I honestly think the number one reason most Americans attend church these days is for purely social reasons. As a pastor I have a bird’s eye view of the movements of church goers. I hear the moans of loss and sighs of relief from pastors as their members move to various churches. Some times they hate to see them leave and at other times they won’t be missed. But the real question is why do people change churches so often?
Lets try to answer that with a series of questions. Is it because they have relocated to a new area? Are they seeking a place closer to their home? Has their current church defected from the faith forcing them to leave to seek out true gospel preaching? Have their personal views of Scripture changed causing them to seek a new church inline with their new views? These would all be good reasons to find a new church. But I seldom hear these reasons listed. Most people are looking for a new church for social reasons.
How do I know that, you may ask? Well let me list some of the questions I get from people looking to change churches. How many attend LCBC? I have kids, what do you have for my kids? Who all goes to your church, anyone I know? Is there anyone my age their? Do you have many veterans, retired people, young families, professional people, blue collar, sports fans, outdoorsmen, singles, widows, or any any other subgroup I can relate to?
I could go on but you get the point. Now when someone finds a new church here’s what they often say: “The kids love it here.” “The new preacher relates to me.” “My friends or the kids friends, were already going there.” “They have so many activities to get involved in.” “They have a coffee shop in the foyer and free day care on Fridays.” Are you seeing a pattern here? We like our opportunities to socialized in the new church.
Now the Bible instructs us to be in close fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. BUT, the standard of our fellowship is the gospel. I’m seeing people leave gospel preaching churches for social reasons. The opposite is equally true as well. We see countless Christians who are gospel starved hanging onto a church because of their kids, friends or activities. Pick your church by the gospel and stay put. You will never regret it.
Have you noticed that the weather is getting much colder? Of course you have as soon as you open the door in the morning it hits you. Most people hate the cold but a few of us love it and look forward to the cool crisp winter air. Regardless of you personal climate preferences a good hot fire sure feels good when you come in out of the cold. Or when you get in the car and place your hands over the heater vents and within seconds the feeling comes back in your fingers. That warm soothing effect quickly overcomes a long exposure to the cold.
The corporate worship of the Church should have the same effect on believers. After a few day out in the world our spirit craves the warm fire of fellowship around the Word. If we stay out to long we will start to loose some feeling in our extremities. That’s when a quick warm up is needed in order to keep us going. After just an hour or two with the saints we begin to feel better and the cares of the world don’t seem as harsh as they did when we first came in.
The cold is not dangerous as long as we dress for it and limit our exposure to it. There’s a parallel to the Christian life here as well. When you aren’t prepared for the world and you spend to much time in it, the world can have an adverse affect on you just like the cold does. If you fail to meet with the Lord and his people on a regular basis you will start to loose some feelings. If you neglect these warning signs, you could end up with spiritual frost bite! There’s no shortage of testimonies from those who stayed away to long and now have some lasting scars to show for it. So don’t get to far away from the fire.
Even the Apostle Paul had this desire for fellowship. He wrote in Romans 1:11-12 “For I long to see you,…that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” He knew that his presence would be for their encouragement and they would likewise encourage him. That is the way church works. It is beneficial to attend regularly for encouragement and to be encouragement to others. As the world grows colder and colder toward God it is comforting to know we have a warm church to attend.
I have recently observed the chatter of church goers online criticizing churches who are not meeting Sunday morning Dec 25 at their usual time because it’s Christmas. To which some proudly boast “We have church every Sunday and especially on Jesus’s birthday!” or “We won’t compromise with the worldly traditions!” At first glance they seemed to hold the spiritual high ground. This led me to contemplate a fresh and a new the validity of the claim that a church must meet every Sunday and especially on a holiday.
First, let us ponder the Jesus’s birthday claim. “If you love Jesus, you’ll go to church on his birthday” they said. #1 Is Dec 25 his real birthday? #2 Are we instructed to keep his birthday? #3 If so, why don’t we go to church every year on Dec 25 instead of just the years that the 25th falls on Sunday? #4 Why doesn’t the Bible give us his exact birth date if it’s so important? #5 When did the celebration of Christmas even start?
Secondly, let’s ponder the Lord’s day. #1 Have you ever missed a Sunday for anything other than illness? Maybe for vacations, traveling to visit family, work, or other responsibilities? #2 Does our church only hold one service a week? #3 Do you attend every single service of every week? #4 Is it mandatory that the assembly have to meet on Sunday? #5 Is there ever a legitimate reason to miss a Lord’s day service other than illness?
Paul actually answers this dilemma in Rom 14:5 “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” I’m not going to engage the online Scribes over this issue. He is already “fully persuaded in his own mind.” But before you take up criticizing our church calendar, ponder those two paragraphs of questions above and think of what you will doing Christmas morning. I’ll venture to say that you’ll spend it with your close family and that you’ll have Jesus’s birth in mind as you go thru the festivities. Therefore I don’t see the harm of a healthy church spending Christmas morning with their families this year or in 2022, 2033, 2039, 2044 and 2050. If you still “esteemeth one day above another:” we’ll meet at 5:00 pm Christmas Eve.
As I sat in my deer stand one evening last week reading 1 Cor 13 I decided to pray for every member of our church. I do this often but this time I decided to simply thank God for each person’s individual qualities. I pictured each of you sitting in your unofficial “assigned seat” as I pondered your best qualities such as faithfulness, generosity, service, meekness, devotion, knowledge, love, wisdom and encouragement and praised the Lord for gifting each of you in these unique ways.
As you know from our study of 1 Corinthians, we are all equal but we are not all the same. Some excel in areas where others lack and vise versa. While I tried to honestly confess the individual strengths that I have witnessed in each person’s life some of the same good graces kept getting repeated. As I prayed I found myself thanking God for every person’s gentle spirit and love for one another. By the time I finished the prayer I realized that everyone here loves each other. Everyone has a genuine care and a real concern for his brother or sister at Lee Creek.
Now I have been saying and preaching this for years. Just last week in describing our church to someone I said “We’re all on the same page and we love each other. That’s what makes Lee Creek so unique.” But simply knowing something is true and understanding why it is true is two different things. This kind of mutual love and care is not something that is only taught or demonstrated and then everyone just goes out and does it. I’ve heard it said that the church takes on the personality of it’s pastor: “If your friendly, they’ll be friendly.” While that may be true to a degree, this is much deeper than that. You can’t make people truly love each other. It can be a real chore convincing some people to be just be civil. I know, I’ve tried.
This kind of love is only born from above. God must plant it in our hearts. Christ spoke of this kind of love in JN 13:35 as the indicator of true Christianity. Rom 5 says “because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” This love is more than a human emotion, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. No man made program can achieve this level of commitment.
It wasn’t until I prayed with the single desire of Thanksgiving for every member that I realized why the entire church shares this love. God has worked in each and every one of us to accomplish this kind of unity. The real heart beat of every healthy church is not the pastor or the fine people that attend, it’s God. As we enter Thanksgiving and begin to ponder all the different “things” that we are thankful for, let us trace all these gifts back to their source: God.
My thoughts on this subject were quickly interrupted by a young 8 point that came trotting down the ridge toward me. Thank the Lord! I got him!