The earliest Christians couldn’t imagine not getting together often and consistently.
“… they spent much time together …” (Acts 2.46)
But, it wasn’t all that long before some Christians had other ideas, requiring a need to say something about it.
“Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing.” (Hebrews 10.25)
And yet …
I have a confession to make: I’ve always been nonplussed by sermons on “church attendance.” When I first began to hear them (as one yet to believe) they struck me as, at best, misguided. How’s that? The people who most needed to hear such a sermon were the ones who weren’t there to hear it. Thus, such messages came across to me as something akin to “preaching to the choir” and as a bit self-righteous (and judging by most of the conversations I often overheard among “the faithful” following such a sermon, I’d say that was about right).
And after I came to be a Christian, such sermons became even all the more difficult for me to swallow. They sounded, well, silly. I mean even as a baby Christian I knew that at the same time God was forgiving me of my sins he was adding me to his family (Acts 2.38,47). God added me to his family?! Hello! A real relationship with God includes a real relationship with his family. And so, to get up and basically beg disciples of Christ to “attend church” made about as much sense to me as telling water to be wet or saying to a rock, “Be solid.” Senseless, at best.
To make matters worse, with rare exception such messages magnified the church at the Lord’s expense. I even recall one such sermon that made not one mention of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. Incredible. By preaching so, church gatherings were (unwittingly) held up as the “end” of our faith, rather than for what they actually are, a part of the “means” of our walk with God. Consequently, such sermons only threw gasoline (by the bucketful!) on the wildfire of deception already raging among many Christians (i.e. – how often you show up at church is what determines if you’re truly a faithful Christian or not; something like counting coup). It’s all too easy to get into the groove of just “doing church” and “going to church” and doing so without any real engagement with God. Mark it down: it’s very easy to do church without God. Such thinking mustn’t be encouraged, but discouraged.
My years of experience in preaching hasn’t softened my mind on “preaching on attendance” either. I’ve yet to know of a single person who made any lasting change in their habits of gathering with other Christians on the basis of a sermon about it. Across the years, I have seen some folks change their habits in gathering for the better, but it’s always – always! – been sermons about other matters – and usually not sermons at all, but other forms of communication and stimulation – that God used to work that improvement. After all, fading away from Christian gatherings isn’t the problem, but merely a symptom of other, and greater, problems. Ask folks who regularly gather with believers as to why they come and see if “I heard a sermon about it” even gets mentioned. I’ve asked hundreds across the years in three states and I’ve yet to hear even an oblique reference to a lesson or sermon on “attendance.” Think on this. You can take it to the bank.
And so, let me encourage you to think about my current sermon series (Gatherings) as not so much about merely “showing up at church,” but actually about what our understanding and vision of being present together is about. Make no mistake about it – showing up is crucial. I strongly discourage anything less! But, why we show up, and with what sort of mind and expectations we have about gathering together to begin with, is even closer to the center of things important. Or to put it another way, it is our attitude toward God and others (conscious or unconscious) that determines our actions in regard to our deliberately placing ourselves in the presence of other Christians. After all, the church is Christ’s bride and a person who is a true friend of the groom won’t have to be begged to do right by his bride. Get that picture.
So … yesterday’s sermon, in two words … is this: come together. Show up mentally and physically. As often as you can. As long as you physically can. Just remember God doesn’t need your presence; he’ll do just fine with or without you. Show up with the understanding that you need to gather with others (Christianity is community), other believers need you with them (we are saved to serve, not to be served), and ultimately, it’s one of the best things we can do for the whole world (the church must be the church). Capture this attitude: “time together” is precious. And never let go of that attitude; don’t stop meeting together with other believers.
God willing, we’ll consider more of these matters in sermons during the remaining Sundays of this month. And next Sunday, we’ll take a hard look at some of the tough things we will encounter when we “show up at church.” I solicit your prayers … and your presence … for the good of us all and to the praise of our matchless, magnificent God. Amen.