Why bother to gather?
It's another grey Sunday morning when the duvet is extra-warm and a lot of people are asking, 'why bother going to church?' It's a good question.
I can think of loads of reasons not to:
Firstly, there might be people there I don't like or naturally get on with. they might be all 'needy' around me and by the end of the week I'm done with other people's needs.
Also, the service may be pretty much the same as last week's. I'm bored with the same old format.
Thirdly, I'm not in the mood for all that happy-clappy rejoicing. I've had a tough week and the last thing I need is someone telling me I should be more grateful.
Fourthly, I can meet God wherever I am; I can listen to Christian radio and sing here under my duvet, watch a sermon on my phone and not have to find a parking space. Bonus!
Another reason to skip church is because I've been a Christian quite the while and I'm pretty mature, in fact I think I've heard every sermon our leaders have to dish up. It seems on a cycle and I've been around it a while. Give me something new!
Fifthly, what if the service isn't quite to my liking, and if I go today it might not 'hit my spot' - why chance it and sing songs I don't like, have to deal with other people's children and needs and come away feeling emptier as a result?
Finally, I get the feeling the leaders only want me there to keep their jobs going and they always ask me for money. Don't they know how expensive my lifestyle is?
Well, I am one of those leaders and I completely understand this perspective. You could say to me, 'you are so enthusiastic about gathering as a church every week because you want me to be there (to make up the numbers).' I would say to you, 'I want you to be there (and not miss out) because I am so enthusiastic about gathering as a church!'
We are not the first generation to wonder why we meet together, be tempted to opt out, or get distracted and discouraged by our disappointments with others in the church.
Here are some simple and yet profound reasons why the duvet loses its claim on our Sunday mornings.
Firstly, because it's hard to praise God on our own. The psalms are full of collective calls to praise, 'Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt his name together...' (Psalm 34:3). We meet to add our voices to the praises of our God. This is a communal experience and you have to get our of bed to do it justice. So the first reason has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with God's glory. Besides, your heart's song sounds so much better as part of a chorus!
Secondly, because it's hard to thrive in life on our own. We need each other - a community of God's chosing and not our own consumerist selection. When the early church was tempted to splinter off and neglect their gathering, the writer to the Hebrews corrected them: 'Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.' (Hebrews 10:24-25) Who knows who you can encourage today just by being there at church. A smile, a word of encouragement, a prayer could make all the difference to their week.
Thirdly, because the Holy Spirit does His best work when we're together. There is something special about the way God blesses united gatherings of praise and prayer, visiting with words of prophecy and encouragement. In Acts 2 the Spirit came when they were together in one place, and I reckon that is His preferred M.O. over the ages. He came to anoint a people, not just a person.
Fourthly, because the last thing you need to be encouraged in is your selfishness. You and I need to be reminded there are people around us who have greater needs than our own. Not people on BBC News, but people sitting next to you. It's good for you. We do mission better, together. We intercede better, together. It's not about me!
Fifthly, because you can't take communion on your own. Jesus commanded us to remember Him in this covenant meal when we meet. It is a meal of fellowship in Him, and every believer should partake it in often. You can have some bread and wine on your own, but communion is a together thing.
Finally (though I could go on), because preaching is powerful. I still believe in the moment when God's word is illuminated, brought to life, applied and spoken with anointing and power in such a way that something awesome happens in the heart of those who gather. You don't know, today could be your day to receive a 'now' word from God. It could unlock your future. Why risk and miss it?
For sure, your salvation isn't complete because you go to church today. Your eternal fate doesn't depend on service attendance! However, your salvation finds full expression and makes more sense in community, and as broken and predictable as some aspects of our gatherings may be, in grace we can step over those things and believe for breakthroughs in our own lives but also in the lives of others.
I know life is hard, and I know how disappointing people can be. I know (too well) how weak and fallible church leaders are. I get it.
Beyond all that, though, is the ancient call of the Spirit of God who calls us together in unity and promises to visit us when we do. When we humbly meet in Jesus' name, He is in our midst. (Matthew 18:20)
Kick the duvet off and let's gather for God's glory!
- Tim Roberts
(opinions my own)