Why do you go to church?
Because it’s Sunday, and that’s what we do on Sundays?
Or maybe because you need something to hang onto if you’re going to make it through another week? A Bible verse, a thought from a sermon, an encouraging line in a song?
I’d like to suggest that you may be doing it wrong. Bear with me here.
Let’s get back to the beginning. God has graciously gathered his people into a body he calls the Church.
Why did he pick that name?
Church. In the language of the New Testament, it means “gathering” or “assembly.”
Think about it. Of all the things God could have named his people for—forgiven ones, holy ones, loved ones, redeemed ones, known ones—he chose to name us “the gathering ones”—“the people who get together regularly.”
Apparently it’s really important to God that we assemble. And if so, then it ought to be important to us as well. Why?
Paul gives us the answer in several places; I particularly like the one in Ephesians 4:
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
So why do we gather? We gather so that each one of us may exercise his gifts (vv 11-12) for the benefit of everyone else, to the further benefit of the body as a whole.
Well, how about that. You’re not there to get a blessing; you’re there to be one. You’re there to give, not to get.
And when everyone gives, everyone gets. When the pastor exercises his gifts in preaching, you’ll be ministered to by the sermon. When the congregation sings praises, you’ll be ministered to by the singing. But your motivation is not to receive; it’s to minister in the way that only you can, by the gifting of the Spirit.
Let me suggest a mindset for you.
If you’re a believer, you’re gifted by the Spirit in certain ways (1 Cor 12:7, 11). By the grace of God, you can minister to those around you. Maybe your gift is teaching. Maybe it’s serving. Maybe it’s mercy: listening to others and showing them grace.
When you’re with the assembly, you’re there by God’s calling—because someone there needs what you have, and you can exercise your gift(s) in ways no one else can. If your gift is mercy, your job there is to find someone who needs mercy, and dump a truckload of it all over them.
So you don’t walk into the building, find a seat in the back, and wait to get blessed. You’re on a mission; you seek. You talk to people, asking them how they’re doing, and listening to what they say, maybe asking further questions to coax the truth out of them, demonstrating that you care and that you have time to listen. And when you find someone who needs mercy—or whatever your gift is—he’s the reason you’re here today. Give him your gift.
And you can’t go home until you’ve done that, because until then you haven’t really done church.
How different would church be If Everybody Did?
Patrick Hennessy says
Thank you for the article! I completely agree with you. One thought: how should childcare at churches be arranged to allow for the time needed for everyone to use their spiritual gift? Obviously, churches should make more time for fellowship within all the members of the body; I’m just curious your thoughts on childcare…
Dan Olinger says
That’s something that different churches will find different solutions to. Most churches provide childcare for a Sunday school time and the worship service, and the time between the two can be fruitful for fellowship. Usually parents need to pick up their children quickly after the service, but often one parent can take care of that while the other engages. (This is a great opportunity for husbands to help out by overseeing the kids while the wife does some engagement.) I’m all for free-market solutions, and churches are creative enough to find mechanisms that work for them. 🙂
Jonathan Ensley says
While I concur, I also think that within Christianity today there are so many “christians” that go to church because it is socially acceptable or benefits their business or whatever reason even entertainment so long as we manage to evade God and his presence. I guess what I mean is that the attitude of ministering to anyone is severely neglected not just in church, but also in our communities and to the lost maybe especially. I will never forget going to services at Dr. Ormiston’s church where he did a month long study of witnessing and then dedicated a service to going out and practicing witnessing. I had never seen such an abysmally under attended service. Is it that our view of church is wrong? our view of God? Do we only need revival? I feel like if normal, pew-sitting church-goers were to get saved perhaps it would revitalize a style of life dedicated to the service of Christ because that is what he has freed us to do rather than lives characterized by apathy and self service and excuses that our Christian liberty justifies all of our pet sins. That said, I totally agree with this article, but I am afraid within Christianity we may be past only a misunderstanding of the institution of church and frankly at a point of straight up position of disobedience in and out of church. “If you love me keep my commandments.” Often it seems apparent that church-goers love themselves and finding little nuggets of out of context bits of truth which are then used to justify points of sin in their lives, but for me it is often discouraging that in or out of church talking about God seems to be the most taboo topic for other Christians unless I am agreeing with their life choices.
Nick Kaufman says
Dan, excellent article! I think our attitude concerning church is reflective of our “me” culture. We as believers need to change that culture, at least in the body of Christ. There should be a true servant spirit as exemplified by our Lord,”the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister.” I have often heard someone say they left a church because they were not “getting anything out of it,” and I want to ask them,”are you giving anything to it?” The world needs to see that selfless love and serving heart in the church.
Tim Olinda says
Timely and helpful! We were just talking about spiritual gifts a few days ago. I recently finished reading a book about the history of church practices as well. If you could communicate one idea, one REALLY BIG important idea to church leaders, what would it be? Let’s say Evangelism is a given, so perhaps an idea on the Edification/Education areas of church life? Thank you for sharing great ideas. Your teaching is still influencing my teaching almost 40 years after I met you. Thanks again, Dan!
Dan Olinger says
“One idea” questions are pretty tough. The biggest idea of all, of course, is the church’s purpose of bringing glory to God. But the church is also shown ways to do that, primarily through the unity (Eph 3) and growth (Eph 4) of its members and corporately. That’s where I’d start.
Larry Estrella says
I love this discussion of “Why Church?” For our ministry here in Hawaii at Calvary Independent Church I am considering some banners that Welcome the people that come and then create an atmosphere of “together!” We Worship together, we Pray together, we Serve together, we Give together, and we Love together! I am praying it creates an atmosphere of coming to give and doing it as a community!
Janice Toles says
Teaching saved Christians Discipleship is the missing ingredient. The church I am in currently is the first church that gives Discipleship training. I desperately needed this, and I had been a saved Christian for decades.