What is Church?

This week I’m preaching on the importance of going to church. As a pastor, this is a somewhat self-serving sermon, but I think I’ve gotten up enough courage to preach the sermon that needs to be preached no matter if it’s self-serving or not. What’s more important is that it’s God-serving!

  1. Society tells us that church is no longer necessary, and for many people church is in fact damaging. Self-preservation tells us to don’t do things that are unnecessary, and to avoid doing things that are harmful. Thus, going to church falls low on many people’s lists of things to do.
  2. We live in an entertainment culture that tells us to only do what we enjoy. Thus, the appeal of megachurches which make worship highly enjoyable. Personally, I think this is something that the more Pentecostal/Evangelical Black Churches do very well. Worship is high-energy and loud, making it very entertaining for someone who doesn’t come regularly to the service (like me!). Mainline churches don’t do entertaining well. Let’s stop pretending that we do. We don’t do entertaining, we do “good, clean, and wholesome.” I asked a very close friend once how to make church fun, and her response was, “Church is like going to the dentist. You can turn the dentist’s office into a pool party, but it’s not going to make going to the dentist any fun.” We do not need to add entertaining distractions to church, we need to make church more meaningful than a trip to the dentist’s office!
  3. I can do church by myself. This is something that is particularly American, but not exclusively. My own spirituality is better than your spirituality. The truth is, we need each other. And we are not better for being unwilling to come together despite our differences; it takes courage to confront those differences and benefit from community.
  4. Religion is worth discussing. I think the current prevailing attitude that “Everything’s fine as long as you keep your religion out of it” is fundamentally misguided. My religion is part of who I am, and your religion is part of who you are. Discounting God does not make one enlightened, it only makes living less vivid.

These things being said, I think church is an imperfect, damaging, boring, and difficult place. But it is a place worth being. Church is not only a place where you can get hurt, it is a place where you can help to heal others. Yes, it’s boring, but only because we don’t know how to be exciting and we’re trying as hard as we can to figure it out – do you have any ideas? Church is difficult because being Church is a vague concept, just as being human is. Luckily, both of those tasks revolve around the same central concept: understanding our relation to the universe, to the Divine Being that has created and is creating the universe. This is also called theology, and it’s what we do every Sunday morning, for better or worse. We try to get a little bit closer to God, to the universe, to others, and to ourselves.
Each church community has a different take on how to be Church. It becomes easier to get along with your particular church if you understand that this church is just one way of being Church (even if they think they are the way of being Church). They’re not perfect, and they will tend to get better the more people that are involved. So involve yourself! Speak your mind! If you’re new (i.e., attending for just a month or two), this is especially true. And if you make their lives more difficult, that’s just God’s way of saying, “Hey! This church stuff is complicated, and if it’s getting simpler, there’s something missing!” I guess you know what I think about simplistic theologies, then – though Occam’s razor does have its place.

So Support Your Local Church. Get involved in the Mess. And you may come closer to God through all of it.