Going to Church Every Week
Categories: Heathers Blog
Part of being a Pastor is that going to Church on a Sunday isn’t an option. You get paid to do it and it’s expected. So hauling yourself out of bed and getting organized to leave the house early enough, is the same routine as going to work on a Monday morning. It isn’t an option. You just do it. You don’t think about it. In fact, if anything, it’s the easiest day to get going because there’s an element of adrenaline and excitement. You will perform and you will present what you have spent hours preparing during the week:- the music, the teaching, the audio-visual presentations and the kid’s talk.
There are four precious weeks a year when this is not the case. We call them annual leave. These are blissfully spent staying up as late as you like on Saturday and then relishing a little sleep-in, deciding over breakfast which Church to visit this week and deciding that the Sunday evening service option is looking pretty appealing. Well, at least these are annual leave Sundays BK (before kids).
Last Sunday was the first Sunday, apart from the annual leave oasis, that I was not expected to be in Church in ten years. This time it wasn’t called annual leave it was called parental leave, which is not as much of an oasis; more of a lifestyle change. I am 39 weeks pregnant and officially off duty. For the past four years I have been employed as a Pastor and prior to that, as part of my preparation for ordination I was undertaking student placements in various congregations. Last week, for the first time in a long time, I had a choice. No one expected me to turn up. No one was counting on it. My job right now is incubating and becoming a Mum … and it’s up to me to choose how and when Church comes into this equation.
It’s easy to lose touch when you are employed by a Church with the experience of Church for the average person. Usually I spend the whole week thinking about Sunday and considering the roster, the ministry time, the needs of the congregation and how we can be more welcoming. It’s part of my DNA. But for most people, Sunday is another roster, another reason to work on getting kids dressed and in the car, another diary commitment to balance against birthday party invitations, deadlines at work, housework and the nagging feeling that you should visit your mother-in-law more often. Suddenly, last Sunday morning, I remembered what that was like.
Thoughts began to enter my mind that I haven’t entertained for years: ‘How much time will this take up? I’m sure God will understand if I decide to have a week off and just rest. I can pray at home. I wonder who is preaching today? Who will I have to talk to when I get there? Maybe I could just skip a week, after all, with all the volunteer hours I’ve been putting in, I’ve earned it. There is so much to do today and I’m tired. I hope Church doesn’t have to take up too much of my time.’ Then, the worst of all of my thoughts was the subtle pride that crept in that if I chose to go to Church, that made me a good person and God would be pleased with me.
As I was driving to Church … Well, I’m still the Pastor’s wife, so, not going wasn’t that much of an option in reality … I found myself contemplating what was going on inside of me. There was this old familiar nagging feeling, that my time could be better spent on a Sunday, than driving to a Church service which might not be all that good. I had this sense that there were better and more important things to do, and as I was becoming aware of that feeling God spoke to me clearly … and said …
As in, ‘You don’t have something better to do.’
I started to laugh at myself and God and all his bluntness. It was so true … I’m really kidding myself if I think I have something better to do than go and spend time in his presence, with his people, opening my heart and mind to be transformed by him. My life and all of its priorities just isn’t as important as my eternal destiny and my relationship with the Father who made me, the brother who died for me and the Spirit who leads me to my heavenly home. In fact, what sort of volunteer, employee, wife, mother or friend can I even be, without him, really??
I remembered that I actually really enjoy going to Church and that the nagging feeling that it’s a drag is a lie. I don’t really feel like that. I mean sure, there are weeks when it’s more of a discipline than others. There are weeks when I’m feeling less spiritual than others and less like interacting with the strange mix of people who make up the Body of Christ than others, but on the whole, I love it, really. I always have. Are you allowed to say that?
I enjoy Church. I love the way singing and dancing together, however awkwardly, takes us to a deeper intimacy with Jesus and each other. I love hearing from the children and to find out what God is up to in people’s lives. I love that no matter how tired, broken or lost I am, I can still walk myself up to the communion table, put my hands out and receive the love of God. Most of all, I love that pivotal moment in the service when the scripture is read out and taught and the mood shifts from worrying about a hundred trivial and more serious things, to getting that Jesus is real, his Word is powerful and his salvation works.
The idea that Church is a boring drag and that we have something better to do is a lie … at least in the congregation I belong to. If it’s not a lie for you; if your Church service is dead boring and irrelevant every week, seriously, change Churches. Go somewhere where you won’t have that excuse.
I wonder where the idea came from that we have so much more worthwhile ways to spend our time? I was interested to read Peter Carolane’s recent blog about this question, encouraging Christians to rediscover weekly temple gatherings: http://thepeterblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/the-strangely-new-radical-discipleship-choice-to-attend-church-services-most-sundays/
It seems to me that the pervasive notion in our culture that going to Church on a Sunday isn’t that important and that you deserve some sort of a medal if you actually do it, comes out of a mistaken understanding of what being a Christian is all about. We have made it about attendance, when really it’s about being an agent of God’s world and a leader in this world. God made us all to be leaders, to have dominion over this earth. When we give our lives to him, he commissions us to fulfil this destiny by the power of his Spirit. He calls us to work on our character, through the discipline of repentance and immersing ourselves in his Word and truth. He gifts us and pursues us to become servants of others and to make disciples by sharing our faith. He skills us and refines us, by challenging us to be a part of his family, the Church, where we will be supported, stretched and challenged to become all that he has made us to be.
We have set the bar too low. Someone somewhere told everyone that being a Christian means attending Church on a Sunday: pay, pray and obey. Sit in the pew, put $50 in the plate and be an ‘upstanding citizen’. The Pastor will do the rest: all the leading and all the more serious stuff of teaching people how to be disciples and telling people about Jesus. If we buy into this lie, then the bar is so unbelievably low. To be a follower of Jesus all you have to do is turn up once a week and therefore … If I’m on a journey of becoming that person, maybe for now, I’ll just go once a month or once a fortnight, and watch Songs of Praise on the ABC occasionally.
If weekly attendance is the highest form of Christian discipleship, there’s not much to work towards, in fact, may as well set the bar lower, and focus on being the best parent or the best student or the best whatever I can be. Yep, the Church has reaped the result of the clericalisation of its community life. We told people that all they have to do is turn up, and now, they think it’s a big achievement if they do that.
At St Catharine’s we are upping the ante. We’re saying, ‘Here’s what being a disciple really looks like … die to yourself and give God everything’. In terms of time commitment, we are encouraging four things:
- Daily time reading the Bible and praying
- Weekly Church attendance
- Monthly (at least) time learning with other Christians (whether it’s a Triplet, a small group or a short course) and..
- Monthly (at least) time serving with other Christians. This means sharing the love of Jesus with strangers, by being part of an outreach that you do with other followers, as a team, just as Jesus sent his people into the world in teams.
This is the challenge we are putting out this year. Step it up. Give him everything.
Not all of these activities need necessarily be linked directly to your local Church community. You might already work for a Christian organization or volunteer in a para-church organization like Scripture Union. You might volunteer on a local CRE team. Or, you might join an outreach group at your Church. We currently have three on the go: a music team, a team that runs free community dinners and a new team starting up of women supporting women to move out of sex work into gainful employment. You will find in every Church community, wherever you are, that there are plenty of different opportunities you can take up to learn alongside others and serve alongside others.
We don’t have a better way to spend our time. There is nothing more worthwhile or more worthy of our time. I hope that I can remember this when I am up to my armpits in nappies and sleep deprivation. I know that Jesus will come alongside me and say, “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” (Luke 10.41-42)
Anyway, our baby is due very soon. We will soon see how the weekly attendance goes between feeds and sleeps. Stay tuned. Further reports will follow.