What Is the Point of Going to Church?

I co-lead a small group on Sunday nights for my church. Our church has bought into the small group "craze", and heartily endorses small groups. Every year, Dan, one of our ministers, likes to have a small group leader training class. It’s usually on Wednesday nights in the summer quarter but this year to try something different it was moved to Sunday morning in the Spring quarter. It worked out better, I think. A lot of people aren’t around on Wednesdays in the summer because of vacations and travel. Sunday morning also presents a longer time period for classes.

As I go to a church of Christ, we call our small groups "LIFE Groups", which stands for Love, Involvement, Friendship, and Evangelism. Some churches call them "cell groups." I wouldn’t want to explain that to a cop if I got pulled over on the way during a heightened state of Homeland Security. The last two years, Dan has used a video series put together by a pastor named Buddy Bell at the Landmark Church of Christ. The video series is good, but I thought Dan did a decent job when he put together his own class. One comment that really cracked us all up has to do with what happens when a group gets large. Buddy said "we multiply, not divide at this church." That small comment is funny, but at the same time is sobering coming from a pastor at a church that came out of the so called "unity" movement in the 19th century. I’ve heard of some churches splitting for some really silly reasons, like whether the table used for the Lord’s supper should have a table cloth or not. Seriously, Dan mentioned in a sermon that a church of Christ split over that issue. I’ve read the entire Bible four or five times, and I really can’t see a case for one side or the other.

That’s the case I’m laying out, if for nothing else than to put the rest of this post into perspective. Yesterday’s service was one that really didn’t appeal to me. I can’t say much of it did any good for me at all, but I also have to be very, very careful not to project my preferences onto whether something is right or not. I obviously do not mean that in a postmodern, or relative sense. The first song we sang was a very basic song, probably one fit for a young Sunday school class. I was raised in a Christian Science church, and so I’m not familiar with some of the songs that children sing in Evangelical churches. My wife is, but I’m not. This one goes, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus in the morning, Jesus at the noon time…" I don’t see anything wrong with the song, I just don’t like it. The next song was "Holy, Holy, Holy." Now that, I can get into. I like that song.

We changed up the order of service a bit. We sang three songs, then took up the collection. I had been asked to help with the table, so I was one passing the collection baskets. Then we dismissed the children to Children’s Church. Then we had the sermon, and followed up at the end with communion. The sermon was like a really, really basic one. Being the day before Memorial Day, Dan did a sermon on remembering Jesus. The problem I tend to have is that I do like to study, so when we get to a basic sermon like that, I tend to think "Yeah, yeah, I know. Jesus died on a cross for our sins. I get it. I confessed it six years ago when you baptized me in my pool, Dan. I get it. I know it. This is like making me take a computer class and explaining a floppy drive to me, a person with an IT degree. I know. It’s so basic. With all the areas of theology, Christ centered philosophy, epistemology, history, etc, why can’t we just leave the milk alone and get to the meat? I’ve seen The Passion, I’ve seen some of the other movies played at Easter, I know all this."

I suddenly don’t know that I have a point to this post. Just like my Mother’s Day post, putting my thoughts here is helping me to understand them. I’m not saying that I am in any way thinking anything against my own church or it’s leadership, men I deeply love and respect. Dan came to my house after 11 PM on a Friday night to baptize me in my pool in the middle of a thunderstorm. How can you NOT love and respect that kind of minister?

As we pulled away from church yesterday, I told my wife what I believe should be the point to this post: I should be very careful not to subject my own preferences onto the rest of the church. I am, well, me. I often say that I’m not representative of any other demographic but me. I, get this, like Windows Vista. I really like it. I think I’m the only one. I’ve taught Bible classes from a Pocket PC. The last time I taught a Bible class, I just started taking my laptop to church to teach from my E-sword notes. That’s me; it’s who I am. There are some people who prefer a style of worship with lots of singing and prayer. I’d be happy if we sang two songs, had a quick prayer, then communion (though that’s optional), and a 40 minute sermon that ran so deep I had to take notes. That’s the service I’d like, but I can’t subject that onto the rest of the congregation.

I’ve long since come to the conclusion that if I ever found the perfect church, I’d also find that I don’t belong there. We’ve been going to Pitman since 2002. It’s the church I came to believe in, and was baptized in (well, in my pool, as the baptistery was broken that summer.) This church is a wonderful supportive and loving family. We’ve been helped by others, and have done what we can in return. People pray for us, and we pray for them. I’ve taught some classes, and led a small group, and been taught by other men at the church.

As I’ve pondered all of this, I thought back to Hebrews 10, which reads in part:

[23]  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. [24]  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, [25]  not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (NKJV)

I find that to be very helpful in remembering why I get out of bed on Sunday mornings. I’ve had some Sunday morning worship services that really did a lot for me, and I’ve had others, like yesterday, that didn’t. I think that’s the point; it’s not about me. Sure, I’m there, which is part of the point. I’m capable of studying for myself, often on a deeper level that our sermons and classes will go. But Sunday is where I can connect with other members of the congregation. I can share need with them. I can share joys and tribulations with them. We can serve according to our unique gifts (I Cor 12-14.) We can, as Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews but I think it was Paul) says, we should provoke each other to love and good works. I’ve found over the years that forsaking the assembling of "ourselves together" causes me much more harm that sitting through a few songs I don’t like or a sermon that doesn’t challenge me. If I miss church for a week or two, I can really see a difference in my life and outlook. Going to church is not about having my needs met, it’s about serving.

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Memorial Day Thoughts

I hate to think that this post will soon be eclipsed by others that I hope to write, but I wanted to commit my thoughts to some form of permanence. I’ve said before that lately I have little use for holidays and ceremonies, which is why I ended up being dragged practically kicking and screaming out the door this morning. We spent the weekend with my in-laws. They only live 14 miles from us, but the gas starts to add up at $3.75 a gallon going back and forth. We’re hoping to sell our house and take over theirs, and I hoped this weekend for us to be able to get some work done towards moving into their house. I also needed to get the grass cut, but obviously we’re getting to the point where I really can’t spare the gas to make an extra trip to their house any longer. My mother in law hasn’t been to church in a while, and appreciated the chance to go with us since we were here and able to take her.

Yesterday, my wife told me that her grandmother asked us to go to Memorial Day services at the Legion hall. I didn’t jump into the air with joy and anticipation. I tried to get out of it, but realized that out of respect for her grandmother, a woman I do respect, I should go. We dutifully got out of bed and got the kids dressed and left for the Legion Hall. It’s the same legion hall that we had our wedding reception in only seven and a half years ago. My wife told me it would be fast. I’m an introvert, and I figure I’m a veteran so I can do my own memorial service and not have to leave the house. I wanted to read a book or something.

We got to the Legion Hall at 8, and nobody was there, so we went to Wawa for coffee. We got back to the Legion Hall for the brief ceremony. Only the commander, my wife me and the kids, and my wife’s aunt and grandmother were there. I helped Joshua put the wreath in the ground. We moved from there to another ceremony at a park with a memorial set up. More people were there. Then we were asked to go to the ceremony at the township municipal complex. We went. That one is usually bigger, but the township has a baseball game so the entire schedule was moved up and a lot of the activities at the town hall were apparently moved to the baseball game. I honestly don’t care about the game, and I would have refused to go if asked. I would have drawn the line on that. It was already getting hot and the boys, while good, were reaching their limits.

While the other two ceremonies were quick. the one at town hall went on for a while. It included several speeches, including the mayor, a teacher, a "gold star mom" (who’s son died in Iraq), a state Senator from a neighboring district, the two state representatives from this district, a minister, and two school essay contest winners. It took a whole hour. They asked for veterans to step forward, so I did along with others. Joshua stepped out with me. I sort of feel uncomfortable claiming to be a veteran at 34, but I did serve and I have an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, which qualifies me for membership in the VFW if I so desire. As I said, I stepped up with the other veterans, spanning several generations.

It was definitely good to get out. I need to somehow reign in my introversion. I recognize that it is a part of who I am; what makes me unique in this world, but it shouldn’t be my master. We’ll hopefully be joining this community soon, and getting to meet others was nice. This is the kind of township/community that is made of of many long-term families. My wife’s grandmother pointed out that she knew the state representative when he was five years old.

The ceremony was very sobering. I’ve thought about rejoining the reserves as an officer since I have my Bachelor’s degree now. It did make me think of how deep that commitment could go.

As you go about your Memorial Day traditions, if you don’t already, please stop and think of those who served. I obviously came back, but please think of those who didn’t and say a prayer for their families and communities. Happy Memorial Day.

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