Should You be "Getting Something" Out of Church?
- Amy Green Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2018 9 Jan
There’s a lot of cynicism about organized religion these days. Maybe you’ve noticed it in articles going around about why the local church isn’t necessary. There are many people out there who like Jesus’ teachings well enough and want to embrace some kind of spirituality but don’t want to sit through a church service.
“After all, why go to church if I’m not really getting anything out of it?” some say.
A lot of that comes from burnt-out people who have been frustrated and betrayed, and I don’t want to minimize their pain. And sure, there are some who are being self-centered, who want to pull into church like a fast food restaurant and place an order—“Three songs perfectly on key, plus gourmet coffee, an encouraging twenty-minute sermon, and an application that’s not too uncomfortable, please.” They expect cheerful service at a schedule that’s convenient to them and a whole menu of programs and amenities.
Most of us, though, aren’t that extreme. We just want to find a place where we belong, where our spiritual needs are met, where we can grow and learn and be known and loved. Those are good desires. And some Sundays, our reality doesn’t match those expectations.
So, should we be getting something out of church?
The answer is no … and also yes.
Often, evaluating our experience with a checklist of “what did I get out of church today?” gives us the wrong attitude. You know the kind I mean; the one where you focus more on the vocalist who’s going sharp than actually praising Jesus, or jump right to criticizing the sermon instead of trying to see what God could teach you from it.
Even if you’re not like me and tempted to be a grumbler, there’s an even subtler danger in looking for what you can get out of church: it makes church into something it’s not supposed to be, a sort of spiritual bank account, where we get and give in—hopefully—equal proportions.
I volunteer in nursery again the week there are two screaming visitors—deposit.
My Bible study leader remembers to ask me about the prayer request I mentioned last week—withdrawal.
I tell the pastor I enjoyed the sermon—deposit.
People from church show up to help me move—withdrawal.
In this mindset, if it’s been a long time since we’ve been acknowledged for our service, if there’s a small group member who always takes and never gives, if our kids complain that their program isn’t fun and flashy … we want to leave.
But the church is not a series of transactions. It’s not even a set of services or programs that take place in a particular building. The church is a family.
Take a minute to read 1 Corinthians 13. You’ve probably heard this recited at countless weddings, and for good reason: it’s a beautiful picture of love. But Paul didn’t initially write this about a dreamy-eyed newlywed couple. He wrote it about the church. We were meant to love each other with a deep, unselfish love, one that doesn’t give up on the hard people or demand to be publically thanked or create a long list of expectations.
At the same time, though, we should expect to get something out of the church, in the same way that we can expect to get something out of spending time in prayer or reading the Bible. There’s not always going to be a dramatic revelation or a word of comfort that speaks directly to our specific situation, but if we come asking for God to speak to us—to teach us about who He is, to give us opportunities to show love to others, to draw us closer to Him—He will answer.
Here are a few things you can pray that God will give you through church.
Deeper Knowledge of Him
There are hundreds of ways this can happen, of course, but the most profound is often through the teaching time of the sermon. If your church is preaching the gospel and if your pastors are teaching truth from the Bible, God promises that His word won’t come back empty, without changing us (Isaiah 55:10-11).
If you’re not sure that what you’re hearing from the pulpit matches up with the gospel, make sure to compare your church’s teaching not with other people’s opinions, but against God’s Word. That’s something God not only encourages, but commands (Acts 17:11, 1 John 4:1-3).
Joy in Corporate Worship
There’s something special about singing praises together—repeating truth, ancient and modern, in harmony with one another. But worship doesn’t just happen while the musicians are playing. We worship together through studying the word, using our gifts, and challenging each other in evangelism. We bring God more glory together than apart. That’s what the church was created to do (Colossians 3:16-17).
Care from Leaders and Fellow Believers
You probably already know this, but I’m going to remind you anyway: your church leaders love you. They carry burdens on your behalf that you’ll never know about, and they want to see you growing in your faith. I see in the elders of my own church the fulfilment of Jeremiah 3:15, “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” That matters, and that’s something you can only experience by being part of a local gathering of believers.
Even more importantly, though, the people surrounding you are part of what Jesus designed when he prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).
Some of them will be difficult to get along with (but if you’re like me, you’re difficult too sometimes). Some will have totally different life experiences or political views or ideas of how to interpret the Bible than you do, and that might make it hard for you to relate to them.
But there’s nothing in the world like having a team of people to challenge you in areas you’re weak, reflect on truth from a totally different perspective, and carry you before God when you’re too tired and angry and weak to come there yourself.
Chances to Serve
One of the greatest gifts the church gives me is the opportunity to be inconvenienced. Do I always like it? Of course not, because I’m selfish. It’s exactly because I wouldn’t seek out those experiences that I need the church to give me a regular challenge to serve, whether in an “official” ministry, or more often, simple everyday acts of practical help or encouragement. That kind of humility and service, we learn in Philippians 2, reflects how Jesus put others before himself in his ministry and death for our sins.
Those are all great things to get out of church, and God is faithful to act in those ways. But at the end of the day…it may not be enough. Because sometimes you won’t feel like you belong. Sometimes, one of the pastors will say something that offends you and not even notice. Sometimes small group members will accidentally exclude you or a sermon won’t relate to your life or that one person will look right at you during Communion and still won’t apologize for words that wounded you.
So I asked myself, why do I love the church on those days?
I love the church because she’s mine. She’s family.
There is hurt here—some that we cause, some that is inflicted on us, and some that seems like a domino-fall of misunderstandings and half-truths and disputes and bickering from the very first sin until now.
But there is also joy.
Sometimes that joy looks like coming home sunburnt and sticky from a dozen kids’ popsicle-stained hands after the baptismal service and praising God for what he’s done and is doing in the lives of people I love.
Other times joy is being called out on my pride or fighting to forgive. It’s listening to a hard application from a difficult sermon or facing a conversation I’ve successfully avoided for too long or once again wondering if the kids got anything out of lesson time other than how to pronounce Jeremiah’s name and not being dead, maimed, or kidnapped.
But you know what? I promised the parents of those kids at their baby dedication that I would come alongside them and show their children someone who loved God with all her heart. I promised to be part of the family.
The best thing we should get out of church is the same that we should be giving: love for one another.
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock
Amy Green blogs about life, culture, and theology at themondayheretic.wordpress.com. The great (and sometimes inconvenient) people of her church in Minneapolis, Minnesota make the cold winters worth it.