLI License No. 810055