This weeks "thought" has to do with a problem that is becoming increasingly worse and very alarming to those who love and cherish the Church of Jesus Christ, as well as it's God-given mission to the world. It's the lack of commitment among believers to gather together for worship, sharing, instruction, encouragement, accountability and joint-effort in carrying out the commission Christ gave to His Body to bring the gospel to those across the street and across the sea.
There is a very good reason the author of Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing..." That is, let us not give up meeting together as the gathered church, or the congregation of the faithful, for worship and celebration. (Yes, it was even a problem back then!) And the reason he called them to gather was not a legalistic effort to gain more of God's favor by doing so, but because of what such gathering does for us, and the others in the body, in terms of our spiritual health and the strengthening of the Church. In the immediate context verse 23 suggests it helps us, "hold unswervingly to the hope we profess." Verse 24 suggests it's one of the ways we can, "spur one another on toward love and good deeds." And the rest of verse 25 suggests that our gatherings do the opposite of what being absent does -- it enables us to, "encourage one another, and all the more as we see the Day approaching."
My presence (and yours) on a Sunday morning, encourages others. It gives us an opportunity to carry out our God-ordained ministry of serving, encouraging, and bearing the burdens of others. If I view my gathering with others as I should (as a time to minister encouragement to others through my words, heart-felt worship, prayers, listening ears, and actions) I have the blessed honor and privilege of being able to love others with brotherly affection, help to the struggling, listen to the lonely, assist the elderly, encourage the young, and share in people's growth as believers. So let me share the whole verse: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, BUT LET US ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER, and all the more as we see the Day approaching."
That leads us to today's entry from the blog of researcher, Thom S. Rainer, entitled, "Five Reasons Church Members Attend Church Less Frequently." (His small but very good book, "I Am A Church Member," only 77 pages long, is also a great read for further discussion on the reality and effects of this phenomena.) Enjoy.
FIVE REASONS CHURCH MEMBERS ATTEND CHURCH LESS FREQUENTLY
"About 20 years ago, a church member was considered "active" in the church if he or she attended three times a week. Today, a church member is considered active in the church if he or she attends three times a month. Something is wrong with this picture. For 2,000 years, the local church, as messy as it is, has been God’s place for believers to gather, worship, minister, and be accountable to one another.
Yet every time I write something about church membership and attendance, I inevitably hear cries of “legalism” or “the church is not a building” or “the church is a messed up institution.” But the local church -- the messy local church -- is what God has used as His primary instrument to make disciples. But commitment is waning among many church members.
1.) We are minimizing the importance of the local church. When we do, we are less likely to attend. A few drops of rain may keep many folks from attending church, but it won’t stop them from sitting three hours in the downpour watching their favorite football team (and often pay a hefty price to do so).
2.) We worship the idols of activities. Many members will replace a day in their church with a day at kid’s soccer or softball games or sleeping off the hangover of the previous day’s activities.
3.) We take a lot of vacations from church. I am not anti-vacation. But 20 years or so ago, we would make certain we attended a church where we were taking a vacation. Today, many members take a vacation from church.
4.) We do not have high expectations of our members. Any purposeful organization expects and gets much of it members, whether it’s a sports team or a civic organization. It is ironic that most churches do not come close to being a high expectation church.
5.) We make infrequent attendees leaders in our churches. When we do, we are making a clear statement that even the leaders of the church do not have to be committed to the place they supposedly lead.
I heard a leader of an organization tell the members he did not want them if they were not fully committed. They could not be AWOL if they wanted to be a part of the group. He expected full commitment [Sounds a bit like Jesus - Luke 14:25-33]. He is a high school football coach. And all the team members follow that high expectation of commitment. If we truly expect to make a difference in our communities, and our families, members of local churches need to have at least the same level of commitment as members of sports teams. After all, the mission of each local church is far more important. At least it should be..."
One of my favorite hymns since becoming a believer is one written in 1800 by Timothy Dwight, "I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord." You don't hear it much any more, and many would even struggle to sing it if they were required to be totally truthful and honest before doing so. Yet, although the church is messy, and it's members are (as the Word assures us) sinners in the process of being sanctified, and thus there are and always will be problems (as in any human gathering of diverse souls), it is still the Bride Christ loves. The ones He chose to join to Himself in holy union. The objects of His sacrificial joy and affection, and His chosen means to continue carrying out His work on earth (feeble as we often are at that task).
That's why this hymn resonates with me. Because when I am loving His church, I am loving those He loves, has redeemed, has laid down His life, and is preparing for an eternity in His presence (Eph. 5:25-27). See if you could sing these words:
"I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord. The House of Thine abode.
The Church our blest Redeemer saved, with His own precious blood.
I love Thy Church, O God! Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye, and graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall; For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be giv'n, Till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy, I prize her heav'nly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows, and hymns of love and praise."
Oh for more members of the Bride who felt the same way about the Bride! It would be "self-love" of the best kind! Not because the Church is perfect (it never will be, at least in this age), but because in doing so we are loving those Christ chose as His Bride. We are doing as He commanded when He said to His disciples: "Love one another as I have love you."
Just more food for thought...
In His Service, Pastor Jeff