WHY DO WE GO TO CHURCH?
I buttoned my jeans as I rushed to slip into my favorite flats, not wanting to be late for service. It had been a while since I had attended in person. The Covid-19 pandemic forced my local church to close its doors and offer only online services. A steady diet of digital corporate worship had done little to rid my soul of a growing sense of disconnection.
As I turned the knob of the front door, my husband called after me, “Whatcha doin’? Going to get closer to God?” I smiled and quipped as I stepped outside, “Nope, I can’t get any closer than I already am.”
My answer to my husband was no arrogant statement. I wholeheartedly believe that once redeemed by God; He is all in. Jesus’s death on the cross broke down every barrier between God and me once and for all.
Yet, my husband’s thinking lined up with what Pew Research Center found when they surveyed Christians about why they attend church. They found the number one reason people show up is to get closer to God.
If I wasn’t going to church to get closer to God, why was I so eager to go?
A BACKWARD ENTRY INTO COMMUNITY
I didn’t enter the local church community in the usual way. I fell in love with Jesus outside the context of the local church. I read scripture, participated in Bible study, and was baptized all before ever gathering regularly with a local body.
I eventually began attending a non-denominational church in my home town. I think, at the time, I was searching for my adopted family of believers. I’m not sure what I expected to find. At the very least, I anticipated encounters with some very good people who had this Jesus thing all figured out. As you might imagine, this is not what I found. Instead of good people, I discovered God’s people.
My journey of learning to live and move and walk with Jesus in the presence of my newfound brothers and sisters commenced. It would be an expedition laced with rejection, unmet expectations, and heartache. But it would also be a place where the forge of pain strengthened my faith in unforeseen ways.
If the local gathering of believers was such a source of deep heartache for me, why was I rushing out the door eager to gather?
IF COMMUNITY IS HARD, WHY BOTHER?
As I reflect on some of my most painful encounters, I can see the subtle shift of my heart from worshipping God to seeking sustenance from people, practices, and programs. Drawing near in community is most difficult when it or its people become our god. We are created for community, but the community, itself, is not to be the ultimate thing. When the church becomes our god, we are no longer free to love God and neighbor.
I now recognize some symptoms of my heart shift. At some point along the path, I began looking to the church to cure what ailed me. Whether that was loneliness, identity struggles, faulty parenting, marital mayhem, or failing health, at some point, I stopped looking to Jesus for these things. I squarely laid the weight and worry of it all on something not meant to hold it.
The church was never intended to be the cure any more than John the Baptist was meant to be the savior of the world. The church points to Jesus.Kim McGovern
The church was never intended to be the cure any more than John the Baptist was meant to be the savior of the world. The church points to Jesus. We do violence to one another in the community of believers when we offer each other anything else.
THE GIFT OF FAILED RELIGION
The gift of gathering in a local body with other believers is a rhythm of God’s grace for His people bought by the blood of Jesus on the cross. When a church becomes our go-to source of life, we flatline. All we’re doing is sucking on religion, which can only produce decay. The church is not a religious organization, no matter how hard we try to make it one. It is a living, breathing, growing, going body which is loved by Jesus. For a church to no longer be a god, we must lean in and trust the maker of heaven and earth.
It is also God’s grace for us that religion and false worship fail us, leaving the only One who can be trusted. It is not cynical; it is beautiful.
When the local church and its people fail to save us, we will have nothing left to cling to but Jesus. It is then we experience the freedom to breathe in all of His grace and breathe out all His blood-bought love.
When the local church and its people fail to save us, we will have nothing left to cling to but Jesus. It is then we experience the freedom to breathe in all of His grace and breathe out all His blood-bought love.Kim McGovern
We are the church. When we gather together, we strengthen, encourage one another in faith, and we go – giving good news to everyone in our path. When a church is no longer our God, we are set free to be the body, love the body as Jesus loves us, and worship and serve Him together.
THE GIFT OF GATHERING
Even though we can’t get closer to God than Him dwelling in us, we can gather together and remind one another over and over again of the grace that brought Him near and carries us on. We may not find the church filled with good people, but it is brimming with God’s people, making all the difference.
Together we become more aware of our beggarliness and our continual need for resurrection, leaving us hungry for Jesus. In this Jesus-beautified community, we can expect to see Him more fully displayed as we worship, pray, suffer, and serve together.
Have you been holding your breath longing for redemption? Did you turn to your local church seeking life only to find earthen vessels that can’t bear the weight of your story? Maybe you have encountered past wounds from leaders or church members; I’m praying for you—that you would find rest leaning on Jesus. May God bring healing, wholeness, and love for His body – the church.
In these difficult days, I encourage you to resist the urge to not gather, whether digital or in person. We may not go to church to get closer to God, but we can show up and remember how close God is to us because of Jesus. I don’t know about you, but there is no place I’d rather be.