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.