I love going to a good movie with my family. My boys get excited when a new superhero movie comes out! So I, being the good father that I am, make it a point to indulge my fascination…I mean THEIR fascination with a great adventure story. Imagine with me, if you will, how a day at the movies might look if something like the following were to take place.
The boys are excited about seeing the new movie, and I am obviously giddy about the same, all the while Stef is grinning and bearing it. We all load up in the vehicle, each donned with our superhero attire, not mom of course, she’s the adult in the group after all. We travel to the theater, reminiscing our favorite scenes from the previous comic book-movie installment and the post credit scene that left everyone anxiously awaiting the next leg of the story. Finally we’ve arrived and we make our way to the theater. Tickets are purchased, we enter the magical land of big screens and spend our savings on buttery popcorn and the obligatory sour, mint, and cinnamon candies. At last comes the time that we enter into the sanctuary of the silver screen and we each depart from our family group, going on our own way into theaters number 2, number 6, number 9 and number 14.
Where did I lose you? Why on earth would we, with so much anticipation, investment, and excitement traverse such a detailed course only to enjoy the pleasures of the movie apart from each other? Great question! But families do something of this nature very often albeit not necessarily with movies, but with corporate worship, and quite frankly it’s time that we take a closer look at this routine and examine a possible need for change.
Church shopping, hopping, blending…call it what you will; however, I would offer to you that it is reckless and dangerous to the family. You may be thinking to yourself how bold and ostentatious this assertion may be; nevertheless, I make such a statement with great love and concern for the family and the church that we are called to be. Now, before you quit reading out of disdain for this bold statement, I ask that you hang with me just a bit longer. Please hear my heart as it is truly for our families to fully experience the greatness of God, together!
First, allow me to say to those that have a church home but continue to “hop” from one church to another- I get it, but…
I get that we need community. I get that our children go to school with congregants of many different churches and we may feel the need to have them worship alongside each other. However, I would remind us all of the course set for us in Deuteronomy 6:7 “You shall teach [my commandments] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Therefore, there’s really not a biblical emphasis placed on framing our worship around our friends, but there’s a blatant command for our families to worship together. How can this expectation be kept if we know very little of the worship, teaching, and preaching that our family members are participating in with a different church family or a variety of families from day to day?
I also get that we have needs that sometimes are not always met by one church family. Much like when my boys want Mexican food and I want a good bacon cheeseburger…which only means that we’re making multiple stops. Nonetheless, we see in scripture multiple exhortations for us to grow up into maturity and not see the church as a buffet. In Hebrews, which is a letter to believers, we find such an strong cry: Hebrews 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food. Perhaps we need to step away from the tempting perspective of church being a time of feeding to the biblical perspective of church being a time of encouraging and sharpening one another (Heb 10:25, Prov 27:17), and to be sure to not forget that our time together is to be spent worshiping the only one who truly deserves it and so much more.
Are we fed by scripture and time together? Absolutely; and I would suggest that we do just as much feeding as the person sitting next to us or the one in the pulpit. We feed into the lives of the people we greet in the foyer, the person we hold the door open for, the couple in our bible study class, and even into the life of our pastor! But, if we fail to forget this and only think about our own appetite while placing the blame of our perceived spiritual malnourishment on the shoulders of our pastor or ministers, only to move on to or mix in some other buffet, could it be possible that we’re negatively impacting the life of the church and its members? As a matter of fact, isn’t this what the letter to Hebrews stated again in 10:24-25? To consider how to stir up one another in love and “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” All the more…herein lies the passion and persistence needed to come together even more! Why? Because, praise God, Christ is returning and we get to be on the welcoming committee as Larry Osbourne writes in his book Thriving in Babylon.
But lets not forget, if we see an opportunity to serve alongside our church family in a way that God has laid on our hearts yet not made available, lets step up! The Hebrews passage in Chapter 5 reminds us that we ought to be teachers by now, so lets serve in biblical, creative ways under the leadership of our church family! What damage do we do in stepping away from our church family just to pursue a passion that He’s laid on our hearts? Perhaps that need is placed there for you to pursue and glorify Him through the family of believers that He’s already placed you in.
Finally, for those of us that may be found shopping, hopping, or blending- unity is desperately needed within your church family. Listen to David’s song in Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” How can one church family be unified if they are not dwelling together or their time together is inconsistent? I then think upon the cry of Paul in his letter to the church of Ephesus:
Ephesians 4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
How can we walk alongside each other with any consistency if our worship together is spotty at best?
I am left with a fear that few reading my thoughts see a clear, vivid problem with my analogy of our family trip the the movies. As much as we love seeing great stories and colorful images come to life, our participation in corporate worship is not about our entertainment at all. My concern for those that shop, hop, or blend churches is ultimately that consumerism is at the heart of this behavior. How much have we cheapened grace that we may confuse the worship of our Creator and Savior with concert-style entertainment and simple take-home points? How far from God’s wrath being poured out on His Son do we have to go to consider church being all about us and our self-help? How dull of hearing and guilty of little doing do we have to be to place our preferences above the worship and adoration of our one, true God? What a scary place to be. I pray that we fix our eyes back on Him, take up the commandment to worship together as a family, unified in our dwelling, and walking together in corporate worship. Lets leave the buffet of shopping, hopping, and blending aimed at our own appetite to the world, and once again gather together to glorify our Lord.