How do you walk into church? If it’s like many of us, you don’t give it much thought. Get out of the car (with spouse and kids in tow if you have them), toss out a few greetings on the way in, grab a bulletin, scan the sanctuary and hope no one is sitting in your regular seats, perhaps noting the location of a person you’d rather avoid, and choose a spot. There doesn’t seem to be much more to it than that. But it’s actually not so straightforward.
What’s your attitude and motivation when you walk into church on any given Sunday? Why did you come to worship that day?
You may have walked in with the joyful expectation of meeting with God and your brothers and sisters in Christ. Then again, you may have arrived with the routine apathy of going through the motions yet another week, not really expecting much of anything. You may have come expecting to be entertained or inspired. You may be frazzled from just having wrangled your children into the car and losing your temper on the drive over. If you think of church as merely an opportunity for personal worship, you probably walked in not wanting to interact with people very much. If you think church is something you have to do to stay on God’s good side, you’ll get in and get out as soon as possible.
In a short booklet called How to Walk Into Church, Tony Payne makes the point that “how you walk into church will be determined by what you think church is, and what you think you’re doing there.” He reminds us that “church” is the people, not the building or an event (like worship), that God’s eternal purpose in Christ is to save you and me through Christ in order to gather a spiritual family who gathers around his throne to worship together. And although worship is to be focused on God, you cannot separate a focus on God with a concern for people, and so how you think about and interact with “the very ordinary and decidedly non-heavenly bunch of people that get together every Sunday” has everything to do with your experience and worship of God.
So why do we walk into church on any given Sunday? Because we were made for it. God’s plan to save us is to include us in a great spiritual family that worships together around his throne. We belong together around God. Second, we need it. We live in a world that opposes God and is often hostile to his people. We struggle with indwelling sin. We need the reminders and encouragement from those who follow Christ with us to strengthen us along the journey. And so we should come with the expectation of meeting God, being encouraged in the gospel once again, and with the purpose of being an encouragement to those we meet there.
Payne gives many helpful suggestions for how to do that, and I may share some of them in the future, but for now, I’ll leave you with this. Be intentional when you walk into church. Prepare to walk into church by praying for the service ahead of time, for the people you’ll meet there, and for God to use you to be an encouragement to them. Sing with gusto, focus on the prayers and preaching, be mindful of others, knowing that when we gather for worship, we gather together through the Spirit with the angels in heaven and all the saints who have gone before us in the heavenly presence of God.
Steve Sage is our Pastor of Discipleship. He sometimes wonders if God, in his sense of humor, called him to be a pastor to force him to sit in the front of the church so he pays more attention.