There is a movement away from church fellowship and while COVID hasn’t helped- it wasn’t the instigator. For many people, attending a physical church service regularly is just simply not a priority. This is true- not only for the “lukewarm”, – but people I consider to be genuine believers. These families tend to fall into one of two broad categories.
I see some families who have cultivated the idea of church as a social outing. Attendance isn’t regular and is based on convenience. If nothing else is going on. If we get up in time- or didn’t stay up too late the night before. There seems to be the thought that- church is there for me. I’ll take it on my terms. When they do decide it suits them- the church they pull up to may be one of 2 or 3. Again- this is all about them, so what do they feel like today? The thought that a particular church may in fact need them escapes their mind as they plan where to eat afterwards- of course basing the choice of worship destination on its proximity to the desired restaurant. “Sunday will be a delightful little outing. I’ll wear my newest/ cutest outfit, we’ll attend ___ and then do lunch.”
Church isn’t a buffet- or isn't supposed to be. Have we miscommunicated something to 21st century consumers? Have we tried to entice with options and pizzazz rather than explain the role of duty and a job to be done? The church with the most money wins the attendance game- they spend their money on glitzy extras and they win again while the little church down the street burns out the few diligent people plowing a hard field asking God to send laborers to labor alongside them. Why work when you can be served? Why commit when that has never been presented as a necessary element? Has the church missed part of its mission or is this simply another side effect of our consumer culture? Would these people even be reliable laborers? We may never know.
I see other families that would be an asset to any Church community. They seem to have maturity, or at least zeal. These families usually manage their home-life well and are diligent with their children and family devotions but don’t see the need for Church attendance. They exist around the fringes never truly coming into the community of fellow believers. These families are not consumers- but neither are they producers. They seem willing to commit- when they find the right group. But it never comes along. Something is always a little off- the teaching, or the music, or the people. Of course it’s not them- they have it together and someday- someday they’ll find the perfect group they are looking for and commit. They’ll accept the harness and plow a field and sow to something bigger than themselves- but until then they drift. Their children will grow up well taught in everything but the mechanics and beauty of community life.
To both of these kinds of families I say: The Church needs you. We don’t live for ourselves- we live for each other. Yes community- real community is messy and often inconvenient, but that is where relationships are formed. It is fun to be shiny and new, to seem to have it all together. It is easy to jump from church to church when the veneer begins to crack. It is uncomfortable to stay with a group long enough for them to see that you are flawed- but that is where growth happens.
Maybe you feel inferior- community life is for you. Stick and you will find that for which you were created. You have a role to play. God doesn’t call the equipped- he equips the called. Be more than a consumer- you are needed. You have something to contribute, and you will only find out what that is in the context of a community that draws it out of you based on their need. You will feel alive when you begin to give out. A healthy river has to have an outlet. That outlet happens in local church fellowship.
Maybe you feel superior to the groups you have access to. Well, come on down from there! If it helps you- remember that God limits himself to be in community with us! Do you know why? Because he knows the value of relationship. Loves relationship. Learn from him. Does he need us- no. But he knows we need him. A local fellowship needs you. Their committed are over-burdened, they are praying for help. Will you keep your assets for yourself? Yes, it gets annoying picking up the pieces of other people’s broken lives. But if we don’t do it who will. If someone hadn’t done it for us, where would we be? Pieces get put back together in local church fellowships where people are committed for the long haul, and it is beautiful.
It seems that in our time we have taken lightly what Christ speaks of as his bride, the community of believers. We have trivialized what people in other times and places were willing to die for, the physical act of meeting together for worship. Those people weren’t worried about the kinds of people who would be there- or which songs would be mouthed so as not to be heard by spies outside of the building. They weren’t divided over translations of the Bible or the interpretation of a passage. They just knew that they needed to be together; that there was strength in their being together physically. It wasn’t enough to know there were other Christians in the area- they needed to be in one place and were willing to risk to do it.
What have we become?
Even if it were true that you don’t need the church. (It’s not.) The Church needs you. Is your marriage going well right now? Someone else’s isn’t. Is your kid learning God’s word at home? Someone else’s isn’t. Are you emotionally stable right now? Someone else isn’t…. Will you live for yourself? Will you humble yourself in order to participate with those Christ deemed worthy to die for or will you place yourself above what even God lowers himself to participate in?
While pondering these these things I came across this old poem in my readings. It makes such a fitting ending that I will let
“I love thy kingdom Lord,
The house of thine abode,
The Church our holy redeemer
Saved with his own precious blood.
For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend,
To her my cares and toils be given
Till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways:
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.
-John Dwight * 1752-1817-