What if you and I, who are disciples of Jesus, viewed our weekly commitment to gathering with the church as a spiritual discipline?
As church attendance amongst millennials continues to decline in Canada I often wonder if we have actually taught the church to view our gatherings together as something that shapes us. Mark Sayers, in his brilliant new book Disappearing Church, confronts the idea that we are often looking as individuals for something spectacular in our church gatherings. Ingrained deep inside of us is the pursuit for something that will benefit or entertain us and give us immediate self-gratification. Sayers says:
“We get the idea that making the choice to wake up early and read our Bibles or to commit to regularly giving away our money to a charity or to fast may not always be pleasurable, but in the discipline of these things that we become more Christlike. Yet we expect church to always be pleasurable, enriching, and exciting. Maybe the limitations of church, the discipline of regular attendance, the commitment it requires, also teach us to be Christlike. Maybe we need to re-imagine church in our minds as a spiritual discipline, which teaches us the value of delayed gratification, of personally investing in change, of becoming more like Jesus.”
If you're asking me I think we need to be more honest… Our church gatherings may not always be pleasurable, enriching and exciting.
Am I allowed to say that?
Now, this may be hard to hear, especially in a culture that wants to entertain us on every level. From movies and TV to smartphones we all know we have the world at our fingertips. Yet our church gatherings in many ways rebels against consumerism. What if we were more honest? Sometimes being apart of a community isn’t that spectacular. It isn’t always easy to get out of bed and show up. Yet there is something about the weekly rhythm of being with our brothers and sisters that teaches us to be faithful and more like our Messiah. Church gatherings, just like reading the scripture, fasting, giving financially, etc. may not always be fun or feel good but there is something about doing these things that shape us to be more loving, giving and faithfully present. Gathering regularly with the church is a statement that as people who follow Jesus we are more interested in faithfulness than we are feelings.
Sayers goes on to quote Ronald Rolheiser. Rolheiser says,
“Church involvement, when understood properly, does not leave us the option to walk away whenever something happens that we do not like. It is a covenant commitment, like a marriage, and binds us for better or worse… What church community takes away from us is our false freedom to soar unencumbered, like the birds, believing that we are mature, loving, committed, and not blocking out things that we should be seeing. Real churchgoing soon enough shatters this illusion, and gives us no escape, as we find ourselves constantly humbled as our immaturities and lack of sensitivity to the pain of others are reflected off eyes that are honest and unblinking.”
Ultimately, what I am doing when I gather regularly with my brothers and sisters in Jesus is declaring that the sum of my life isn't about me and my individual benefit. It exposes that I am no longer the king of my domain. Gathering is a weekly reminder that I am more than a consumer of Christian goods and services. Instead, I am apart of a community that shapes me.