Day in and day out, folks follow similar routines, whether it is going to work outside the home or working inside the home and it often breeds a sense of accomplishment when tasks are achieved or challenges are triumphed over, yet there are still those times when the course of events seems to carve out a rut in one’s morale. It is quite a paradox where we find comfort in routine and structure, yet can allow that routine and structure to overbear on our general mood in life. This is also true for the believer. While the believer holds that all things should be done decently and in order (1Corinthians 14:40), there is a sense of being lulled into an unproductive trance because of satisfying a routine that grows more mundane as the weeks, months and years race on. Gathering with believers “at church” becomes a “have to” rather than a “want to.” Reading the Scriptures becomes a “box to check” for the day/week. Ministries become burdensome obligations with no joy rather than a comfort of service. Why is this? Why do many seem to start with the right mindset and then fizzle out? And why do some seem to be intermittently productive but at other times, couldn’t care any less? I think this is a legitimate issue that every believer faces. I know from a human standpoint, we all go through periods and seasons of life there life’s magic fades – sometimes induced by hardships, others simply by the stress and juggling act of real life. For the believer, it is no different. So, what’s the point of all of this?
I want to look at two things that often create skewed view points on the purpose of church: emotional decision making and the so-called “command” to be at church.
Emotion: Great Employee, Horrible Boss
Various things in life bring excitement to our hearts and minds. It could be the birth of a child or a promotion at work or battling the biggest snook you’ve ever had on the end of the line. We are designed by God to experience emotion. God is even shown in scripture to exhibit emotion. Emotion helps us to rely the essence of our feelings. Without emotions, we would only be able to internally process what we feel, but have no way of expressing them. In that regard, emotions act as a release valve allowing the pressure of feelings to burst the tank, as it were. Yet, far too often in life, we find ourselves using emotions and feelings as the guide to decision making. How many marriages fall apart because “the love just isn’t there anymore”, when that love was too dependent upon emotion. Likewise, how many people leave a church because they just “don’t feel it” anymore? Emotions are nothing more than expressions – they are byproducts. Yet, just as symptoms don’t speak for the disease at large, so too should we recognize that emotions should never stand in the place of wise and calculated thinking. This isn’t to say that there is never a justifiable reason to make a decision based on an emotional influence, however, as an emotion’s purpose isn’t to drive the intellect, we shouldn’t put the burden of decision making on something that isn’t designed to provide great results in that arena. In other words, if we recognize the skill-set of emotions, we shouldn’t be tasking it with things that it isn’t skilled to achieve. Likewise, we should be careful that we are also not using emotion to be a validation of a decision, for all the same reasons. Emotions help us explain how we feel about decisions, but rarely should they be used to make the decision itself.
If we are approaching our time together with believers from a standpoint of emotion, then when the winds of that emotion changes, we’ll find ourselves wanting to drift to where that emotion is again. The emotion of the believer is in response to “real life” just as a non-believer’s emotion would be. Yet, the believer is constrained by the love of Christ and has the ability to rejoice because Christ stands with them and they in Christ, despite circumstantial arrangements. Our emotions express and explain where we are, from a feelings standpoint, but they do not establish nor affirm a Christian’s purpose, reality or destiny. How many struggle with their salvation because they see someone absolutely broken coming to the Lord yet their experience wasn’t anywhere near the same, therefore, if I didn’t have the same experience, maybe I wasn’t sincere enough? Maybe it didn’t take? But, this is craziness! None of us are wired to express our emotions in the same way, in the same circumstances and by the same degree, yet, we constantly affirm things of life, even Christian life, based on the exhibition of emotion. The emotion of a believer should be the byproduct of what the truth and faithfulness of God works in our lives. It is from this, we do not create dependencies upon our emotional slants, but we allow the dependencies to fall upon that which is not fickle and changing – God’s faithfulness. It is by understanding more and more about His faithfulness that fuels the engine of our minds. As that fuel is processed, it exhausts in emotion. We need to be careful that we are building our house upon the rock, as it were, and not upon the shifting sands of emotion. If the foundation of why we do what we do is emotionally charged, then enough of life’s storms will expose the weakness of the foundation as it erodes into nothing.
Going to church, for the believer, can turn into a check box and routine. Instead of engaging with the fellow believers and actually caring and taking interest in their lives, church can (and does) become a place where we are keeping judgmental eyes off our backs for at least one more week (by showing up and not being absent), and also a place where we think God is at least pleased enough that we’ve graced the assembly with our presence. For others, church is a grueling battle ground, dodging judgmentalism’s strafing and hitting the deck from the mortars of ministry that seem to eat up every ounce of time and energy. Some come to church because, bless God, Hebrews 10:25 “commands” us to be there. Still, for others, church is an exciting place to be as things are always happening and there is enough variety to keep them engaged. I’m sure many can find themselves, at one time or another, in one of these scenarios (and in scenarios I haven’t mentioned). But, is this the point of it all? Is the “church experience” simply to be a microcosm of the ruts of every day life?
I want to look at Hebrews 10:25, but before we get there, I think it would be good to remind ourselves of some biblical history. If you look at the assembly in the early part of the book of Acts, these were Jewish believers (for the most part) who were rallying around the message of Jesus Christ, having been crucified, yet made both Lord and Christ through His resurrection from the dead. Folks were responding to the message with affirmative declarations – repenting and being baptized to signify their allegiance with not just the message, but with Whom the message is about. These folks were meeting daily and breaking bread with one another. They were continuing in the apostles doctrine (teaching/instruction). They were meeting the needs of one another through creating a common supply for the assembly. They had singleness of heart and were with one mind. The message of Christ wasn’t just words or statements, but absolutely impacted their humanity. As they faced further persecution from the Romans (and non-believing Jews), being together was a means of refuge, but it didn’t stop their desire to be gathered with one another. Even when the persecution that arose after the stoning of Stephen, we find that the persecution drove the assembly apart as Acts 8 says that they were scattered abroad. Yet, the persecution couldn’t drive the message of Christ part, for as they were scattered abroad, they went everywhere, preaching the word.
Assembling together wasn’t for the purpose of carrying out business objectives or to make sure one person gave you what you were to believe. Assembling together wasn’t about establishing hierarchical structures and liturgical dogmas. It was simply about believers, living by the law of the Spirit of Life, enjoying each other’s company, rejoicing together in the Lord and meeting one another’s needs by bearing one another’s burdens. “Church” is where heaven and earth overlap as the kingdom of God flourishes. Yet, how often do we lose this, especially today? Do we create burn out by “transacting” church rather than experiencing it? Whether you show up at the scheduled time and sit through lessons and sermons isn’t what makes it church. Whether you spend ever waking minute devoted to various ministries isn’t what makes it church. Church is the assembly – the people. What makes it “church” is the people assembling and experiencing God together, through faith, love and grace. It isn’t about clocking in/clocking out. We clocked in the moment we came into Christ – that’s our world now.
Am I suggesting it doesn’t matter if folks don’t come to church? No, not at all. What I’m suggesting is that our passion for church and our reason for being there is because of what we experience with other believers (this is what Hebrews 10:25 will show us). Sometimes other believers need to have needs met and we get to be the blessing that meets that need. Other times, we are the ones being blessed. And, in as much as we do it unto the least of the brethren, we have done it unto Christ. Our service to God is therefore not a rigor of check boxes, but a partnership with Him as we minister to one another, in Christ. However, this also suggests then that I’m not limited by “church attendance” to be partnering with God. God is at work without regard to location or official start times. Some may be equipped to work in an industry that doesn’t allow them to meet at a specific time, but through the course of life, they are able to still minister and be ministered to. Do we only rejoice when we recognize the working of God during our regularly scheduled programming? Or, is God able to cut in to our regularly scheduled programming with a special announcement? Our boxes of comfort are not big enough nor powerful enough to contain God’s work. I think the believer should recognize God’s work, regardless of time and space it happens, and rejoice. Just, rejoice. His work isn’t of a more valuable nature if it happens during “church times” vs outside of those times. Again, just rejoice in what God is doing, when and wherever.
But, doesn’t Hebrews 10:25 command us to be at church?
Hebrews 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Actually, no it doesn’t. That is something we use that verse to mean, but the tone of the verse, in its context, isn’t a command, but an admonition for good things (as alluded to above). The audience is told to hold fast to their confession of faith in light of promise they have from He who is Faithful. And, it is in this confession of faith that they were to provoke others to love and good works. Therefore, don’t NEGLECT assembling together (as some do), but make the most of that time to exhort one another and encourage one another in love and good works. The idea in Hebrews 10 isn’t telling people that God expects them in church, but is that there is good that happens when the believers of God assemble together, and to treat that flippantly (by neglecting its importance) is not a habit worth being in. In other words, because believers need one another, don’t neglect your opportunities to be with one another. As mentioned before, there might be times when you need to be ministered to and times when you need to minister to someone else. As we neglect this opportunity, we become negligent with our partnership in service. The writer of Hebrews is not commanding church attendance for the sake of church attendance. He also doesn’t tie any blessings that God is withholding if you don’t attend. Yet, he is careful to show just how beneficial and important assembly is because it allows us to provoke one another in love to good works.
So, what’s the point? The point is we have so much to be thankful for and grateful for as believers that we should naturally desire the things of God and the people of God. This isn’t a natural decision from the flesh, but a natural decision of faith. Despite how organic your church assemblies might be or how rigidly programmed they might be – look past that and at “the church”, the people of God. Rejoice with one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Minister to and be ministered to. Allow the passion of God to drive generosity and never pass up the opportunity to be generous – with time, talents, money, or whatever. The point is not to check boxes, but to enjoy the love of God and the world He’s brought us into, through Christ, and to minister in the same with others. If church is a box to check and you don’t seem to be getting much out of it…see the connection?
And, that’s the point.