You heard me.
I’ve used the phrase a couple times in recent weeks. I must admit, I like the shock value. But there’s another sentence that comes right after that. Come to Jesus.
The problem I keep finding is with people’s connotation of the word “church.” If I tell my wife I’m going over to church, she knows I’m heading for a particular building at a specific address. When the family gets up on Sunday morning, they know it’s time for church – a worship service at a scheduled time. We use the word in the name of our congregation and our Synod.
Where the meaning and import get bogged down is when we use the phrase, “Go to church.” Do I have to go to church? Where do you go to church? I go to church regularly. To a lot of people – especially young people – we start turning “church” into an act of drudgery, a legal obligation to maintain some sense of minimum identity. If we show up once in awhile, we hope that God and Grandma will still like us.
If you find yourself in that mindset, then I need to take you back to my headline: Don’t go to church.
In the last couple years leading up to COVID, Christians who described themselves as “regular worship attenders” actually attended an average of 1.6 times per month. Since COVID, that number has dropped to about once every six weeks. God’s description of “regular” is once a week.
To be fair, a significant number of Christians have become regular viewers of online streaming of worship. By our calculations, we average over 60 people a week online at SHLC. This is a tremendous blessing for our shut-ins, or those with medical issues (particularly with slippery winters), or those who work odd hours. It helps those who went up north for the weekend or down south for the winter to stay at least a little connected to their spiritual family.
But that should be an alternative born out of necessity, not a regular habit for the able-bodied. Most of the older folks I visit are glad they can at least be a part of worship via online, but they’d much rather be there in person.
That’s a key element right there. I’ll come back to it.
So why do otherwise believing children of God, who know who God is and what He expects, act like time with God is optional? Think about it: If I tell the woman I supposedly love that I’m only going to spend time with her once every six weeks, for an hour or so, because I’ve got other things to do, is she going to accept that? God doesn’t, either.
I believe it comes down to three fundamental truths about so many modern day church goers (if you follow me here, you’ll know that I do not use that term as a compliment):
This is why it really is a matter of life and death that we continually come to Jesus. We need His mercy and grace. We need His strength and comfort. We don’t just decide to experience these things, like we can flip a switch and BOOM: now we believe, now we survive. He wraps these gifts up and delivers them to us in His soul-saving and life-giving Word, in His real Body and Blood given and shed for us for the forgiveness of every sin. We return to the Source.
And He places these precious, priceless divine blessings right where we know how to find them: in His House, at His altar, in His presence. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28). Jesus is saying, “Here I am! Let’s spend some time together, and I’ll take care of you.” He shows us His cross again, just as a reminder. “This is how much I love you. This is what I’m willing to do for you.”
The heart of worship is not anything we contribute. We’re not doing God a favor. He’s not impressed with our singing or our praying or our offering. We bring Him our garbage. And Jesus gets rid of it.
Every. Single. Week.
That’s what I get out of it, coming to Jesus. But there’s one more thing, which I mentioned earlier. God created us as social animals. We need each other. He calls each one of us by the Gospel of Jesus, and He gathers us into a community of believers, His Family. Jesus knows there’s strength in numbers. I love our Family time. We feed off each other when we share this little corner of the Kingdom. There’s no app for that.
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. (Heb. 10:25-26).
In our Question of the Day segment in confirmation class, one of the kids asked, “Is it a sin to skip church if we’re really busy?” The short answer is, Yes: 3rd Commandment. Luther said if you don’t partake of Word and Sacrament at least four times a year, don’t call yourself a Christian. But don’t just take your kids to church; bring them to Jesus.
Here's a simple fact: if I worship once every six weeks, my kids will worship once every six months. Their kids won’t worship at all. Is that what we want for our grandkids?
Come to Jesus.
Pastor Steve Kline was installed as Senior Pastor at SHLC on May 25, 2014, after serving 12 years as Senior Pastor at Zion in Wayside, WI. He was ordained in 1992 and previously served congregations in Pulaski and Hales Corners.