Having grown up in the church (at times almost literally), and now having served as a worship leader for a few different churches over the last decade or so, I have witnessed my own and others’ propensity to form unhealthy habits and patterns before, during and after the weekly worship service. Whatever church you attend, you need to have a sort of double vision. On one hand, remember that this is the spotless bride of Christ and thus treat the church with reverence, respect and honor in the way you speak about her. On the other hand, the smaller bodies of believers which make up the global church obviously have faults and issues (some big and some small). As Christians, we ought to desire to be used of God in improving and sanctifying our local body of saints, and remember that Christ, and Christ alone, can make his Bride holy, perfect, and blameless.
I see two baits for those who attend church regularly; one, treating a weekly service like something to be checked off a list, and two, treating it superstitiously. We can easily form a rut, and the most common rut is that we attend merely out of some form of obligation. God ought never be treated like an obligation. My wife and I have set aside Wednesday nights as our date night; I must never begin to treat it like just something to be crossed off of a list. The other bait though, is to treat church as if it is a superstitious potion that cures all ills. If your spiritual life is dependent on an hour or two on Sunday morning, your hope is in the wrong thing. It is imperative to remember that the gathering together of saints on a regular basis is an incredibly significant statement to the world, incredibly necessary for the believer’s health, and incredibly vital in raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Do not take it lightly. However, do not take it superstitiously. Our lives should revolve around Christ daily and Sunday morning ought to be an additional catalyst to your pursuit of our Lord the other six days of the week. Here are five suggestions which I believe will assist in both strengthening our overall spiritual life, and also our weekly times of fellowship and worship.
Come to Receive, and Depart to Give
When you attend a service, you must recognize that the centerpiece of it is the person of Christ. He declares Himself to be “meat indeed,” and in a healthy church service, Christ is preached with clarity and boldness. Since Christ is food to be consumed, you must come with your mouth wide open (Ps. 81:10). A great meal won’t do you any good, and won’t tantalize your tastebuds if you just stare at it. I think a majority of church attenders float through decades of attendance without enjoying a morsel of Christ. This could be due to a lack of faithful preaching from the pulpit, but it may also be due to a lethargic spiritual disposition (see Pro. 19:24 & 26:15).
However, as Christians when we receive we must also give. Freely we have received, now we freely give (Mt. 10:8). This aspect is largely missing from many modern, evangelical churches. We drive over to the Cracker Barrel, and our discussion over the sweet tea and chicken fried steak is about how much we didn’t get that much out of the message, rather than what we did receive. I’ll touch on this again in a little bit, but suffice it to say for now, the purpose of good preaching is to compel us to faithfully follow God’s covenant the rest of the week: in our marriage, family, work, and recreation. Thus, be very eager and ready to receive truth, and be just as eager and ready to put that truth into action. Faith without works, is dead faith. And encourage other believers to do the same, and invite the lost to join in this glad feast.
Sing the Truth Heartily and Robustly
Perhaps it is because I am a Worship Leader, but this is one of my passion points. First off, much (i.e. 90%) of modern worship music is, in my opinion, predominately unfit for corporate worship. I’m not opposed to “new” worship music (I write it frequently); however, I am opposed to it if it is absent of the triumphant truths of Christ and His Gospel. We are not gathering together to listen to sweet guitar riffs and soaring vocals. We are gathering together to worship Christ, confess our sin and our faith, hear and heed the word of God, and enjoy the communion of the saints.
I’ve always loved John Wesley’s advice for how we should sing together. Here is an excerpt: “Sing lustily [meaning strong, healthy, vigorous] and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.” They will know us by our love, and if we shout louder at a touchdown than we do when we proclaim, “Crown Him with many crowns,” than we are showing that we have more affinity for football than we do for Christ the Lord. Psalm 98:4, as I like to say, gives us permission to use our outdoor voices.
A word to worship leaders: pick songs that are full of truth with singable melodies (in singable keys) and don’t be driven by the temptation to stay “current”. We need to understand that true relevance to the culture is not simply borrowing “modern” sounding music; rather, we need to make sure that the content and artistry of that music is full of that which actually IS relevant (namely Christ and His Cross). Create a culture of robustly rich songs that are easy to learn and frequently encourage the body to sing heartily; we are, after all, specifically commanded to teach and admonish one another in this way.
Listen with Joyful Discernment.
Spurgeon said something like, “a sermon without Christ in it, is like bread with no flour in it.” Thus, make sure that you attend a church where Jesus Christ is preached in the fullness of His Gospel. If the sermon is more of a twenty minute pep talk on seven steps to successful living, full of illustrations from recent movies, you need to consider whether you can survive on such a spiritual diet.
That being said, don’t become a curmudgeon in the back pew. If you’ve never had the tremendously terrifying experiencing of entering a pulpit, then perhaps reconsider sending the pastor that little anonymous nastygram. We as believers need to be the rich soil that receives the seed of the word of God gladly and joyfully. This is why I say, be joyfully discerning.
A preacher is a prism that has flaws and defects within it, however, this does not mean that the light can not be refracted into its separate colors. Study the Bible for yourself, and this will train your eye to distinguish and correctly identify the six colors of the spectrum. You do not need a flawless prism to have a clear rainbow splashed on the wall. The refracted colors of the beam of light are the true glory, the prism is only a channel. Now, this doesn’t mean that we should justify cloudy, cracked, or foggy prisms. It does mean that if our aim in listening to a preacher is to enjoy Christ, there will likely be opportunity to do it, even through a faulty channel (Phi. 1:18).
Now, a Word to preachers. Please be bold and courageous, faithful to the Word, and above all preach Christ. Your congregation doesn’t need to hear platitudes or cutesy illustrations: preach the Word. It will make some, ok all, uncomfortable. We need to be uncomfortable. The truth is straight, we are crooked. When the truth is straightening us out, it doesn’t necessarily feel particularly good; but we so desperately need men in the pulpit, not wimps.
Fellowship with Purpose and Meaning
Like I mentioned before, the conversation after service ought not to be critiquing the sermon and complaining about every stammer and stutter of the preacher. Rather we should be found encouraging and exhorting one another to live out the truths preached. But to take this point a bit further, let me give an example. I have a friend who is a young man, and he told me recently that he gets rather frustrated with the fact that after the service all the teenage guys gather around and talk about scientific theories for black holes, and how gnarly it’d be to go into a black hole, and how this one movie was so awesome when the black hole ripped apart the space ship of the bad guys, etc. These young men all would likely express a desire to grow stronger spiritually, but when we settle for good, we will miss the best!
Our fellowship together must revolve around Christ; even though we may not be discussing Christ, explicitly, our goal in Christian fellowship is to spur one another on towards love and good deeds. There is a deep need in Christianity for a return of true Christian fellowship. Fellowship which has nothing to do with fried chicken, and has everything to do with prayer, worship and the Word. Black holes are certainly fascinating, and fried chicken is certainly delicious, but they will never be as fascinating nor as delightful as the Lord Jesus. Though we will laugh, talk about how we’re doing, what’s going on in our lives and families, the undergirding purpose of Christian fellowship must be to glorify Christ by encouraging each other down the narrow way of holiness.
I cannot stress this one enough. The thing that will make Sunday morning far richer for your soul is if Sunday morning isn’t the only time that you invest in your spiritual health. Breathing the atmosphere for one hour every week will not ensure a very long or enjoyable life. We take 12-16 breaths per minute . . . this is a sign of health. If you are to thrive spiritually, you need to be taking draughts of good, clean, pristine heavenly atmosphere the other 6 days of the week, not just for 1-2 hours on Sunday.
Furthermore, confessing sin regularly is a good and healthy exercise. However, the grace of God is given to enable us to live victoriously OVER our sin, not to remain IN our sin. Say you have the odd habit of heating up a piece of iron and searing the bottom of your foot. The remedy for you is not to go to VitaShak down the street expecting that rubbing some organic Scandinavian ointment on it once a week will make this habit go away. Your lifestyle must change. The ointment can help in the process, but the hot iron to the foot has gotta stop. Similarly, if you are living in habitual sin and you’re unrepentant, going to church isn’t your remedy. Receiving the grace extended to you by the blood of Jesus, through faith, is your remedy; Christ is your remedy, and He will most certainly use the church to help heal your scars, but He must be your salvation not a once a week ointment application.
So, if you are desirous to see your church grow stronger, then may I encourage you to begin making yourself available to God and His Word to help shape your church into closer alignment with truth. Don’t be a fault-finding church-goer. Instead, love Christ, love His Word, and love His people. That is, after all, God’s command for what the Church should actually look like!
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