This is the first part of a 3 part series entitled the ABC’s of Church. Now I’m NOT talking about the ABC’s of being a Christian. To grow as a Christian you need to talk to God, read His Book and learn to listen to and obey the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. If you do those three things consistently, over time you’ll grow and mature in your Christian walk.
I want to talk about something else entirely. I want to talk about how you can grow within the context of church life – the life that we share together corporately. I believe that now more than ever this subject is of vital importance to us all, as across the board, church participation is on the decline in western society as we become busier and busier and our recreational and social distractions become more and more time consuming.
The ABC’s of church stand for 3 words that effect what we DO in the context of our church involvement. The aim of this series isn’t to increase your knowledge as much as motivate you to action.You can know a lot about fitness but unless you get up off the couch and do something about it you’ll remain a couch potato – a very informed couch potato, but a couch potato nonetheless.
Speaking of fitness there are three pillars that all fitness programs are built upon. Exercise, nutrition and rest. Remove any one of them from the equation and you’ll never achieve the level of fitness that you’ve been genetically gifted with. What I find crazy is we live in a time in human history that has access to more information, more motivation, more inspiration, more opportunity, more equipment and supplementation at its fingertips for achieving a high level of personal fitness than at any other time in history and yet we’re the unhealthiest generation to ever walk the face of the planet.
The same could unfortunately be said with regards to our church involvement and subsequent growth and influence for good in our world. There are three simple keys that taken together will ensure that you give yourself the very best chance of living a life that promotes Jesus’ dream on the earth. There are hundreds of books written on each of these topics, 1000’s of podcasts available to download and millions of web articles available for free online extolling the virtue of what we’re going to look at and yet people everywhere I look are struggling to find meaning and purpose in their experience of church life.
Now it must be said from the outset that Jesus builds his church. Just as it’s your body’s adaptive response to exercise fueled by good nutrition and aided by plentiful rest that increases your fitness level, these ABC’s when practiced consistently give Jesus the opportunity that He needs to build His church in and through your life.
So what are the ABC’s of church – the unnegotiable minimums of a healthy growing church – the things that you can DO that ensure fruitful and God honouring progress for you and those around you?
A stands for attend – a weekly church service.
If you’re given to cynicism you could be thinking right about now that I’ve an ulterior motive for teaching this type of series. I mean what pastor wouldn’t want their people to attend church regularly?
If you’ve been at Grace for any length of time though, you’d know that we’re not interested in building the type of church that manipulates people into action, but we are totally passionate about transformational life experience – God’s life experienced by each and everyone of us that produces change from the inside out. We also believe in engaging with and overcoming issues that rob us of all that God has for us through the renewing of our minds, our thinking, so that we’re able to discern what the perfect will of God is as Paul states in Romans 12 – not being ripped off by deceptive thinking.
Romans 12:2 (NLT)
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
The first letter A stands for Attend – and what I mean by that is attendance at the weekly gathering that every church puts on. A gathering that traditionally in Australia takes place on a Sunday. The day it occurs isn’t really all that important but the gathering together is, along with the regularity of its occurrence. Now as a pastor you’d expect me to say that. In fact many of you might be excused for thinking that I was personally invested in making sure that people attended church regularly because it makes the staff of our church look better to have a full church rather than a half empty one.
If we drill down a little deeper some of you might even secretly wonder if there’s any value in being consistent in your church attendance especially with so many other things making impositions on your time. I know you do because a third of our church is away on any given Sunday. What does it take for a positive habit to have an impact on your life? It takes time and commitment. Life change takes a lifetime to occur and unless given time, some of the incredible benefits that come as we honour God through our behaviour will never be realised in our lives.
It might even come as a surprise to some of you to learn that I’ve had my doubts and questions about the validity of attending church every week. As a kid growing up I had to attend Catholic Mass every weekend and often questioned why. Back then it was because my parents told me I had to go, but I need to say that mass was nothing like the services that we enjoy today at Grace. When I left home to join the army I promptly stopped attending church. It wasn’t until a couple of years later when Jesus got a hold of my life that I started attending again. Since committing my life to Jesus at the age of 19, 33 years ago, I’ve attended church every weekend that I was physically able to. In total throughout my life that adds up to 2496 Sunday church services minus let’s say 196 for the time I was away from God and the occasional holiday and sickness – so 2300 Sunday services. That’s a lot of church services.
During that time I’ve seen lots of people come and go and here’s the cold hard reality that I’ve observed 100% of the time – the people who start slipping in their weekly attendance at church, unless they turn the trend around, end up falling away from God and sitting by the side of the road as their opportunity to serve God’s dream in their generation slips through their fingers.
Statistically people who aren’t committed to regular church attendance have a far higher chance of drifting away from their faith than those who are consistent in their attendance.
Every person who has ever achieved significant cultural change for Jesus has been committed to a local church and has placed a high value on regular church attendance.
So what is it about church attendance that’s so important?
“Going to church is like going to the chiropractor. It keeps you well adjusted.”
Ps Ashley Evans
“A Christian unconnected to a church family is an orphan.”
Ps Rick Warren
Regular attendance at church is the same for a Christian as regular servicing and detailing are to your car. If you’re regularly detailing and servicing your car you have confidence that your car can handle adverse road conditions and long journeys without it breaking down. We’ve all heard of car accidents that have killed or maimed the occupants of the car caused by faulty brakes, insufficient tread on tires etc which could have been avoided if the car had been serviced regularly. By booking your car in for regular services you’re pre-empting issues that might occur whilst out driving throughout the week.
When you first start to attend church there are all sorts of repairs that God needs to make and your progress and growth seems to be rapid, especially on the outside, however as God starts to get you back in good nick there’s less that needs to be done at each service and the temptation is to miss a few here and there. And before you know it the rot sets in and we start to justify our non-attendance. As one pastor replied to a gentleman who said he no longer got anything out of worship, “We’re not worshipping you!” It illustrates how easy it is for us to lose sight of the necessity of regular attendance at church gatherings. Our thinking get’s mixed up. We stop thinking straight – we start to forget, we no longer remember the goodness of God and before we know it we’re attending once a month which works out to 12 times a year. Imagine if you only exercised once a month? What would happen if you only had one meal a month or only washed once a every 4 weeks?
You don’t have to be an Apple programmer to realise that for some things to have a positive impact on our lives we need to do them regularly.
But what about the people who attend church for years and are mean, grumpy, judgmental people? Just about every book we studied at Uni in our Literature and Literacy course as part of my Bachelor of Ed had a mean nasty old bible thumping Christian in it. They gave the impression that old Christians were killjoys who made life miserable for everyone around them. I’d like to call that fallacy out.
In fact I’d like to state that the longer you’re committed to regular church attendance the nicer you become to hang out with. Yes there are the odd aberrations to the norm but you’re foolish if you use an aberration as your template.
When we gather together for a church service we can be pretty sure a certain number of things will occur each time. We’ll spend focused time with Jesus – We’ll have a time of corporate worship, we’ll pray, we’ll read something from the bible, we’ll listen to anointed teaching and we’ll have time to hang out with others who need the gift of our life that week.
Jesus himself said in
“I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.  For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
Every time you place yourself in that type of environment you give Jesus an opportunity to work on your life. But here’s the catch – the effect of gathering together is cumulative. That means the benefit to your life builds up over time. You can go to the gym and lift a lot of weight and then stand in front of the mirror when you get home not see any difference whatsoever. You can go out for a jog and feel just as tired afterwards during the day as the day you didn’t jog. The benefits from a fitness program only come over time. And the real bummer is that you get used to the small changes that are occurring in your body and don’t even notice you’re changing until something happens, usually way down the track that you know you couldn’t have done 12 months ago that finally tells you that you’re making progress. And the longer you’ve been doing it the smaller it seems the gains become. But remember back to my car servicing analogy? You can be a super athlete in your youth but if you don’t keep exercising and eating right you’ll end up an overweight heart attack candidate critiquing the nations youth competing at the Olympic Games from the comfort of your armchair and your past experience. Ever met a Christian like that?
But what about those who have been going to church for years – after a while doesn’t it become repetitive?
Joshua 1:7-8 (NLT)
Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do.  Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.
Over and over in the first 5 books of the bible Moses reiterated (because God told him to) how important it was that we remember because if we don’t remember regularly we soon forget. In fact as we’ve just seen in Joshua there’s a blessing of success that comes to all who make a habit of remembering. When we gather together each week we remember all over again why we’re serving God and what He’s done for us. It never gets old unless we stop investing ourselves in what we’re doing – engaging with it. The danger of simply going through the motions effects every area of our lives, our work, our hobbies, our health, our families, our marriage – it isn’t just our spiritual lives. However our spiritual lives undergirds everything else that we do.
Is attending church regularly, important? Absolutely! It’s one of the unnegotiable minimums of effective service. Without it you’ll always struggle in your Christian service. It’s a preventative measure that ensures you’re in good nick ready to respond when life throws you a curve ball, a pothole or a drunken driver. It doesn’t stop bad things happening but it helps you deal with them when they do.
And lastly, it honours your family. By taking time out each week to gather together with Jesus and others you’re making a statement that over time builds your character and commitment to the cause of Christ. You’re saying each week that Jesus is worthy of your time and so is the rest of the church that you’re a part of. And regardless of all the other benefits, that alone is enough to make me more committed than ever to attending church regularly.
Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian just as sitting in a garage doesn’t make you a car however going to church will help safeguard you from breaking down in the middle of a life threatening situation – something that you and your family will be incredibly grateful for, when it happens. It’s your life, you only have one, may it be the best one you can possibly have.