Do Christians Really Need To Go To Church? (Part 1)

What was God's original design for the Church?

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Have you ever gone to church on Sunday morning and felt like you were wasting your time? Maybe the worship music felt flat (and those gathered just appeared to be going through the motions) . . . or maybe your mind wandered through the boring and irrelevant sermon (which only seemed like the pastor was trying to “fill time”). All you could think was “I should have stayed in bed,” or better yet, “We should have gone out on the boat today.” Well I have . . . on many occasions, but the feeling was never unique to one particular church. Though I have always valued going to church, my Sunday morning experiences have varied widely throughout my life. Sometimes I leave the service feeling like I met with the Lord, encouraged and better equipped in my spiritual walk, and other times I leave feeling completely unaffected. Why is that?

For some people, skipping church makes them feel too guilty . . . so they might opt for an acceptable alternative, like listening to an online sermon. Surely that would be enough to please God for the day. And this way they can pick the sermon topic and teacher (and even change it if it’s not inspiring enough). They could also pick worship music they like to listen to, and hand select Scriptures they like to read (no need to read the controversial or difficult passages). This method of “doing Church” would be far less inconvenient (I mean they don’t even have to get out of their pajamas) . . . and this way they aren’t just taking a chance on maybe “getting something out of” a church service.

But are these people missing out on some greater purpose or meaning found in attending church with others? Why do we go to church anyway - for our benefit or His? If we love God and love His people, is that not enough?

I have recently wrestled through the question of regular church attendance myself, teetering back and forth between different explanations for and against the argument. I grew up going to church faithfully (I mean I was there every time the church doors were open), so it feels unnatural for me not to go on Sunday morning. But I am honestly not sure if it is self-imposed guilt I feel when I don’t go, or holy conviction because I am truly dishonoring God by stepping out of that discipline. Hence this article . . . I am trying to figure it all out. But I want to proceed carefully, because I know the dangers of discovering a bit of truth in God and then taking it to an unhealthy extreme . . . which would ultimately lead to err. It can be good to ask questions if our experience of God does not match up with His Word, but there is a difference between criticism and critique. This article is not a criticism of the Church, but rather a challenge to re-evaluate our practices, and re-align our hearts where we might be missing the mark.

The Greek word for church, ekklesia, appears 115 times in the New Testament . . . and every time it refers to an assembly of God’s people, not a building or denomination. My church building burned to the ground last year, so this truth is more real to me now than ever before; yet, I have begun to question some of our current traditions and practices (the Western Church as a whole, not just my personal church). How many of our Sunday morning customs and aspirations actually align with God’s original design for the Church? And have we so surrendered to our man-made agendas that if we removed the Holy Spirit from our church services, they would function exactly the same?

In his book, “Letters To The Church,” Francis Chan challenges us to re-evaluate what Scripture says about the gathering of believers. He writes, “Something that God has designed to function as a family has been reduced to an optional weekly meeting. . . Far too often we are more concerned with how well the sermon was communicated, whether the youth group is relevant enough, or how to make the music better.”

Chan was the pastor of a widely successful mega church that he started, but he eventually concluded they were getting it wrong. His church appeared to be thriving; yet, Chan walked away from it all to pursue a more biblical model . . . one that existed to please God more than man (Read his story HERE).

It’s not just about being biblically literate, we must also become biblically obedient. John Wimber

Chan’s courageous stance has disquieted the complacent parts of my heart and dared me to confront the inconsistencies in my own spiritual walk. I cried my way through the first chapter of this book because my heart longed so much to do church this way. As Chan pointed out, “Who wouldn’t be fascinated by a group that shared possessions, rejoiced nonstop, had peace beyond comprehension and immeasurable power, never complained, and always gave thanks . . . ?” And yet this does not describe the typical Western church; instead, “We expect people to be captivated by our speech when our lifestyles are not that compelling. We pat ourselves on the back when we can showcase some happy families with virgin children who don’t swear. That is hardly proof God is with us and not with them.”

Chan goes on to say, “Many of us make decisions based on what brings us the most pleasure. This is how we choose our homes, jobs, cars, clothes, food, and churches. We pursue what we want; then we make sure there are no biblical commands we are violating. In essence, we want to know what will God tolerate rather than what He desires. Maybe we are afraid to ask what will bring Him the most pleasure. Ignorance feels better than disobedience.”

God has always wanted us to be all-in or all-out; there is zero value to luke-warm Christianity (Revelation 3:15-16). The invitation to follow Jesus is there for all of us, but unlike some of today’s churches, Jesus never chased people down with soft doctrine or the promise of a prosperous life to try and convince them to stay (John 6:59-71). He simply let them walk away.

There are countless people who claim to be Christian simply because they admire Christ’s example, but this is very different from following Him. Chan points out the stark difference between Christianity in persecuted countries and our Western churches. In Iran, “people who want to join the church have to sign a written statement agreeing to lose their property, be thrown in jail, and be martyred for their faith. . . What we call sanctification, they call a prerequisite.” Maybe this is why Iran has one of the fastest-growing evangelical populations in the world . . . because they are intent on making disciples of the nations, not just believers (Matthew 28:19). Chan goes on to say, “Just imagine if the Church today was made up of people who would literally go to the cross for one another. How could people shrug their shoulders as they witnessed that kind of love?”

It is of far greater importance that we have better Christians than that we have more of them. A.W. Tozer

What if our Western churches also embraced the five pillars of the house church movement: a deep commitment to prayer, a commitment to the Word of God, a commitment to sharing the gospel, a regular expectation of miracles, and a willingness to embrace suffering for the glory of Christ? What if we returned to the original directives of Scripture and gathered in order to remember the Lord’s sacrifice for us (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) . . . and to pray (Colossians 4:2) and praise (James 5:13) with our whole heart? What if we actually took God at His Word and gathered in order to heal and deliver others from bondage (Mark 3:15), and to truly care for those in need (1 John 3:17-19, James 1:27)? What if we came along side each other to help bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and really loved one another more than the things of this world (John 15:12)? The Church would be unstoppable. And I can assure you, I would much prefer to gather with people like this than to sleep in, listen to a sermon on my own, or even hang out on the boat with my friends.

Chan put it well when he wrote, “Joy comes as we stand among those Jesus has redeemed and get lost in a sea of worship, becoming fully a part of something sacred. Gathering with the Church should lead us to holy ground. You get to come and worship Someone else, with someone else. You get to pour out love and Him by serving those around you and considering them more important than yourself. It’s not about you. And you are glad it’s not about you. Because this is something far greater than you. It is sacred.”

How easy it is to blame others for our unhappiness, but we are only unhappy when something other than Christ has become our life.Francis Frangipane  

I may not be able to change the Western Church, but I can change myself - I can change my mindset from one of consumerism to one of servanthood. I can change my perspective, my commitment, and my expectations. I can pray that God stirs a holy hunger within me to return to His original design for the Church, and refuse to be satisfied with mere ritual or entertainment over God’s presence. And as I actively pursue God and wait on Him to show up, I can stand on His promise that if I seek Him with my whole heart, I will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13) . . . and finding Him is always worth the wait. 

But if enough of us join together in the seeking, the Church will soon start to look more like the one we read about in the Scriptures . . . a family full of hope, love, and the power to live a transformed life. 

Would you consider joining me?

*In part two of this article I will map out ten things to consider that can help us discern whether we should go to church (not to spoil it, but the answer is not always to go).

Further Reading:

Letters to the Church” by Francis Chan

Worth the four minute watch: John Piper on "Raise Your Expectations for Sunday Morning"

 

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

*Please comment respectfully. I welcome honesty as you share your thoughts and feelings. However, since many of these subjects are controversial, I ask that you take care to honor others in the process. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate comments.