While preaching remains the undisputed foundation of congregational worship, the pulpiteer is not the church. In other words, I as the pastor of a local church do not head to church to hear myself preach on Sunday mornings. I study, wrestle with, apply, and come to terms with the text during the week so that I arrive in the pulpit intent upon sharing my Scriptural convictions rather than forming them. I do not come for the academic insights.
I attend church every morning because my local church serves as a rallying point for God people through whom God edifies my soul. I find encouragement in the corporate singing of doctrinal hymns that encourage my soul , the prayers of my fellow believers that infuse my heart with hope, and the discussions that arise from the congregation after a sermon which guide me to great biblical clarity. I pastor as well as I do (whatever level that is) because I do so within the loving bounds of the local church. In other words, I go to church because the people of God convey me afresh to the throne room of Jesus. Or as David says in Psalm 26:8, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where you glory dwells.”
With this conviction in mind, I refused to exclusively “live-stream” my church’s Sunday morning service when the COVID-19 pandemic sent us scurrying to our homes. I believed then as I do now that church is more than a pulpiteer and skilled pianist or music team. Church is the old lady who gives the best hugs, the child who wiggles and occasionally cries, the young couple who faithfully serves in the nursery, the sweet greeters who never meet a stranger, the faithful single wrestling through the idea of marriage, and the aged saint who stands ready to stop and pray with you the minute you open up about your latest struggle. While the sermon serves as one of the foundational pillars of the congregation, it is not the totality of worship nor of the congregation. The church is the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus (1 Cor 12:14).
For this reason, I also require all of my counselees to attend a local church for the duration of their counseling. Just as I need the whole church, the wounded and smarting heart also needs the whole church. Yes, the counselee needs the intensity of the biblical counseling office and the reinforcement that comes through practical homework assignments. But she also needs those encouraging hugs, the hope found in a rich hymn, the loving prayers of the couple in the next pew over, and those moments of reassurance that come as she realizes through a lunchtime conversation about the sermon that she is not alone in her battle against temptation. The soul twisting in the wind needs the church just as much as the soul grounded upon the gospel.
The church fathers of old used to speak of the church as being a nurturing mother. Just as a baby dies without milk, so the believer will die if he or she neglects the food of the church. Stated positively, confessional corporate worship will as Hebrews 10:25 says, “stir up one another to love and good works.” The faithful local church feeds the soul.
The couple that can skip church for months to pursue their highschooler’s softball career no more understand the gospel of Jesus than a surgeon who thinks it’s fine to amputate a foot and then leave it on ice for a month or two understands medicine. We would undoubtedly question the skills of the surgeon. Understandably, the authors of the Bible question the spiritual life of those who willfully neglect the gathering of the church, the life-giving food of the Lord.
Christians need the local church, the whole body. Those who delight in God will forever delight in church: the old ladies, the wiggly kids, the awkward teenager, the tired mom, and the host of other personalities who make our local churches the household of God. As David said in Psalm 16:3, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” This pastor needs the saints. You need the saints.
So why do I go church? I go to church because it consists of the people of God who facilitate the worship of God. If you claim Christ and can make it to church this Sunday, I encourage you to go too. Will you?