Most of the writing I do on this blog concerns pastor-church conflict issues, although I try and write more for lay people than anyone else. By necessity, this means that I’m focused more on the dark side of the church, and it’s hard to think about that all the time.
So today, I want to shine the light on what’s great about attending a local Christian church.
While I might have missed a few, I believe that I’ve attended at least 14 different churches in my lifetime: 8 before I became a pastor and 6 afterwards. Since I grew up in a pastor’s home – and I was in church every Sunday – a safe estimate is that I’ve attended at least 2,500 Sunday morning services, not counting Sunday evening or Wednesday night extravaganzas.
So here’s what I like about church:
First, there is a minimum of one solid hour to focus on God. The closer we get to God, the more life comes together. The further we get from God, the more life starts unraveling. We all know we need to interact with our Creator more often, but the routine intrusions of life can make this challenging.
But when we attend a church service, outside intrusions are largely eliminated. The phone doesn’t ring (okay, there are exceptions), we aren’t watching TV (although many churches now have monitors), we’ve left our favorite books at home (unless they’re on our Smart Phone), and household chores cannot be transferred to a worship center (thank God!). While we can sleep, it’s generally discouraged, and while we can read, the Bible remains the preferred literature.
The praise and worship time, the testimonies, any video elements, the various prayers, communion, and the pastor’s message all point us in a heavenward direction. Even for the best Christians, it’s possible to go 167 hours without looking up too often. A worship service specializes in a vertical relationship with God – and that’s a very good thing indeed!
Second, you’re hanging around others who also love Jesus. When I worked for McDonald’s, I was assigned primarily to the grill area. Although I knew how to cook meat and dress the buns, my primary role was toasting the buns. One night, while doing just that, I decided to share Christ with Matt, my co-worker who was cooking meat. I asked him, “Hey, Matt, who is Jesus Christ to you?” He replied, “One in a cast of thousands.”
I never followed up with him. I didn’t know what to say after that.
There may have been Christians working at McDonald’s, but I don’t recall meeting any (except the boss’ mother Myrtle, but she wasn’t a co-worker). So, like most of you, I was surrounded by unbelievers at work.
But when I went to church, there were believers everywhere! In fact, we assumed you were a believer unless we heard otherwise. While I was only at church for a few hours each week, it was relaxing and fulfilling to hang around people who believed as I did – and many of those people helped me grow in my faith. There is nothing in the world like a concentration of Christians in one place.
Third, you make lifelong friends at church. My first friends lived in my neighborhood. I met the next wave at school. And I made a host of friends through playing sports. But I always enjoyed a deeper friendship with my church friends than any others.
When I was in ninth grade, my three best friends and I were all officers in the Honor Society. I signed a few hundred yearbooks on the last day of school.
Three years later, on the last day of high school, I signed three yearbooks. (And I didn’t buy my own, either.) Why? Because nearly all my friends were at church.
My good friend Ken invited me to his church and I stayed. Then I eventually invited our mutual friend Steve. I met and married Kim, and Steve met and married Janie. While I haven’t retained all the friendships I made at that church, I have retained many of them, and they continue to enrich my life to this day.
Sixteen years ago, the church held its 40th anniversary reunion. That night felt like a taste of heaven. I saw friends I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years, and nobody seemed to remember the bad stuff anyone had done – we only remembered the good. I’ll never forget one young man who was in my youth group. He told me that I was the first man he had ever met who was both an athlete and a Christian, and that my example is what kept him following Christ. (He was married with four kids, as I recall.) The whole night was like that. Where else can you find that kind of friendship?
Fourth, church is where we discover and develop our gifts. As a kid, I read to my class at times, and had a few things I’d written read for me, but I hardly did any public speaking. In fact, I rarely spoke up in class at all, even when I knew the answer. But I learned to speak in church.
My first message was on the friendship between David and Jonathan. It was on a Sunday night in July (when experimentation was permissible). I did not study adequately for it and really didn’t know what I was doing, but one has to start somewhere, and my church provided a safe place for me to test my gift. Fifty or so messages later, a church called me to be their pastor. That only happened because I was allowed to practice preaching on three church families.
The same is true for so many of us who know Jesus. We first learned to teach kids and run events and sing songs and lead groups and pray with people not at home or at school, but at church. In the warm, safe environment of God’s people, we tried and failed and tried and failed until we found an area where we had success. Since it’s hard to experiment in a megachurch that expects perfection, experimenting is best done in the myriad of small and medium-sized churches that dot our land.
Fifth, we are exposed to Scripture and all its wonders. With its various complexities and ambiguities, many of us still love the Bible. No book contains more wisdom, or power, or grace. No book has better stories. No book possesses such powerful lessons. From Abraham and Esther through Peter and Paul, where can anyone find such characters in literature?
I thank God for every person who taught me the Bible. With a few exceptions, I remember them all. They influenced my life in countless ways. If you want to attend seminary, you have to have one near you and pay out the nose. But there are thousands of mini-seminaries all over the world found in local churches.
And while I appreciate every pastor who preached God’s Word, the most influential teachers are the ones who teach the toddlers and the fifth grade boys and the high school group. They keep the kids inside the church so that the preacher can later reach them as adults.
Finally, church is the source of the greatest music in the world. I had breakfast yesterday with a dear friend, and he mentioned that George Beverly Shea, the soloist for Billy Graham’s Crusades for so many years, just turned 102! When he mentioned Shea’s name, I instantly started singing the song he co-wrote with Rhea Miller:
I’d rather have Jesus, than silver or gold,
I’d rather be His than have riches untold
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand
Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today
Where did George Beverly Shea first sing that song? In church. Where did many of us first hear it? In church.
It’s the same place we heard “A Mighty Fortress” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “How Great Thou Art” and “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” and “Shout to the Lord” and “My Glorious” and hundreds of other great songs. Unlike Mozart, Bach wrote his masterpieces first for church use. And so many entertainers got their start by singing in church. (It would be great if they would go back to church, but that’s another story.)
Those are just a few of the reasons that the local church is so great, but I’ve barely scratched the surface.
What is great about church to you?