Why Church?

Written by Shaun Smith

churchI’m excited to go to church. I’ve woken early, driven 45 minutes down the highway, and arrived at church with time to shake the greeters’ hands, make small talk in the foyer, and find a comfortable seat.

How very spiritual of me.

I listen to great worship music, engage with a thoughtful and informative speaker, and  leave with the five-hundred other very spiritual people who have made the trek to church this morning.  I walk across the street to a coffee shop, sit down in huge comfy chair and think:

“Why is this church stuff so important?”

Attending church has been a mixed blessing for me.  As a former youth pastor, church has been both a sanctuary of thoughtful challenge, healing, and creativity as well as a battleground of intimidation, pressure, and mistrust.  I have participated in church services where protection-ism and tradition dominate.  I’ve sat in services where the greeting from the front is about as authentic as the soap-water coffee in the back.

I’ve also had the joy of experiencing seasons of patient healing, where a body of people has surrounded me and loved me back to health.  I’ve seen what church can look like when people drop the agenda and engage in relationship.  I’ve experienced church where the overriding desire was to live life together, and to be real and authentic and it has all happened, surprisingly, within the walls of a church.

Mixing the C’s

When talking about church, it’s important not to get confused between big ‘C’ Church and small ‘c’ church.  So often, I hear that it’s important to attend church on Sunday morning, as if that’s as far as affiliation needs to go.  And so many people approach Sunday as the day given to God, and walk out the doors having completed their duty of faith.  They focus on the small ‘c’ church, where programs and outreaches and bible studies take place.  It reduces faith to a to do item in my calendar.

If that’s the apex of the Christian faith, then I’m not interested.

Church is more than just a meeting. Church is all about being a community where inspiration to do greater good takes place, where deeper love is explored, where enriching relationships occur, where authentic living is the goal.   Church is supposed to be a community where individuals are cared for, where gifts are used effectively, where I am challenged to grow beyond myself.  This is the capital ‘C’ Church that I so frequently yearn for.

I have heard the analogies that the church is like a campfire, where I need to return on a weekly basis to warm up my soul.  Or that the church is a well of water, where I can drink and be refreshed and then reenter the weekly desert.  The reality, however, is that church can become a bit mundane, and I struggle to keep it from becoming a religious duty.  In my own years of youth ministry, there were many times when I found myself glancing at my watch, waiting for the end of the service.  I was frequently more refreshed by the football game after church than by the service itself.  And again, the question arose:

Why is church so important?

The small ‘c’ church can be a time where we  catch a glimpse the capital ‘C’ church, even amidst the programmed service.

Programmed whispering

1 Kings 19:11-12 reads The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

A gentle whisper.  I expect God to show Himself using the grandest methods available.  After all, He is God, isn’t He?  So in my own life, I look for the powerful wind, the earthquake, the fire.  In church services, I have defaulted to looking for God in the sermons, in the worship music, in the altar call.  And that is good, and God can be found there, but sometimes, God is calling me to something quieter.

A whisper.

If you find yourself at church, looking for God in the big elements of the service and not finding Him, consider that God may be there whispering.  The problem with whispering is that it requires effort to hear.  It involves an expectant perceptivity where you and I believe God will speak to us in any circumstance – even if it’s not in the schedule.  Whether you feel your church is the best in the world, or needs improvement, as long as it’s biblical, God is in that service.  Remember Matthew 18:20.  In The Message it looks like this, “when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”  One of the main reasons church is important is simply this – we go because God is there.

Hiding the Church in the foyer

For me, hearing the whisper of God at church happened quite by accident.  I was running in between the sound booth and the stage (ah, the life of a youth pastor) and was stopped by an elderly woman who wanted to talk.  And as we talked, we talked about meaningful things.  Amidst the rush and pressure of the church Sunday program, I was met with someone who wanted to engage meaningfully.

We missed the worship, and we very nearly missed the sermon (and I was preaching).  Yet I went away from the service with a taste of God’s vision for the church.  Through the moment with my elderly friend, God whispered truths of love, meaning, and hope into my life.  I witnessed a miracle in the foyer, while the worshippers filled the sanctuary with music.

Since that time, I’ve learned to be more attentive to the capital ‘C’ church.  I watch for those moments when God’s vision for the Church comes alive.  I anticipate moments when we get it right, when people who are hurting, who are thriving, who are living life surround me and together we listen for the voice of God.  If that happens on Sunday morning, or in a Bible study, or as while throwing a frisbee together with friends in the park, God is whispering.  This is the lifeblood of the Church.

How do we become more aware of the voice of God through the Church?  It’s less spiritual than you might think.  Here are the things that I’ve found are helpful in my own life:

> Live Expectantly. Pray that God would allow you to hear from Him today.  As you walk through your day, don’t attempt to manufacture some deep spiritual experience.  It will happen, and it may be something as simple as a two-minute conversation.

> Watch Actively. This is key to the whole experience. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is instructed to go out and stand.  Watch for the voice of God, but let His gentle Spirit be your guide.  To often I wait for the momentous movements of God and I miss out on the small intimate moments.

> Reflect Wholeheartedly. When those wonderful gentle whispers happen in my own life, I make sure to say thanks to God, because He speaks so much love into my life in those moments.  This is not a forced moment of long prayer times; it often is more heartfelt with a simple thank you for God’s goodness.  It is these moments that keep my own spirit gentle and tuned in to God’s voice.

I’m excited to go to Church this week.  I’m looking forward to meaningfully engaging with those around me.  But most of all, I’m excited to hear from the gentle whisper of God.  After all, that’s the foundational essence of the Church.

What have your church experiences been like? Let us know in the comments area below or talk to use privately if you feel like sharing how you’ve been blessed or hurt by a church.

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14 Responses to “Why Church?”

  • Selina says:

    Hi I left a church because of gossip and bullied so bad I was in alot pain I even ask the pastor for help he did not help at all the next couple he call me like nothing happens asking me to come back I don’t want to go back after all that pain so my question is how do I get past that?

  • Dee says:

    My husband and I have been Christian since our teens. Have always been in church and that always included being involved in ministry(30+years). Many years we were a part of a church that had 2 services and the level of commitment in ministry meant we were at the church before the first service and left after 2nd service was done. All this to say, that we ended up being burned out and have been doing our own version of church…. through TV evangelism and podcasts. We have prayed together more now than ever. I personally believe that God is doing a move in the BODY OF CHRIST! We are all starting to ask…”What is church all about anyways?” After stepping down from church-going, we barely heard from our “friends”! I still love them and I understand that our society has us SOOOO busy with Jobs ~both parents working, kids in sports and then try to have a church “life”. Where do you fit it all in? I am happy to have my Sunday free and have it truly as a day of rest!
    I think that life as a christian is to listen to God’s still small voice and reach out to those God has placed in your path. To pray for them and above all to forgive. We don’t need to do big things to prove our faith to anyone. God provides the proof with his peace and inner joy regardless of our struggles and hardships.

    I’m so saddened to hear of the wounds that others have faced because of the “church”. But I once heard that the church was a place of many wounded people. I also heard it once said that the church is the only place where they shoot their wounded! Having said that, we need to sadly admit that the wounds are being inflicted by injured and imperfect souls. So why do we need to go to church???? (I am speaking of the organized building type church) I think we are called to BE the church just by living out our relationship with HIM! We do need to occasionally get fellowship with other believers to be encouraged when we are down etc…. but God can still proved it in unconventional ways! (I will be adding more names onto my prayer list…please know that God can help us rise above all the hurts and wounds the world (or church) can hurl at us!)

  • Jen says:

    I had a friend move to a new Church not long ago & she said of it “I love the sermons & the Pastor/Minister is wonderful, the people are so unfriendly and unwelcoming but that doesn’t matter, you go to hear the sermon not visit the people” I completely dissagree!! I believe that we are the ‘BODY OF CHRIST’ a Church is not a building or the Elders/Deacons or the Pastor/Minister it is a combination of every person there – how do we expect people to come to the house of God if people don’t welcome them and invite them in? I get really sick of defending this to my husband (a non-christian).

  • Robyn says:

    Iam not quite sure wether I wish to go to church or not,the only time is when Im rostered on to play drums. I find it very clicky very non responsive.Its fine if your in the the clicking group, while your doing something for the church your fine .You stop and they really don’t wish to talk much. It really doesn’t matter anymore I just fine that watching Curch services on TV are just as good. I know your supposed to fellowship ?????????????. But to whom —-Do you really think that this is a great witness to my family mainly my husband who is
    not a christian and no-one from our church is tryng to be a friend (so much for disciple making)

  • church is where you can bring and lay down your burden and sorrows,and believing that God is in control and He will do it for you.church is where sharing should not be discriminate.whether you are poor or not,bcos the word of God,when preached is to the hearing of all.so church is all about building a God`s kingdom on earth and letting them know the previliges yhey have as children of God.

  • Cindy says:

    Yes, I might be interested in talking and finding out which books have helped you. I wish very much I could be serving like I use to. But I know I need to recoup some more and listen for what He has for me next. I have no desire to labor in vain. I am definitely feeling like a good sunburn is on me (spiritually or emotionally-maybe both?)and any touch I recoil, especially when I have had to be firm with people just trying to sell things to people I was entrusted to serve. The new era of snake salesman are alive and well and not chasing ambulances but those of us who are unhealed on the web and in churches. I’m otherwise docile. I think I am off and on fighting disappointment from turning into bitterness about church and the Church. Recent events in a para-church organization I am just sad about because I know what is coming to a very dear lady I have loved dearly for 10 years. Definitely would like tips in how you are recovering and what has helped most

  • Cindy says:

    I’m still hearing that still small voice. It’s been very rough though being hurt over and over the years; it’s been very wearing. I have dealt with bouts of being hurt within the “church” over the years. I have fought bitterness before and really most times I am able to let it hurt without becoming bitter- though do possess the appropriate anger responses to let folks know-this is not the way you treat people when I have been prompted to. I am just disappointed and sad about all the latest rounds. I really can no longer physically attend church. The last times that I did, I sat in pain and fatigue, so much so, that I could not recall a bit of a message. After a while, they forget me. Not unusual it happens to such a large number of us who are ill.

    For the last ten years until recently, I was in an international ministry that was a Joni and Friends affiliate. I coordinated a group of volunteers from few to, at one time, above a hundred or more. From my experience with ill and in pain people all over the world, they too, have experienced the same things my family and I have experienced in churches. The Church worldwide is not addressing the nearly half or better of their people who are ill and in pain and most would be thankful because they have no idea how to do so appropriately and teaching about what is appropriate from the pulpits to congregants is not done on that subject, but only always tout a miraculous healing is the only other alternative and of course God wants that for us we’re told. Everyone loves a quick fix miracle; no one wants to hear how to endure the miracle of long suffering and it’s benefits, so we become the dirty little secret of the church. I call people like us “The Culture of The Unhealed.” Once, in a church, in the prayer and worship time, a woman came up to me and said she thought I just didn’t have the faith to be healed and needed to pray for that. I kindly, but firmly stated, “It takes more faith to remain unhealed, but since you don’t think I do let’s have you pray for my healing. Let me know how that goes for you.”

    My children and I have weathered a lot. I know we are not supposed to weary in doing good, but I think I am a tad weary now and um, then some.

    I just need a break some how. I keep saying, “I love you God, but some of Your people…. not so much.”

  • Shaun Smith Shaun Smith says:

    Cindy, I definitely hear where you’re coming from. For many of us, the church has not been a place of hope or of healing. My own experience has been quite a battle as well, and I’m walking through my own experience of healing, where the only place I could find Christian hope was through a great Christian magazine. Those times are tough, as I’m sure you can well relate.

    I’m pretty sure there’s no step-by-step process that can get us all going back to church, and I’m certain that God doesn’t work that way anyway. I can only offer my own experience, so here it is.

    Over the last few years, I’ve spent time as a frustrated youth pastor in a few churches and decided to go back to school (with a wife and two kids). I left very burned out, very hurt, and quite thin-skinned towards anything that even smelled like church. I’m a somewhat suspicious personality, so any time someone reverted to “religious” talk, I would tune out. But I have continued meeting with “the church”, in someone that I trust very much. He’s taken me back from a bitter, reactionary person, and listened to me and wooed my heart back to God. I’ve also been encouraged to continue to hear God’s voice, and to allow Him to woo my heart. Not so I can be religious and attend church again, but so I can hear from God’s soft and gentle voice again. And I’m not sure that I’m all the way back yet – I’m now doing ministry outside the walls of the church and loving it. And I’m learning to be wise in what I see within the walls of the church, and I’m slowly getting to be less reactionary to things going on around me.

    But the key is – it’s only been through the gentle whisper of God. On the one hand, I’ve never wanted to be one of those joy-killers, and on the other hand, I’ve never wanted to be one of those sappy Christians. So the road is tough, but it’s something that God is allowing many Christians to go through. And my heart breaks for your kids too Cindy! My heart goes out to those kids who have been hurt by “not praying enough, believing enough”. I suppose that’s where some of my pain lies too, in not being “spiritual” enough. But the great thing is, God knows my heart, He knows your kids hearts, and He knows your heart. He doesn’t force us to pray harder, or go to more retreats or anything like that. The way I’ve found He works is through that very tender whisper. That’s been my experience anyhow. If you’d like to chat more about this, I’d sure love to as well. And I could recommend some fantastic books that have guided me along my journey.

    Again, thanks for writing in Cindy. I truly do appreciate this. I hope I haven’t come across with pat-answers, but instead with some thoughts that you’re probably already having.

    Shaun

  • Cindy says:

    I have opened myself up for over 25 years to reaching out in a church. Each time it seems to have ended very badly. God seemed to move us to other churches I think God could show me when it comes to being an unhealed person no matter what church or denomination there are equal opportunity destroyers ready to tell you you don’t have enough faith to be healed, or that you must have unforgiveness in your heart or would be healed. The worst was entrusting youth group leaders who took my child to a service that convinced her she was healed. She so wanted to be healed of course, but she came home saying she was healed and totally convinced to the point that she quit taking her heart medicine with the encouragement of these leaders-well what would you do? I look back now and wish I had gone back and told them off. This was to my daughter’s detriment of course. I believe some are told they didn’t hold on to their healing. I was in pain and illness ministry on an international level. We use to hear the same types of stories from all over the world. I’m really too ill to attend church any more and I have to say I am grateful for that. At best we and many others get forgotten when unable to attend for periods of time. And then finally no longer able to attend, forgotten altogether. Out of sight out of mind. I’ve had enough. My kids have had enough of hearing that we didn’t pray right, or hard enough, or the right way or against generational curses and that is why we really have a genetic illness and or why we are not healed. Believe me we would take a healing any time God wants to lay it on us. I was healed once when I was four for something life threatening. But what do all these folks think all we unhealed should do in the mean time? Healing is instantaneous and in America especially instant gratification is the norm. I don’t like long-suffering either but it has it’s great lessons, comfort from God Himself, and so much more. Would I ask for this path? No. Would I ask for it for two out of my three kids? No, just as surely as I don’t want my first born to go back to Iraq for the third time-4th time in a war zone. So why not respect and learn from the unhealed what lessons long-suffering can bring in growing your spirit and your faith in God? Unfortunately, today’s churches do not want to look at or look after the half of their church living with pain and illness. I’m done with my faith and family being assaulted, so are my kids, and husband. I’d rather focus on finding other real Christians that can relate on line and to assemble myself with them when able and to comfort them too, I hope. But all of my kids may have in the light of all the hurt may not even be speaking to God any more because of the hurt His people have done to them and their family. I’m sorry, I am done with the facade that local churches put on. My Holy unrest will keep me serving and comforting people hopefully including my kids. Right now, I am licking still more spiritual wounds from a place I thought I was safe online from having my faith assaulted. I’ve retreated closer to God to recoup for now I hope. I know I followed what I knew God had for me to do and that it all still hurts has it’s own comfort. When my kids were all rather young my mom asked me why in the world I would take my kids ministering in the projects-what if we were killed? I said, “then we will have died doing what God wanted us to do and what better way to die?” I had a strong peace about that then. Seeing my kids and their faith destroyed that God built up in them as little kids and faith filled teens, destroyed by all the many extremely hurtful things lobbed at us through so many people, at so many different churches- I think we are just battle shocked. Will my kids ever trust in God again? Can they separate some day that they can hope and trust in God again.

  • Faith says:

    For me Church has always meant alot. A place where I can listen and talk to God in the midst of other worshipers but that was before I got married to a Roman Catholic. I find the R.catholic so routine and predictable. I just go there to watch the preist perform the ritual and leave the church so frustrated. I have talked to my husband about changing church but he wont hear of it. I go to a protestant church sometimes but end up feeling down knowing my hustand is attending another church. My be this should be a pray request to get my husband come to a church where we can really engage as someone else has put it.

  • Kaddee says:

    Church for me has been many things, it has been my refuge, it has been my encourager, it has been my counselor, it has been my home, Being around the Saints of God that actually do the will of God weather in a building or standing on the streets in conversation helps me get to the next level in my life, I believe to many people think that Church is going to a building and sitting in comfortable chairs and listening to what is going on without engaging I was there, but no longer God has captured me with His peace and I have learned to have the engaging experience where ever I go.

  • Cheryl says:

    Growing up in war torn Countries Liberia and Sierra Leone, the Church has always been a place of refuge for me. I never knew its actual importance until I came to know Jesus Christ. Now I am so happy going to church or talking to God wherever I am that I want to burst with this newfound joy.. I want to tell everyone about his goodness in my life. My body is God’s temple and I am happy carrying him in me. I know the difference in me is noticed by all.

  • Kathy says:

    I’m sorry, but going back to church scares the stuffings out of me. Not for the reasons anyone would think here. I had a “pastor” marry me and an ex just so his wife would quit having an affair with my ex. Of course, I didn’t know this at that time. How stupid of me, huh? But it happened. No, we’re not together now. And I’m not in church anymore. It seems that every church I go to, I leave with a feeling of not belonging, that I’m missing something. But, here on my couch, I can talk to God and I KNOW He hears me. I feel it.

    Nuff said.

  • Evelyn McKenna says:

    I have attended many churches through my life having lived in many different places. Big or small I have always walked out feeling more spiritual or peaceful than I did walking in. Church is an important part in everyone’s life. If for no other reason, you may hear something that will give you purpose, awaken your soul, or a place where love abounds and a smiling face or hug is all it takes to put a smile back on your face. Where God is present, you know it is a good place to be.

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