|Photo: KyleWiTh (Creative Commons)|
This all-too-common exhortation spills out of our mouths at the dinner table, directed towards our children, who are eyeing the green vegetables on their plates with looks of aversion and repugnance.
Like it? Good for me? No thanks. It's written all over their faces.
I'll sometimes see the same faces on people regarding the word "church." In conversations with people ambivalent about Christianity, the idea of attending church service is an inconvenience at best and anger-inducing torture at worst. They've been burned by Christians or have terrible childhood memories of boring and irrelevant church services. Why bother?
But it's not just people who aren't Christians. For many people claiming that spiritual title, the church service is viewed as a necessary evil. They seem to view the church service in a negative way, like spinach--it tastes awful, but it's good for you, I suppose. It's something they put up with, something that seems to be done out of propriety or in search of an experience of some sort. There's always something that could be better, some program that could be offered, something "I just don't like about it."
I read an online comment recently about a man who left the institutional church because he "doesn't get anything out of it." A teen once told me we needed to rethink our youth group because it was just "too churchy." An Old Testament professor once expressed to me a similar quandary--he goes to church services because he knows it's good for him, not because he finds life there.
Let's be honest: in the North American evangelical church, you can attend just about any Sunday service and find essentially the same thing: a few worship songs, some announcements and prayer for an offering, a 30-45 minute sermon, maybe a closing song or two, communion (if we're feeling particularly Jesus-y or it's that time of the month), then dismissed. It can become rote, a mechanical practice that occurs at the beginning of each week just because...well...we've always done it this way. (Or so it feels).
Is the church service just spiritual spinach?
Is it an awful-tasting reality that Just. Has. To. Be. This. Way?
Why bother with large church services, programs, and events?
And why do brand-new Christians seem to love them?
I can think of two awesome people who are new to faith and have been attending our church services for the past year. Christianity is a completely new and thrilling venture for them. They are excited to be in the church, eager to dive in and serve, learning and embracing the ways of Jesus. It's as if they've been living their entire lives without the life-giving sustenance of healthy food (like spinach), and have only just discovered the taste of the bread of life. It's those who have been going to church for a long time or avoid it altogether that seem to find it less-than-valuable.
What's the church service for? Worship in community. Sharing the bread and wine at the communion table. Remembering who Jesus is and what He's done for us on the cross. A weekly invitation to dive deeper into the Scriptures, meditate on them and allow them to shape our thoughts and practices. A rallying point for the people on mission with Jesus as they scatter throughout the week in order to live out the gospel in their various contexts. A time to weep together, pray together, celebrate together, meet practical needs together, and follow Jesus together.
The key words: Jesus, and together.
Maybe the church service has more to offer. Maybe it doesn't have to be a rote life-draining chore. If the church service included all of the above things, if a church service was a place of rest and renewal and grace each week, perhaps it'd feel less like eating spinach. With a mindset shift and a willingness to embrace change, we can make it less of a necessary evil and more of a life-giving gathering in community, where people are spiritually challenged, refreshed, and reminded of the goodness of Jesus.
He's the bread of life.
He's better than spinach. And I like spinach.
Let us hold strong to the confession of our hope, never wavering, since the One who promised it to us is faithful. Let us consider how to inspire each other to greater love and to righteous deeds, not forgetting to gather as a community, as some have forgotten, but encouraging each other, especially as the day of His return approaches. (Hebrews 10:23-25, The Voice)