In our communities, there are no lack of good things to participate in. Churches experience this tension in their communities. Often, Church is viewed as one activity among many activities. There is a tendency to view participation in community activities by church members as missional living – the opportunity to evangelize and minister to the community. I believe this is a good way of looking at community participation.
Even though there is a need to participate in our communities, and more specifically to evangelistically participate in our communities, we ought to not excuse our community participation for our absence from church participation. I believe the best testimony for believers in the community is the priority of gathering as a local body to display the “manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10). In attempts to be evangelistic, church members have missed one of the major purposes of the gathering of the church community – the declaration of the greatness and glory of God which transcends every other gathering and community.
Therefore, in this post, I will provide a concise explanation of what Jesus requires from His people (the church) and why church attendance is important.
1. Jesus Calls His People to a Higher Calling – What does Jesus Require from His People?
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He is calling people into community with Himself and His people. He uses word pictures like “the kingdom of God” and the “sheep fold of God”. He refers to the establishment of the Church, which is the word ekklesia in Greek, and has the idea of a public gathering or community which gathers to worship God. Jesus makes it clear that there is a distinct community and people of God.
Jesus teaches some important principles that ought to be applied to churches and church attendance. I will share two:
- 1. Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Admittedly, this verse specifically has to do with the pursuit of money and the impossibility of serving both the god of money and the God of the Bible. But the application is larger than just that. It is impossible to serve both any other false god and the God of the Bible. Sometimes, we want to be so involved in everything going on in the community that we fail to heed the warning in Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (ESV).” When we put Matthew 6:24 and Hebrews 10:24-25 together, it seems as though there is indeed a way to neglect gathering with the church because we are serving other activities in the community. When we place other activities, even good ones, on or above the level of the gathering of the Church, I think we are coming dangerously close to trying to “serve two masters”.
- 2. Luke 16:10 – “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”
We seek so much to get new people in our doors, even using methods that are borrowed from secular, unChristian ideologies, that we fail to properly disciple and develop the saints who dawn the doors every single Sunday. Churches can be so focused on outward mission that they fail to produce disciples on the inside. Instead, churches ought to exhibit Ephesians 4:11-16:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The “work of the ministry” is clearly intended as a focus of inward growth, or the discipleship and maturity of the saints already there. Paul also says earlier in Ephesians 3:10 about the role of the church in relation to the secular culture around it: “…so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities…(ESV)”
What does that mean? It means churches ought to ensure faithfulness in the little before she can expect to be given more to be faithful with. However, I do not mean to say that faithfulness in little is separate from faithfulness to fulfill the Great Commission. Full faithfulness includes both faithfulness inwardly and faithfulness outwardly. Diminishing either is unfaithfulness.
2. We need Jesus and His Body, not Just Jesus – Why Church Attendance is Important
As stated above, Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (ESV).” These verses provide insight into the importance of not only believing in Jesus, but also attending Church regularly. The last phrase “the Day drawing near” provides the insight on the high level of importance of meeting together. What are the things we ought to do according to these verses?
- Consider – Consideration means thinking, and gospel-centered thinking requires that we transform our minds in order to not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2). We ought to think highly and reasonably when we gather together. This will give us clarity and direction in how to engage in a lost and ungodly world.
- Stir one another up to love – The love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 is the picture of corporate, public love to be displayed in and by the church. When we think highly about the doctrines of God, that knowledge ought to stir us up to the highest standard of love.
- Stir one another up to good works – The book of James is clear – faith without works is dead. Does James differ from Paul? No. It is the other side of the same coin. As we stir each other up to the highest standard of love, that then propels us to good works for each other (inward discipleship) and for our communities (outward mission).
- Dedicating ourselves to our meeting – Consistency is the point here. We ought to not define what is meant as in pure numbers, but a good rule is 10%. I have seen people who consistently miss, and there is always a legitimate excuse. Even though it is legitimate, however, it does not mean it is acceptable or encouraged. What happens when we dedicate ourselves to each other?
- Encouragement – What is the point of encouragement? To build up the body of Christ so that the body of Christ (the Church) can make known the “manifold wisdom of God” to secular culture.
Not only that, but the book of Acts is the story of the people of God expanding by the church of God through discipleship and sending missionaries. In Acts 2:42, we see the gathering being devoted to one another and the teaching, prayer, fellowship, and eating together. What happens as a result? In Acts 2:47, the “Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
What’s my point? The first step to becoming a Great Commission church is to become a devoted to one another church. The greatest evangelistic tool, if evangelism is simply understood as pointing people to who God is, is the gathered body of believers known as the church, and to make this gathering the priority which trumps other priorities.