When you read the title of this post you are likely to think either:
1) Hope doesn't think you need to go to church? There's something I agree with her about! Jesus and I have our own thing goin' and church is just a formality anyway.
2) Hope doesn't think you need to go to church? Has she gone off the deep end!? Every Christian needs to go to church!
I mean neither of those things. Please let me explain myself.
In the past year, I've been thinking a lot about the Church. A lot a lot. As a result, in recent months I've tried to eliminate the phrase "going to church" from my vocabulary.
It's probably not a big deal and I'm not judgmental of people who use that terminology (I still do sometimes!), but for me it's been so good for my mind to reorient its way of thinking (by Scripture, of course) to describe what happens on Sunday mornings.
Before I begin, I'd like to mention that I'll be talking about the visible, local body of Christ more than the invisible, universal, elect of God (which includes believers who have already died or who have not yet been born).
So here are some reasons it has been helpful for me to think of the church as a body to join more than a building to frequent.
1) I get excited about Sunday mornings.
I'm talking thrilled out of my mind.
I always keep a countdown in my noggin of how long it will be until I get to "gather with Covenant Life" (instead of "go to Covenant Life"). I am also always excited about gathering with Covenant Life people on Tuesdays in Missional Community and throughout the week when possible in smaller hangouts, but it is so exciting to be able to celebrate Jesus intentionally with the whole group on Sundays and hear the Word preached faithfully.
It is seriously painful to miss a week, not because I'm super spiritual but because getting to worship with the church is super satisfying!
2) My motives for "going" are exposed.
When I'm getting ready in the morning and Stephen is whining and tugging at my leg, lately I've been trying to tell him something like "Stephen, I'm getting ready to worship with Covenant Life! I want to be awake and prepared!"
I'm not driving 30 minutes away on a Sunday morning to spend two hours sitting in an old chapel so that I can fulfill my Christian duty or get noticed by others. I want to guard my heart against dressing up a little so that I can impress the people "at church" or garner attention when I "enter the church's doors."
When I train my mind to remember the purpose of why I'm about to leave my home, I begin to truly prepare my heart for worshipping Jesus with others...and that includes putting a little effort into cleaning out my crusty eyes and brushing my rat's nest of hair so I'm ready to be more attentive.
3) I begin to see other Christians as Jesus sees them.
I think my main struggle---aside from pride in general---is loving Christians. Verses like "Outdo one another in showing honor" or "Consider others more significant than yourselves" are totally convicting to me.
Shamefully, when it comes to church gatherings, I'm very tempted to think things like "Ugh, I hope I don't see ______ at church today because I get annoyed with her every time we talk."
So it really helps my heart to remind myself "I'm meeting with the Beloved of God. I'm worshipping with fellow heirs of Christ. I'm celebrating the resurrection with those who also share in Jesus's resurrection!" I'm so glad Jesus doesn't identify me the way that I am tempted to identify others.
4) I begin to see non-Christians as Jesus sees them.
I totally believe that the main purpose of the weekly gatherings is for people who already know and are known by Jesus primarily, and for those who do not yet know Jesus secondarily.
That being said, I am excited to show non-Christians what it is like when Christians meet together.
I know a woman who has been faithfully meeting with Covenant Life for many months (and to my knowledge is not yet a believer), but English is not her first language. She told me with great delight that one time she understood 80% of the sermon because she had already been familiar with the topic's vocabulary.
I asked her why she keeps coming, and she said the peace she sees is unlike anything she's experienced anywhere else. She is very interested in this Jesus because the people who come together to sing to Him, learn about Him, and talk about Him have something she hasn't seen before.
God is making His appeal to non-believers through us (2 Corinthians 5), and the large-scale weekly opportunity to display community is an incredible way to make such an appeal.
5) My children are exposed from the beginning to a biblical understanding of what the church is.
I have an incredible children's book called What is the Church? created by Sojourn Kids that describes it well on the very first page:
"Let's say you ask me, 'What's the church?'
I'd say, 'Not what, but WHO!'
The church is made of people just
Like me and just like you.
The church is not a place we go
To meet on special days.
It's us---it's he and she and we---
Called out to bring Christ praise."
I want it to be considered common knowledge to my kids that God has created the universe to worship Him, that all mankind has fallen short and worships self instead, but that God in His mercy has made a way (namely, Jesus) for people to have a restored relationship with their Creator and do what they were initially made to do: enjoy Him forever.
I want my kids to know that these people, no matter where they fall on the timeline or what they had/have in their bank accounts, are the most privileged people on earth (see 1 Peter 2:9,10!), and they're scattered all throughout the world.
It would delight my heart to hear my children nonchalantly reiterate to me that Mommy and Daddy have made a covenant with some of these privileged people---we call this smaller group of nearby people our local church---and we get to see them regularly and encourage each other and worship God together.
Isn't this all so freeing and exciting? When we begin to take this gift of the church more seriously (see my post Bronies, La Leche League, and the Church for more about why the church is such a gift), we understand and appreciate the Gospel more deeply, and are mobilized more passionately and effectively to bring this good news to those who haven't heard it and/or don't believe it.
I'll close with the kind of church building Ephesians 2:19-22 describes:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a rad guy, and raising three little people ages 1,3, and 5...and I'm now expecting my fourth. I like chartreuse, calligraphy, Coke Icees, childbirth, crocs, Studio C, and...alliteration.
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today