This is based on a newsletter article to my congregation at Gethsemane:
When I became a “professional church worker” I realized that people just take it for granted that I go to church. I mean after all the guy gets paid to show up on Sundays doesn’t he? Yes, I do, but that’s not why I go to church. I’m still very young in my career and I’ve had some life before me when I didn’t get paid to go to church and struggled with the reasons why to spend my Sunday mornings in the House of our God just like everyone else. It was actually these moments when I struggled with the reasons that really brought me to the place where I come to worship every Sunday and to share God’s Word with other believers in Christ.
I was raised to be in church and like most young people I wasn’t always good in church and many times I remember my poor mother dragging me to the stairs in the back of the narthex at St. Mark’s Lutheran in Cleveland to sit for a well deserved time-out. Week in and week out we went, whether I wanted to or not. But what it did, and why I am so grateful that my mother did what she did, is that it instilled the love of Jesus in my life and developed an ingrained habit that would return by God’s grace
Then came my early work and college years when church became more of a job for me than a time of renewal and rest. I served as a volunteer youth director at Trinity in Cleveland. I loved what I did at the church, but I was also working my tail off between that and two other jobs and some college classes. Church became work for me for a while and that wasn’t good but it happens to church workers often. We are so busy doing church that we aren’t in church.
Then I finally gained the opportunity to go away to college to pursue this God placed desire to serve as a minister. I went to Concordia St. Paul in MN and oddly enough this was a time in my life when I attended church the least. You see, my church life got placed in the wrong category in my life. It was placed right along with those other things like volunteering and recreation, it became optional for me, a thing to do if I wasn’t sleeping in that Sunday morning. I mean, I was reading, breathing, and studying church stuff, wasn’t that enough? It wasn’t. This ended up being one of the darkest points of my life spiritually, struggling with baggage from my own past and uncertainty about my future. I was lost adrift in a sea of busyness with no anchor to hold me down.
I would love to say I saw the light by myself, but I didn’t. Like most good stories it took the love of a good woman to see me through. How Shi and I met and fell in love is another story, but one of the results was that she dragged me to church with her, admittedly at first reluctantly, but then with new fervor and interest. Here was that thing I was missing, an anchor to hold me down when the world was pulling me apart. God used Shi to help me become that person that both I said I was and I wanted to be.
From that point on church became a cornerstone of my life, the hinge of my door, the axle of my wheel, whatever you want to call it, it was and still is that important in my daily life. But why? Because God in Jesus Christ is here, in a very, very special way that you can’t get anywhere else. The very Words of Life are spoken in this House. Where else can you say that the Body and Blood Christ is given so your deepest darkest sins are forgiven by the grace of God alone? Where else can people as different as night and day call each other brothers and sisters in Christ? All this given for the cost of a couple of hours a week, less time than it takes us to watch the game on T.V
But it’s easy for us to pander to the consumerism of our culture telling us what we get out of something to try to entice us to come hither. But that kind of hook falls more into the category of the snake in the original Garden, when he told Eve look how pretty the fruit is and let me tell you what it can do for you because you deserve it. But that’s not how our God works. First and foremost coming to church is an act of obedience.
The Christian martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship , says that church attendance is an act of obedience to the call of Christ that brings you into the place where faith can be created in your life through the hearing of God’s Word. Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to sometimes get ourselves to church and why for many it is almost impossible? Going to church at its very core is a relinquishing of our own will to God’s will in our lives. There is no good merits achieved in God’s sight by obeying, it does not garner a merit badge or a notch in my belt, but it is simply a “Yes sir,” when the very incarnate Son of God says “Follow me.” This first step, does not create faith, but it puts us in the place where faith can be created, nourished, strengthened and grown. It brings us to the House of Grace, a place in our sinfulness we ridiculously refuse to go to on our own, even though we are drowning in sin. We must be called by Christ and obey.
So ultimately, why I go to church, is because God said so.