The phrase “go to church” is a “no-no” in missional circles. Some twentysomething chastises me every time I let that phrase slip from my mouth at our church.
Church is not a place we go. It is a way of life we live as being God’s people in the world participating in His Mission.
Acknowledging that, why get up and go on Sunday to the gathering of His people? I must admit to often awakening Sunday morning and experiencing the inertia of getting going to the Sunday morning gathering. And I am a pastor! Why go to such a gathering?
To combat this inertia, I think we can get into some bad habits for “going to church.” If we got rid of these habits, we might actually be able to see the gathering as a more natural part of the rhythms of our life with God in His Mission.
Here are six bad reasons to “go to church.”
Don’t go to church …
1. Out of Duty/Obligation
Spiritual disciplines are good if they are openings for God to work and shape our lives into His life and Mission. Too often, however, disciplines become duties, devoid of the life to which they were meant to connect us. Don’t go to church out of duty or obligation. It should be a regular spiritual discipline that shapes us into His life and Mission.
2. If This is What It Means to be a Christian
If you think being a Christian is what happens in this hour-and-a-half, stop going to church and ask what it means to follow Christ when you don’t go. This is where we gather to encounter the living God corporately, respond to Him, be shaped by His vision and His work, and then be sent out to continue this life into the world.
3. To Get Your Needs Met
If you think some problem in your life will be solved or some need met by “going to church,” don’t go! Because more than likely you’ll be disappointed. Sometimes needs, physical and otherwise, get met at the cross (or around the prayer bench) in instantaneous fashion, but most often there’s some suffering that needs to walked through in the death and resurrection of Christ. Most of our needs are ministered to over time as we submit them regularly to Christ and what He is doing.
4. To Feel Good, Get Inspired
I recognize a lot of times I come away feeling inspired and good after the gathering.
But I try to check myself on this. For if I get addicted to a certain “feeling good” worship experience or some inspiration from the sermon, my relationship with God starts to look like an addiction to a feeling that has become narcissistic. It stunts the growth of my character into God and what He is doing. Maybe I’m too uptight on this?
5. To Perform
Occasionally I will notice I’m going off to the gathering to perform. I’m going to go preach, or teach, or guide the children’s ministry.
I feel like other people can get into this rut too. I’m going to sing, play guitar, be cool, whatever (BTW, I haven’t played the guitar in 20 years). We’re getting a buzz from performing. Something subtle occurs and it’s about my self-accolades. I feel better about myself after doing something for God.
I suggest, if this is happening, don’t go to the gathering. Shrink back. All our service in the gifts and to the world should be out of our life with God. It should be an offering unto Him out of the gifts He keeps giving.
Of course, we need affirmation in order to recognize what God is doing and calling us to. But that’s a different dynamic. After I preach a sermon, I discipline myself to leave that sermon in God’s hands. I offered it to Him. If and when I receive feedback, it is for the furtherance of His work in my life and the community.
6. To Get Something from the Expert
If we go to church to get something on the Christian life from the expert in a sermon or something, I think we miss the point. The so-called expert is most likely gifted to proclaim. He/she has been recognized for God’s work in this regard in his/her life.
But the real formation happens in the response and the working out of that proclamation among a people. The expert, on his own, often disappoints or worse starts acting like he/she is the only one who knows Scripture which breeds distrust of any authority in the community. The thought process of getting something from an expert defeats God’s work in community and should be discouraged. Don’t “go to church” if this is the way you think it works.
Over against these reasons not to “go to church,” I still believe the church gathering is just a part—albeit an important part—of the rhythm of Mission.
For it is at the gathering, we come as broken people in order to submit ourselves to what He is doing to be shaped for Mission. Here we are led into His presence, the reading of Scripture, the liturgies of submission, affirmation of truth and confession, the proclamation of the Gospel and the feasting on His forgiveness and new life at the meal, in praise and thanksgiving and finally into the sending out into Mission.
Can you think of any more reasons “not to go to church” that might actually prevent church from becoming a part of a Missional rhythm for a people of God?
David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.