Defending Church Attendance

When I first entered the full-time vocational ministry, most people regularly attended Church gatherings. Numerous Churches offered gatherings on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening.  It was not uncommon for a person to be in the Church building four to five times a week.  They were there for all three worship celebrations, once for some committee meeting and another time for choir practice or some special event. 

With time, most Church leaders and Christians recognized this overkill.  A family could barely do anything besides attend worship, and pastors were exhausted trying to preach and teach each week repeatedly.

Slowly Churches began to drop meetings from their schedule.  I immediately quit doing Sunday night and changed Wednesday night to a small group instead of worship.  Eventually, my mantra became simply: “Attend one, serve one and grow one.” Each person was encouraged to attend a worship program once a week, serve somewhere once each week, and be a part of a group that helps them grow spiritually once a week.  I still believe this and use the exact phrase I have been telling people for years. 

The interesting transition has been with the people.  I used to say it to get people away from the Church building.  Some people wanted to be at Church every night.  They knew no non-Christians, often neglected relationships, and learned more Bible than they would ever obey. 

Now the opposite is true.  I use the same expression to get people to see the need for a Christian community in their lives.    Every Christian needs to take time each week for worship.  They need to drop everything and focus their attention on the praise and worship of God.  Every Christian needs a place where they can serve in the name of Jesus.  I believe the Church is still the best way to do this.  There you can use the resources of the community of faith to do almost anything in the name of Jesus.  Finally, I genuinely believe that every Christian needs to spend time growing in their faith.  This happens through sermons, lessons, and various teachings, but it also happens best with other people.  Each person needs someone to connect with them to show them their issues and offer grace with instruction. 

After all these years, the need for the community of Christ-followers we call the Church still exists.  Every believer needs to spend time with this community, but not too much.  It is a delicate balance.  I have watched the pendulum swing through the years, and it will probably turn back again one day.  For this time in history, Church attendance is still a part of the journey of faith like nothing else. As a Pastor, I am here to lead others to it, encourage it for everyone, and defend it to anyone who thinks it is unnecessary. 

We all need the Church, and I hope each of you can find a place to “attend one, serve one and grow one.” 

Saved to Serve

The order is essential.  You do not serve to be saved. 

You are right with God through Jesus Christ.  You do not get right with Jesus by serving.

The latest push by Churches is that we are to be out in the community doing good works.  Everyone must understand we are serving because of what Jesus did for us.  If not, we quickly become a community group where people serve to make themselves feel better.  Jesus is removed, and a therapeutic version of good works exists to help us cope with a life of affluence. 

Our relationship with Jesus is the single most significant factor in our life.  If we reduce that, we are no longer sharing the gospel with the world but a works salvation.  This is an eternal mistake.

I hope you serve one another with love and joy.  But only do it because of Jesus, or you are wasting your time and leading others astray.

Repeat with me:  Saved to Serve. 

Crazy Bible Stories

I must admit that even after a lifetime of reading the Bible, there are still some stories that seem crazy.  I have read them in context, sought out scholars’ teaching, and asked people wiser than me, but still, these stories are unique.  If you have read any of your Bible, you know exactly what I mean.

The Bible contains stories of talking donkeys and ax heads floating.  Chariots of fire descend from heaven, and bears attack a group of children at the urging of a prophet.  Then there is a story in Exodus chapter 4 verses 24-26 that no one seems to explain adequately. For those who read their Bible at all, there are often as many questions as there are answers.

One aspect of faith is the embracing of mystery.  There are just some parts of walking with God that we will never understand.  That is okay.  We are trusting the one who does comprehend far more than we can imagine.  Faith is not just trusting in a God we cannot see; it is also trusting his words which have parts we do not totally grasp. 

Sure, I encourage you to keep reading, searching, and asking questions until you find a reasonable answer.  Each story has a few possible explanations, and you accept the one that makes the most sense to you. Remember that faith is not God telling us everything but trusting him with everything we do not understand. 

Room for Improvement

Suppose I asked you about your spiritual life, marriage relationship, parenting skills, and general Bible knowledge.  Most people would say to me, “There is room for improvement.”

We acknowledge that in many of life’s significant arenas, we could do better. 

Saying there is room for improvement is not the same as saying, “I am trying to improve.”  Both recognize our need to get better, but only one person is doing anything about it. 

Recognizing your shortcomings is a great first step toward a life that God desires.  Developing improved actions, no matter how small, is more significant than knowing there are issues. 

You have the room, so why not use it?

Good For Nothing

Every Monday, I have the privilege of depositing a paycheck from the Church I lead.  I attempt to give a total effort every week and always try to earn my money.  I still consider it an enormous blessing that I get to work for God and be paid enough to take care of my family.  God has been good to me, and I have not missed a paycheck in 28 years. 

But every Monday, there is also this strange feeling that comes over me.  While I get the blessing of being paid, the Church would not exist if it were not for all the people who serve each week.  It takes dozens of people to contribute for free to expand the kingdom of God.  

Recently I heard a Church consultant talk about how Churches do not need volunteers to fill positions.  They need people called to ministry who are willing to contribute merely because they follow Jesus.  These precious people are the hands and feet of Jesus each Sunday morning. 

Today I am thankful for everyone who ministers in any capacity in the Church I lead.  I am also grateful for all the people who served in any Church this past weekend.  These are the individuals that God is using to expand his kingdom.  They are good people, and most of them are good for nothing but the joy that awaits when they hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”   

Finishing Strong

Beginning a new venture is exciting.  People take pictures of the first day of everything.  Some businesses frame the shovel that first broke the ground or the first dollar that was earned.  Others celebrate with grand openings, parties, and social media blitzes.  Everyone can name dozens of new things being started all around them. 

Getting started is significant.  The determination to begin is needed for success.  But let me ask you an honest question, “How many projects have you started that you were not able to finish?”  While we might be able to tell you all the exciting new things going on around us, we can also tell you of all those that ended without any fanfare. 

Success is not starting well; it is finishing strong.  This is true in life but especially important in the life of faith.  Jesus tells a parable in the gospel of Matthew chapter 13 about four types of soil.  All of them receive seeds.  Three of them have the plant start growing.  Only one makes it to harvest.  Only one produces fruit in the fall and brings the farmer joy.

I love conversion stories, baptisms, and new people at Church.  I also long for a Church full of senior adults who have endured to the end.  When I was young in ministry, I only liked the new, but now I love the old as well.  Maybe that is because so few make it to the finish line of faith. 

Finishing requires trust, grit, endurance, patience, grace, and strength of will.  Today I am thankful for the people who have walked the road of faith for a lifetime.  Most of them will not be celebrated, but they are the real heroes in our Churches.  This is the time of year we celebrate people finishing all kinds of schooling, and we must remember those who are accomplishing something far more significant.  Maybe this weekend, when you see someone who is ending a life of faith strong, be sure to tell them how much you admire them.  They are the goal, and we must never lose sight of that – or them.    

How Things Turn Will Turn Out

Recently I ran across an interesting parable.  It is not one from the lips of Jesus, but it has caused me to think about my faith.  All sources call it a “Chinese story,” and some say it is from the Taoist background.  Sadly, that is a belief system built on nature rather than God, but I still think there is some truth in the story.

Here is the Parable:

While I do not agree with all the conclusions, it still has a fascinating insight. The essential teaching of this tale is that you never know how things are going to turn out. I do not believe it is because of random chance or the ancient rhythms of nature. My conviction is that God is at work, and we have such limited perspective that we do not clearly see his plan until we have lived through it. One person said that faith is only understood by looking in the rearview mirror. I think there is some wisdom in that type of thinking.

This story reminds me that all truth comes from God no matter where it originates. The simple lesson here is that our limited vantage point should keep us from ever being filled with pride or discouragement. Faith for a Christian is trusting God when you do not know how things will turn out in the end.

Drawing Close

When you walk across the valley and get closer to Goliath, the more massive and scarier he looks.  The thing you fear the most always looks bigger up close. 

The irony is that the closer you get to God, the more powerful he appears.  He is more significant than anything you fear.

When David walked into the valley that day, he was closer to God than Goliath, and it seemed like no competition. 

The question is simple, “Are you drawing closer to your faith or your fears?” 

The Church is More Than

This past Sunday, I spent some time watching people.  I did not walk up to talk; instead, I took a few minutes to observe the people before our worship, between our programs, and after everything was finished.  Their interactions were interesting and inviting.  It was good to see everyone so connected when you consider where we have been in the past 18 months. 

One year ago, our Church, along with thousands of others, went online.  We were allowed to meet back in person last June, and that is when I did something unique.  Our Church pulled all its online programming each week and went back to only providing an audio version of the sermon. 

This was an intentional move to get more people back into our Sunday morning meetings.  For many, once the habit had formed of not attending, it was easy to stay away. I did not want people to settle for digital worship alone.  That is because I live with the conviction that the Church is more than we expect and realize. 

Church is showing up and shaking hands and giving smiles while saying, “Good morning.”  It is making new friends and reconnecting with older believers. It is all age groups, genders, races, backgrounds, and personalities together in the name of Jesus.  Church is having conversations before and after worship that sometimes last until I tell them to lock up when they leave. 

The community of faith is not just a sermon to teach you a little Bible once a week.  It is people serving together and blessing one another.  It is singing the songs of faith to the Lord with other believers.  It is praying with people and for people both corporately and individually. 

It is not just the support and encouragement you find each week.  Many have their faith stretched as they deal with difficult people and situations.  This requires more prayer and working through issues as flawed people who are all saved by grace.  Failure and mistakes will teach us forgiveness, compassion, and the depth of love in the name of Jesus. 

Church is more than a sermon and a few worship songs you watch on Sunday morning.  It is more than a passive experience of spiritual things while watching in comfort.  Church is people meeting in unity and faith until we become the family of God. 

Eventually, we are adding video back to our website, and I am praying it will not become a replacement for being the Church.  I hope people will watch and be blessed, but it will not be their Church without being together with one another. 

This last Sunday, I watched everyone, and I saw the Church.  The community of people who come together in the name of Jesus is irreplaceable.  Sure, it is not perfect, but there is nothing like it on earth.