I was chatting with a mate this morning about what was going on in his church and he let me know he wasn’t sure as he hadn’t been that often lately – maybe fortnightly – maybe less often…
I asked why.
Because some days you’re tired, you’ve had a full on week, need a break etc. I’m sure you know the deal. Most of us wake up on Sunday morning with some sense of weariness and entitlement to an easy day. After all – it is a day of rest right?…
There was a point in my life (maybe 20-30 years ago) where I would have encouraged him to listen to that inner voice saying ‘slow down’… ‘take it easy’ because so many people I knew were busy with church activities and church itself had often become a dutiful commitment. He may not have made it on Sunday but he was gonna be at 3 other church events that week!
Not so these days.
So my response was a hefty push back to seeing participating in the church experience as an important and significant spiritual discipline. (We had been talking about other disciplines of engaging scripture and prayer, so that was the context of the conversation).
It used to be a ‘given’ that we would turn up every week to worship with the church family, but more recently it has become one option among many. In those days when church often felt ritualistic and routine and we sometimes attended weekly out of duty or fear of being visited by the pastor, it was important to show people freedom and encourage them to discover anew the joy of Christian community. But the ground has changed and now it’s much more common to ‘attend as we are able’. . And in that new context it’s all too easy to mistake genuine weariness for laziness, to have a little more ‘me time’ than perhaps is warranted and eventually to turn up to church every now and then.
Even for the faithful ‘every Sunday’ can seem like a lot. But I am sensing we need to shift our thinking around church gatherings to see them as a key part of our spiritual disciplines – to ‘turn up’ whether we feel like it or not (like we do with footy practice and other sports) partly because its good for us and it is forming us in ways we may not see, but also because when we don’t turn up we actually deprive the community of our presence and our input.
My encouragement to my friend was to see Sunday church as an almost unbreakable deal, to be there every week, but not just to turn up and digest some teaching and be inspired by some great worship music – but to go there asking ‘God what do you want of me in this space today?’
When we are ‘irregular attendees’ rather than part of the family the church will feel unfamiliar, we will not be in the loop of the community life and more than likely we will go as consumers rather than contributors.
But the value of the church experience is found being in it rather than sniffing at it from the fringes. A few weeks back we said goodbye to a family who were moving interstate and there were tears all round – not because any of us are particularly emotional people – but simply because we loved on another and had shared life for a significant time.
I want to be able to be part of a community where I am elated when things go well for people and I feel it deeply when there is sorrow, but it only happens by turning up and choosing to be intentional about being part of the family.
I never thought I’d write a post saying ‘you should go to church more often’, but in this current climate I think you should… An important factor in that call is the realisation that for most people their Sunday interaction is likely their only church engagement for the week (we no longer run anywhere near as hard as we used to).
And as with all disciplines don’t quit if the results don’t immediately wow you. It takes time and it takes genuine discipline to participate (more than just attend) and to become a part of the family.
Maybe church could become again a place where one feels like one is receiving life, motivation and energy for the coming week, rather than a gathering of ‘the faithful’ against all the hassle and drag of life? TBH church has seemed less and less relevant over the last 5 years, becoming more like a club where the goal is outreach, rather than a place where you might meet a living God.
I have a young non-western friend who went through a difficult time over the last couple of years. Her parents are spirit-filled people, and she prays regularly with faith, but couldn’t see the point of going to any of the local churches – all they did was discuss stuff – where there was no obvious life, useful teaching or much else happening outside of well played but often mediocre music. She doesn’t go, and is not visibly worse off for it.
Love this Hamo,
I was directed to your blog through Claremont Baptist and feel what you said re church attendance was spot on!
I would have to say ,however, that I don’t have a sense over the past 60 odd years that going to Church was ever ritualistic for me or for many others. I loved going to East Fremantle Baptist and was conscious this was the experience of many. We attended every week, on time and with quiet respect. A thriving, growing Church! I met many from other churches at Keswick Convention and the like with the same joy and desire.
So I don’t agree with your ‘blanket’ statement that it is a reaction from ritualism, rather a lack of discipline and priorities.