When I was a teen, I bought into the very fashionable assumption that the local church would only cramp my style and put a barrier to “authentic spirituality.” I stopped attending for a while until I got wind of a hip, cool church across town that was full of attractive, young, relevant people. The music was great, the preaching was edgy, and the atmosphere was exciting.
For months, I drove all the way across town, nearly an hour each way, to attend services at the church that “got it.” It was a booming place, with six fully packed services each weekend. And if I arrived late, I was turned away because the fire department was keeping a close eye on the safety capacity.
It all ended for me one week, when the pastor said something that disturbed me. I remember it something like this:
For those of you who come here every week thinking attendance makes you good with God, you’re wrong. Some of you are driving from the other side of the metroplex, and are not really connected to the church at all. If you’re just coming here, not involved in a small group, not serving with nursery, parking, or ushering — if you’re just here to hear the band or listen to me talk — go somewhere else. You’re a leech. And quite frankly, we could use your seat.
That was a harsh thing for me to hear, but I can attest now that it was a most loving gift to me. That was my last weekend at that church, and I began searching for a local body where I could serve in a context of real relationships.
More Than Showing Up
I continue to grow in my love for the local church. One of the ways God has grown my love for the church is by teaching me that worship is more than showing up.
How amazing is God’s design in creating the church! God could immediately and directly pour his grace into us, giving us all the nourishment we need for this Christian life. But in his wisdom, he chooses to operate through people, not just private devotions. And specially so when local church is gathered in worship.
Think about it, the last time you sensed God’s powerful intervention in your life in a corporate worship gathering, consider how many people God used to deliver that grace to you.
- It may have been a preacher who spent days studying a passage to explain it clearly to you.
- It may have been a musician who spent hours practicing songs to make them stirring and musically satisfying.
- It may have been a songwriter who poured over biblical truths to articulate them with beautiful poetry.
- It may have been a parking-lot attendant sweating through his shirt so that your minivan, and so many others, could navigate congested parking lot between services.
- It may have been a kitchen worker who cut up pastries so that your stomach isn’t making noise even though you forgot breakfast.
- Or it may have been the faithful saint sitting beside you raising their hands and encouraging you that some truths are worth getting excited about.
In a thousand ways, the last time God poured grace over you in a weekend service, consider how many people were involved in his decisive work.
Receive from God, Give to Others
I marvel that God meets me in profound ways through un-extraordinary people who do more than just show up for Sunday worship. And it fills me with great joy to think that through my participation, someone else might go home saying “God really met with us today.”
I’m glad I received that harsh word so many years ago, but maybe you don’t need to be called a leech to see the gathering of the church is about more than just showing up. Gather this weekend expecting to receive from God in a hundred different ways, through dozens of different people. And consider how God might have you give of your gifts so that he can bless others through you. Receive from him, and remember the words of Jesus as you orient on others: It is more blessed to give than to receive.