Why Do I Go?

I grew up going to church. That’s just what we always did. Every Sunday and Wednesday. And maybe this happened to you if you grew up going to church, but there was a point in my life where I began wanting to go to church.

Before that point in my life (roughly junior high age I think), I was fairly indifferent. It’s not that I didn’t want to go, it’s just that I didn’t have a great desire to go. There were times I really wanted to be at church to hang out with friends, and there were times I just did not feel like going. I had (have) good parents, so I always went anyway.

But, there was a turning point in my life when I began wanting to go to church. I looked forward to the fellowship, to the singing, to hearing good sermons or teaching. I suppose you could say I began wanting to go because I began enjoying church. I wanted to go because I liked it, because of what I got out of it. And, I wonder, now, if that was a bit immature of me.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that we should meet together regularly. This is no surprise to most church-going folk. But, the reasons the writer gives for “going to church” are not exactly a church-goer’s typical list. We are not told to assemble together to worship (interesting, I think), or to hear a good sermon (I know that happens every time I preach… :p), or to enjoy the fellowship (though that may happen). The writer, instead, says this:

And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Don’t stay away from Christian meetings, says the writer, because they are important. Not because of worship–that’s not even mentioned here. Not so I can hear a good sermon–no mention of the sermon (explicitly) either. Not so I can enjoy the fellowship–though fellowship is certainly strongly implied, and my enjoyment may be a natural result. What the writer focuses on as he appeals to those who might consider not going to church is the importance of other Christians.

The writer tells me to be concerned about others. The writer tells me to promote love and good works in others. The writer tells me to encourage others. And not one word about making sure I enjoy it, or that I am encouraged, or that I feel better, or that I am drawn closer to God.

And it’s not because those things aren’t supposed to or won’t happen to me, it’s because that is not my job. My goal in going to church should be to focus on you. And if things are working properly then you will focus on me and encourage me, but I need to move past going to church for me to going to church for you.

That Hebrew writer was smart. This would resolve a whole load of conflicts. I would be less likely to leave when things don’t go my way. I would be less likely to church-shop, looking for the church that helps and uplifts me. I would be less likely to get stuck in the social individualism that pervades our culture, and more likely to spend my time with my wonderful, loving, spiritual, God-given family. I would be focused on encouraging you, and we would both be better for it.

I don’t know how many times I’ve told people that they need to go to church for the sake of their relationships with God. And certainly there is some truth to that. But our relationships with God must mature beyond needing to be fed to needing to feed others. We need to move from spiritual infancy to spiritual adulthood. It’s just natural. It’s just Biblical. It’s just Christian.

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14 thoughts on “Why Do I Go?

  1. Clint,
    Good thoughts on a subject that isn’t taught and studied on enough. Keep up the good work and the articles.
    Jeff

    • I agree, we do not study the assembly enough. We always assume that we are supposed to assemble to worship God, but, oddly enough, that is not quite the picture we get from the New Testament. It seems the assembly is more for us than for Him.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. While I remember plenty of times where I just didn’t enjoy the assembly, I don’t remember ever just wanting to quit going. I’m not really sure why.

    I think it helps to move away from the individualism you talk about when we start changing our language. Instead of ‘going to church’, I need to realize that I am part of the church. The church not a place I go, I am a piece of it. The assembly is something I participate in because it feeds the whole body of which I am part.

    • . . .at least that’s one reason why I participate in it, maybe not the ultimate or primary one which is that God is glorified. In other words, the feeding, building, etc, should obviously not be an end to itself.

      • Exactly…we encourage one another toward a purpose, not just for the sake of encouraging. But, often, I think we want to skip the middle and skip to the end. We focus so much on God we forget that what He really wants is for us to focus on one another…for His sake, of course, but still, one another.

        And I cringed every time I wrote “going to church” in this article. I even wrote a post about this a while back: Stop Going To Church (https://cthoward.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/stop-going-to-church/). But I couldn’t think of a better way to express what I’m saying in a consistent way….so there you go.

  3. Clint,

    This reminds me of something I heard in a sermon online recently.

    The preacher said that he often gets calls from people who are new to his area & looking for a congregation. They ask him what programs they offer for youth, for singles…whatever. He will tell them and then he asks, “what do you have to offer to our congregation?”

    People almost never have an answer for him. We are all about “me”. What can I get from the assembly? What does this congregation have to offer me & my children? That is a selfish attitude and you’ve done a fine job exposing our collective need to change that mindset.

    • Sometimes I get questions like that. Many times I get questions about our “position” on certain doctrinal issues. And I know the issues may be important, but I hope that’s not what identifies us. Paul told us to maintain the unity of the Spirit while we try to attain to the unity of the faith (Eph 4). And, I hope more and more Christians looking for a church home would look for a place that will give them plenty of opportunities to serve rather than just looking for a place with the “right” positions, or a place that would serve them.

  4. Good point, seeing there isnt a group of people who have it all fiqured out, although some claim they do.

    Looking for a place with the “right” positions can be a bit hard to find. But, surely some are closer to Scripture…

    I will read your other post when time permits.

    Take care

    • Maybe some are closer to scripture (surely some are)…but how do we know? How do we know that ours is closest? Or that there is not another closer that we ought to be going to? Is that even a proper standard to choose by–which is the closest to scripture? Can that even be properly evaluated with our tendencies toward bias and tradition in our scriptural interpretations?

      Not that positions and doctrine are not important…but perhaps better indicators of a good church are love and service…

  5. Hi Clint,

    Just wanted to let you know that I recently discovered your blog and have really been enjoying reading your insights. This post in particular really hit home with me – the issue of people feeling they need to “get something out of church” has been really weighing heavily on me lately. This post neatly put into words the thoughts that have been tumbling around incoherently in my brain. Thanks for sharing!

    Lauren

    • Hey Lauren,
      Thanks for reading and for your comment. I think a lot of Christians out there have this idea that there is something wrong with going to church to get something out of it, though they may not quite understand why they feel that way, or just what to do about it. It takes more people like you who have nailed it down a little more to help them understand. It’s all about service. At least I think that’s what the whole Love God and Love People greatest commandments are about.

      • As a spin-off, I’d be interested in your thoughts on what seems to me to be the growing occurrances of church hopping/shopping. I feel like I hear more and more often that so-and-so family is leaving X church to start attending Y church, because Y church can “meet their spiritual needs” better than X church.

        On the one hand, if we shouldn’t be going to the church in order to meet OUR spiritual needs, this strikes me as a selfish reason to leave a church. On the other hand, the early Christians didn’t seem to have their choice of which congregation to attend – my understanding is that there was typically one church in a city (ie: the church in Corinth) and either they met together with those Christians or they didn’t. So I’m not sure if there is or should be such a thing as loyalty to a congregation – if all congregations are “the church,” then does it matter which one we attend?

        If you can’t tell, I go back and forth on this issue a lot. My gut reaction and personal preference is that leaving a congregation because you feel your spiritual needs could be better met elsewhere is missing the point of attending “church” entirely. But just because that’s my gut reaction doesn’t mean it’s the RIGHT reaction. Thoughts?

  6. Lauren,

    I understand completely the dilemma you explained. It seems that it was often the case for the early church that they had one choice…though the Christians in Rome, at least, seem to be an exception, having multiple house churches meeting in the same city (and yet possibly all under the same leadership?).

    In any case, I’m not sure the early church situation weighs much on us today for this reason: if our reasons for leaving are selfish then they are wrong…even if they are “spiritual” reasons. I really can’t find any basis for distinguishing the leaving you described from divisions addressed in the NT. That’s not to say that any leaving to go to another congregation is wrong…but just any reason that is selfishly motivated: because I am not being fed here; because they have better youth programs; because I don’t like this preacher, etc.

    It’s hard to nail down verses that say these are wrong (unless you consider 1Cor 1 and their division over different teachers in the discussion of whether or not you like the preacher)…however, the whole of NT discussion on unity and fellowship and the importance of “one another” indicate to me that I ought not think of how I can be spiritually fed (except in my private prayer and study, of course), but how I can feed you.

    So, I think you’re gut reaction is right…our “religion” has become very individualistic when Jesus always intended it to be corporate…like a family. And you don’t walk out on your family to join another just because you think the other is better for you. You stick around and work things out (except for extreme cases, of course).

    Now….what do you think?

    • I think, at the very least, I’m glad I’m not alone in my thoughts 🙂

      I think your last paragraph summed up the basis of my feeling perfectly: “Our “religion” has become very individualistic when Jesus always intended it to be corporate…like a family. And you don’t walk out on your family to join another just because you think the other is better for you. You stick around and work things out (except for extreme cases, of course).”

      Now the question is, how to go about rekindling that spirit of “family?”

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