This is where we went to church yesterday . . . at least for those of you who answered the roll call on my facebook page:
Twenty-five states represented (I think), at least twelve denominations and several non-denominational churches. You can click on this link for a better visual. Sorry, NC folks, we’re a bit covered up on the map. Thanks to everyone who pinpointed their Sunday worship to this completely random and highly unscientific poll. There’s no hidden agenda here, no huge motive attached to my survey, and certainly no guilt allowed for anyone who didn’t make it to church yesterday! I just wanted to give you a tiny (emphasis on tiny) of how our “church going” might look to God from his heavenly vantage point. Can you even imagine how we must look to him, how wonderfully warmed God is when he sees our worship meld together as corporate praise on any given Sunday morning?!
Along these lines, I’d like to share with you a reflection I wrote in my book, Peace for the Journey. It details the reasons behind my choice to be a church-goer. Blessings to you, each one, as you move forward in your faith this week. Shalom.
A Sacred Doing (excerpt from Peace for the Journey, F. Elaine Olsen, 2010, 134-136)
Church is a family business around here. Doing life with Jesus isn’t an option in our home. Hearts may refuse the deeper “doing”—the sacred work of the cross. But as it pertains to our physical “doing,” to our comings and our goings and our stops between the two? Well, there is compliance on the part of my children, at least for the seasonal eighteen years beneath our roof.
It sounds harsh, legalistic, and intrusive, but as parents charged with the sacred trust of “training up a child” in the way of holiness, we understand that church serves as an ample shaping ground. At least it should. If church isn’t your thing, if for some reason you’ve come to the conclusion that your church is doing more harm than good, then it is time to revisit the issue. Maybe even time to find a new church.
Why? Because church was never instituted for our harm. Church was given to us as a gift, as a celebration, as a way of gathering hearts in one accord for the unified worship of the one God who is worthy of our reverent pause.
It’s not about programs and seeing how much we can cram into a worship service in hopes of raising our emotional fervor. It’s not about worship preferences, a rocking band, a stoic tradition, or even the dressing of our flesh. It’s not about who knows more, who seems less, who offers little, who tithes best. It has nothing to do with pageantry and pomp and circumstances created to boast a better faith than that of the competing churches down the road.
We may think it does, and in many ways, the best of these things often enhance our time of church participation, thus leading us closer to the heart of God. But to limit our church experience within such parameters—to define the quality of our faith based on these self-imposed guidelines—is to limit the sacred worth behind God’s intention for our gatherings. That worth is based on something far greater—a grander intention that cannot be matched by our feeble attempts at the same.
Church should be a place where we gather to know God. Any other intention falls subject to this overriding one. We may institute all manner of routes to get there, but at the end of the day, only one path leads us to the heart of the Father . . .
The cross of Jesus Christ.
Churches that are willing to follow along this path are not obsessed with the peripheral “rest of it.” Instead, the people are simply content to gather together in order to more fully examine and more profoundly entreat the Lover of their souls. Where two or three come together in God’s name, he promises his presence (Matthew 18:20).
And this is one of the primary reasons why church is family business in my home. I am counting on the probability that when our Sunday gatherings commence, there will be at least two or three others who have gathered with a similar intention. I want my children to be in the path of other believers, giving them the opportunity for the sacred intersection of their hearts with the heart of the living God, who knit them together in his likeness.
Does it always work out that way? Not always, but does that mean we should stop our efforts along those lines? Should we forego our corporate worship because it sometimes feels contrived and fake and so seemingly full of pretense? When God seems to prefer the hidden corners of our gatherings rather than a full-blown revelation of himself, do we pout out the doors in hasty retreat never to return? Further still, do we allow our children their choices about their participation? Are we content to coddle their preferences about God’s mandate for their sacred shaping? Where does our obedience lie?
Church will never perfectly practice our faith. Wherever flesh gathers, problems seem to follow. It is the tension of an earthly pilgrimage—this warring between selfish living and selfless surrender. Still and yet, it is our road to walk. It is our path of privileged participation. We can refuse it, or we can bend to it. Either way, the road requires our feet and the feet of those we hold dearest.
Better to give church the benefit of our many doubts and believe that somewhere in our “doing” of it, we will come across Jesus. And whenever that happens, friends, the kingdom of God is opened up for the partaking therein.
I don’t want to miss the kingdom feast. I yearn for the joy of its sacred celebration; it is a desire I hold for my family, a yearning I pray for you. Thus, I bow my head and offer this humble plea:
Show us, Father, the glory behind our obedience to “do” church. Meet us as we gather, and humble us with your presence. Forgive us when we think that you could do it better. We are a selfish and foolish people to put our needs ahead of your purpose. We want to know you, God; and then out that knowing, we want to serve your people with the truth. Keep us to church; root us in faith, and then carry us along the path until our willing obedience finds us safely in your arms, fully home, and finally at rest. Amen.
To learn more about Peace for the Journey and how you might obtain a copy, click here.