Two Reasons to “Go to Church”

Many years ago, I wrote “6 Reasons Not To Go to Church.” Today I’d like to do the opposite, write about two reasons to “go to church.” Except I want to differentiate between two reasons people go to church, the first one which doesn’t make sense, and the second which does, the first reason which frustrates and is self-defeating for Christian life, and the second, which gives God’s life to the person, and the neighborhood he or she lives in. Oddly, the majority of people who “go to church” in this country, go for the first reason.

Now I must admit, using the words  “go to church” makes me a pariah in my world. Church is not something you “go” to, it is a way of life you participate in 7 days a week.  I’ve pushed this mantra for years. I of course still believe it. Nonetheless, I think there are good reasons for getting out of bed and making the effort to go to a gathering of Christians where together we worship, submit to the proclamation of the Word and the Table.  This is what most people mean when they say “go to church.” This is what I’m talking about.
Recently, I suggested we put something on our web site that would warn visitors coming to Life on the Vine that they shouldn’t expect much if they’re coming for reason number one (which I still haven’t explained).  I proposed we ask the question “Why go to church?” We got some flack for that. I agree we have to learn how to talk differently about who we are as a people of God. Saying the words – go, to, church – together, can work against that. Nonetheless, I thought the compromise was worth it to explain something basic to people who are not inside the missional conversation.

So here goes, two reasons to go to church, reason no. 1 – to get something, reason no. 2 – to submit to something.

1.) To Get Something.  Many Americans go to church to get something: good teaching, good inspiration, an experiential high from a worship band. We grade sermons by how entertaining they are, or compelling in communication, but most of all what I can take away that I can use to improve my Christian life. We grade the children’s ministries for what they’re doing for (or should I say “to”) our kids. We grade the music in the same way. Pretty soon I find myself choosing to go to church when I feel I need something, when I don’t, I can skip it. We shouldn’t make “going to church” a legalistic thing after all. Soon, because church is about getting what we need to lead a good Christian life, I find myself juggling it and fitting it in when it fits my schedule. (When I try to fit God into my life, I don’t know who I’m talking about, but it ain’t God). Many times I find myself disenchanted after the church service, it’s time to look for another church. Stunningly, most protestant churches, in order to keep themselves going, find themselves competing to become the best provider of all these services. If I were going to do this, why wouldn’t I choose a business where it was easier to make a lot of money :) ?

2.) To Submit to Something. I propose a better way to “go to church” is to submit to something, something bigger than me, something that demands my attention: God and what he is doing in and around me in a people and a neighborhood. Each time I “go to church” I gather to submit to the proclamation of the Word, the Table, and the praise. I go to participate. This takes me out of the posture of control (taking notes and evaluating worship music). What I come away with is not more things “to do” but an orientation that shapes me into the Spirit and where now I am better positioned to cooperate with God.

Reason number 1 makes Sunday morning the central Christian act from which all things flow. Reason number 2 makes the whole week the point to which we bring it all as an offering in submission to God in listening to what God is saying, feeding at the Table, and praising God. We are then sent out. This time together shapes me into God’s Kingdom and what he is doing.

Each reason has its own kind of discernment. People coming for reason no. 1 must discern whether this church will meet my needs, keep me interested, and agree with me on the main things. Reason no. 2 must discern is God at work here? Are the leaders trustworthy? Can we see humility, submission to God, listening at work here? Can we participate? What kind of person am I becoming over my years in this community? Reason no 1 can cause us to seek the place we are most comfortable. Reason no. 2 will make that less important. We go realizing that to subject ourselves to God will always make our lives out of our control. The call to faithfulness and mission will push us places we do not want to go. Reason no. 1 can be done in isolation. Reason no. 2 pushes us toward being in communities. Reason no. 1 will often make high gloss produced programming appealing. Reason no. 2 will probably have liturgical submission as central to our life together.

I try to strongly discourage a person from “going to our church” for reason no. 1. I try to push for reason no. 2. Come and check in, then check out whether you can submit to something, participate in something bigger than ourselves, whether you can become part of something going on among a people.

I believe the most important work of church-planters is calling/leading people out of our own kingdoms to live in the Kingdom where Jesus is Lord. When two or three gather under His Lorship the Kingdom break in power. How you set up worship gathering can give either the right signals or the wrong ones. That’s why I’m ok for now that our church website asks Why “go” to church? Notice the quotation marks arounf the word “go.”  What do you think? How can you initiate someone, or inoculate someone from joining your community for reason no. 1 versus no. 2?  Or is that even appropriate? Next post I’ll report the postcard we put out at the Vine on “Ten Things Not To Expect of a Missional Church”.

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Posted in Church Planting, Ecclesiology, Missional Ecclesiology, Missional Leadership, Post-Attractional, Worship and Mission
20 comments on “Two Reasons to “Go to Church”
  1. Cliff says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for writing this post…

    We can see the ‘problem’ of going to church even in the way we use words to describe church. We often treat church as a building (object).

    Like have you go to church recently?

    I try and see church is where I don’t just go and receive and also go and serve. Just like a family, every member contributes and help one another. At the same time,every member stick with each other thick and thin. Everyone encourages one another. We ought to do the same with church.

    If I ever say, I hate the way my father talks to me and I am going to go down the street and find a better father, that will sound very strange. Funny, sometimes we treat that with our spiritual family.

    In most cases that I seen people leaving church or going to another church is to fill their own desire. Even if the desire is earnest as wanting to hear a good sermon down the street, I think there’s something not right with that.

    I also see going to church as being lead by the Holy Spirit. Unless HS tells me to go somewhere, I don’t. It is quite sad to see when people is leaving a church and the church suffers because those who leave can really give or support one another. When those relationships are broken, the body of that church suffers.

    Anyways, I talk too much. Thanks for writing a post like this. It really help us ask those tough questions :) ))

  2. JR Turtle says:

    Excellent.

    Correspondingly,

    Reason 1: We bring God down to fit into our lives.
    Reason 2: We are taken up into the very life of God.

    Reason 1: Observation/imitation
    Reason 2: Participation – in the life of Christ, that is.

  3. Joy says:

    I would add a third reason: To Give Something – “our” time, “our” talents and, more importantly, our testimony. We can encourage each other in the faith and learn from each other better when we “do” church. Some may think they don’t have a stunning, earth-moving testimony, but it’s often the tiniest miracle that the Lord has done in your life that will move someone closer to Christ. I am greatly saddened that churches today so rarely allow times of testimony. A sermon may be interesting or even great, but nothing moves one more than the real-life experience of God’s work in someone’s life.

    • barefootmeg says:

      I’d like to echo what Joy said about testimony. We just moved from a church that was strong in testimony and weak in most other areas, to a congregation that seems to be strong or growing in most other areas but seems to be weak in testimony (which I think of as not just sharing your initial salvation story but sharing your life and the work of God within and through it). Though we can still do that sharing in a one on one sort of basis, there’s something about sharing stories as a body that builds a sense of connectedness that’s different than what comes out of that one on one sharing.

  4. len says:

    AW Tozer, about 1950: (before sexism was an issue)

    “A church that can’t worship must be entertained & men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide entertainment.”

  5. Dawne Piotrowski says:

    “We go realizing that to subject ourselves to God will always make our lives out of our control. The call to faithfulness and mission will push us places we do not want to go.”

    AMEN!

  6. Greg Arthur says:

    Certainly these reasons not only effect those who show up to a worship gathering, but also so those are shaping them. If we are feeding reason #1 the values will be excellence in performance, entertainment, production, comfort, and attractiveness, and moments of decision/emotional highs.

    When we are feeding reason #2 some of the values will be sacredness, space, silence, story, identity, moments of submission, and the messy reality of family.

    Until we live value in our own lives, as pastors and worship shapers, silence, story, identity and submission, we will never lead others to that place.

  7. Jay says:

    Dave,
    Thanks for a wonderful iteration of worship/liturgy. A question–
    If liturgy is something to which we submit, is there ever a point where we question the liturgy? Is there room for asking more of the liturgy?

    • Bob says:

      Just to interject, I think there is a point where we question the liturgy but it needs to be done with respect and care. By definition, we don’t shape the liturgy–it shapes us. As such, we don’t change the liturgy to become “relevant”; we adjust it to become more “true” when we have wandered from its core.

      You can look at Vatican II for a recent example of questioning (and re-establishing) the liturgy.

  8. Bob says:

    Great post, David, and a good description of “high church” liturgy. I think one of the strengths of liturgy is that it is impersonal, meaning that it does not depend on a person or place or culture or time. Liturgy is more than Sunday services but also encompasses things like Fixed Hour prayer that governs each hour of the day. It spans place in that churches throughout the world pray the same prayers, hear the same words, receive the same sacraments. Entering into the liturgy is also entering into the worship of the church universal.

    When you say that ones discerning No 2 look for things like: Come and check in, then check out whether you can submit to something, participate in something bigger than ourselves, whether you can become part of something going on among a people. aren’t you falling back into looking for things that suit my preferences or, if not that, submitting to the agenda of an isolated group?

    I think there are some leanings here that hold “community” with others as the end rather than “communion” with God.

    • Jay says:

      Bob,
      Your additions are helpful. Yet, I’m curious how above you articulate movement in the liturgy (merely with respect and care), and here in this comment you say there is not movement. Could you offer a clarification? To what degree does context (or perhaps inculturation?) play a role in a particular community’s liturgy?

      • Bob says:

        There are dangers to inculturation when if comes to “adapting” the liturgy to a particular context. Oftentimes, this is taken as introducing (allowing) elements of the culture to be used in the liturgy. This community is made up of artists, so we want to have some sacred art, music, drama, dance, added to our gatherings. The flow here is from the outside in. This can lead to syncretism and a blurring of the Gospel message.

        But the true heart behind inculturation is the effort to make sure that the liturgy’s meanings, symbols, and postures are “intelligible” to the culture. If the liturgy is unintelligible to the community, it loses its purpose. So here education is the first course–explaining the elements of the liturgy and connecting them to the Scriptural story and the life of the community. Second is the use (if appropriate) of alternate symbolism. A culture that has never seen a sheep may choose to use less shepherd imagery and more, say, father-son imagery. The flow here is from the inside out.

        The elements of the liturgy are profound. As such, they will need explanation (the reason we have sermons and discipleship offerings). The context will dictate what needs to be clarified.

  9. Dan says:

    I would offer a “third” option: “To participate in something”

    Something= being the worship of God (think, Rev 4).

    Maybe this sort of language lends itself to necessary correctives you try to get at Dave, without creating unnecessary antagonisms? No?

    • Scott Elliott says:

      I see your point, but don’t think that distinction is meaningful. Submission to the work of God IS doing one’s part in the work of the people in the Assembly, which equips one to carry God’s work into the world.

  10. davidfitch says:

    I think the liturgy we submit to has to have Scriptural and historical integrity, but it’s also best when simple and contextualized … The liturgical question is a big one which takes much discusssion and blog posts, but it is our time together around the proclamation of the gospel and the Table enables us to submit to God, His voice,His presence, His work in and through Christ … and best sent out into the middle of it… thannx everybody for the comments …

  11. Alex says:

    So what if a place such as you describe as reason #2 can’t be found? I don’t know any churches where #2 is the tangible ethos. It still always feels like a production…
    I’m having a hard time finding a place that tuly feels like the Spirit is at work, driving it. I don’t want to be a part of anything less anymore. So I’m feeling a bit lost. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s my area… But I’m not sure it’s as easy as #1 or #2. I can’t just flick a switch and start having the right #2 motives and suddenly everything is better.

  12. davidfitch says:

    Alex,
    keep looking, or perhaps lead one in your home? where are you located? Maybe some of us on this blog can point you somewhere?

  13. JR Rozko says:

    Pariah indeed ;)

    It’s because I whole-heartedly agree with every last thing you said here that a commitment to abandoning “go to church” language” in favor of “gather for worship” or “gather with the Church,” is so important and strategic. It begins to subverts the very notion that church is a place that I might “go to” in order to get something. This language can start to undermine an ingrained consumer mindset and give people a new imagination for understanding “Church” in the first place.

  14. Tom Rees says:

    Mr. Fitch,

    Thank you for your post. I pastor a small traditional non-denom church reinforcing our foundations by proclaiming Missio Dei. We love on folks in our community who lead broken lives. As I get to know them they frequently express their need to “go to church.” My first reaction in my heart and mind is to correct their thinking and idea of “church.” They, from a distance, have gotten the message from the church sub-culture that “going to church” is a rule and required for being spiritual or getting right with God. What I have found is that it is a big deal for them and actually important in their progression toward Jesus. You have, in reason #2, articulated the “why.” When they finally do cross the threshold of our building they are submitting to God in the best way they know how.

    Teaching them about the true nature of God and the church can come later. For now, simple submission to Jesus in the way they understand is most important.

    Again, thank you.

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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