David Fitch is back blogging. I always enjoy his perspective on the church and mission and this piece nailed a similar thought I have been processing lately.
Sometimes I find myself wondering why people either come to church or don’t come. It is a beautiful spring day in Perth and church numbers were a little down today. Some sick, some busy, some probably just doing something else… the beach… a picnic… whatever…
Like David writes in this post, I am not a fan of ‘going to church’, but I am absolutely convinced we need to be deeply knitted into a regular (probably weekly) corporate expression of faith – otherwise we simply aren’t ‘getting’ one very significant aspect of discipleship.
Those who know me well enough would know I am not just referring to attending a church service, but if you aren’t going to do that as a baseline activity, then the question I would raise (to anyone claiming to be a Jesus follower) is just who are you connecting with at a significant level and who is sharing the road with you?
There is no solitary discipleship and if we choose to move that way then we are kidding ourselves. Ultimately it is going to see us come unstuck.
David offers two reasons to go to church:
a) to get something
b) to submit to something
The first is possibly the primary reason many people go – to ‘meet their needs’ – and that is not all bad, but it does revolve around the self and can easily end up in the consumer approach to faith. We end up as those who evaluate and ask ‘what did I get out of today?’ We do have needs, but this one so easily veers into selfishness. Not a good reason to do so.
The second really struck a chord, as what David is essentially arguing for is ‘going to church’ as a spiritual discipline – something we do even when we don’t feel like it because we know that the outcome is going to be valuable at some point and because others will benefit rather than just me.
Its a mature approach to church – while the first is an immature one.
I think we can easily poo poo people who attend church religiously – no pun intended (and maybe some do need a bit of poking) – but perhaps they are also establishing a discipline and a rhythm that will both serve them and others well.
The act of ‘going to church’ is not the end in itself. You can do that and still be a spiritual infant. But when ‘going to church’ is done consciously to submit to a needed discipline and to bless others then our own health can only flourish
We live in a country where regular church attendance has been in steep decline for a long time – and I would suggest that the rigour of discipleship has paralleled that decline. It used to be that those who were ‘committed’ would go to church at least once on a Sunday – but more likely twice if it were possible. (The big negative to this was that life then revolved around ‘church’ and we lost contact with the world.)
We then went to regular weekly attendance, but more recently we see people attending fortnightly or maybe 1 in 3 and still seeing themselves as committed to the community.
I hope we never veer back into the legalism that saw people judged for not being in the building each time the doors were open, but perhaps we need a course correction that sees people choosing to do what is now considered unusual and making their weekly gathering a top priority rather than something they will get to if there is nothing in the way.
Whether you meet in a school, a dedicated building, a home, a cafe or on a beach if we see our weekly gathering as a spiritual discipline and as an act of service to others then we will start to point the ship in the right direction.