Arthur’s post about Christian belief vs. practice raised a discussion about how we understand belonging to a church community. It got me thinking about why I’ve persisted with church. Here’s one reason I’m part of a church: for the inconvenience.
It sounds counter-intuitive. We often choose a church because we like the music/preaching/people/demographic/suburb/pastor/style/theology, etc. There’s a rightness to considering those things. But in the end, each of us can probably get those from other sources too. Buy a Tim Hughes CD; listen to a favourite preacher online; hang out with Christian friends; get a mentor; read a theology book.
Doing so will probably be pretty spiritually nourishing. We may even feel more nourished than we do at church. And it’s heaps more convenient than church: less opportunity for hurt/messy relationships/wrong emphasis/heresy/boredom/hypocrisy. But I think that’s actually a loss.
I go to church because it forces me to hang out with people I don’t like that much; to listen to preaching I don’t always agree with; to sing songs that don’t do it for me; to listen to people who annoy me. Of course, that’s not all that church is, there are good things too! But this added dimension of inconvenience does something to me.
Being hurt gives me the opportunity to forgive. Messy relationships teach me my part in hurting others. Wrong emphasis or heresy compels me to choose what is or isn’t worth fighting about. Inconvenience might not feel nourishing but it does grow me. It forces me to love people, and not just people I like, but people I don’t like, who hurt me.
Going to church doesn’t make me better than Christians who don’t. To tell the truth, I’m with them. I’d rather not! Perhaps we could argue that we can learn these lessons elsewhere. But I wonder whether doing it with other Christians reminds us that we’re following Jesus who chose to love the un-lovable and inconvenienced himself right out of heaven to do it. And I wonder whether it’s part of his grace to me that he invites me to follow him in doing so, even though I am also a great inconvenience.
Categories: Written by Tamie
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.
Man, what church do you go to? it sounds sucky!
Ivy Beckwith makes a very similar observation in ‘Formational Children’s Ministry’: inconvenience is the first characteristic of worship which makes it a vehicle for spiritual formation (there are others). I think you are right.
Great post! I’m right with you. But does the cost of that lesson outweigh the benefit?
I’m not sure cost/benefit is the way to assess it Tom.
Imagine if Jesus had used that sort of criteria in seeking us – he’d still be up in heaven! After all, the gospel is Christ crucified – foolishness as many see it, and as Paul boldly claims.
Good point :).
Not to excessively nitpick, but you actually do seem to apply a cost-benefit approach:
“And [alternatives are] heaps more convenient than church: less opportunity for hurt/messy relationships/wrong emphasis/heresy/boredom/hypocrisy. But I think that’s actually a loss.”
“Inconvenience might not feel nourishing but it does grow me.”
So, you count the growth as a benefit that outweighs the inconvenience.
But I take your point, that even if it didn’t, the nature of the realisation may transcend, rather than outweigh the value of, the costs.
What about Hebrews 10:25 – that you want to encourage people? That mainly why i go to church – to encourage people!
I’m disappointed that neither the initial post, nor the first 5 comments, mention anything about the clear central NT reason for going to church: to serve others!
“get those from other sources too. Buy a Tim Hughes CD; listen to a favourite preacher online; hang out with Christian friends; get a mentor; read a theology book”
… all GET stuff. Sure, if all I want is to get, stay home etc. Only go to church if you want to give. Or if you’ve heard Jesus’ call, and are praying that God will make you want to give!
This discussion, like most blogging, comes in the context of a particular discussion, responding to a particular group of people and their concerns. It’s not an exhaustive theology of church. :)