“Sitting in church no more makes you a Christian than standing in a garage makes you a car.” You have probably heard someone utter that phrase. Maybe you have even said it yourself. It usually comes when someone is asked why they haven’t been in church lately.
It is true, of course. Sitting in the pew faithfully on a Sunday morning does not in and of itself make someone a Christian.
You can worship God anywhere. Many say that’s what they are doing when they meditate on the beach. Or maybe they commune with God on their nature hike. Some have told me how close they feel to God on the golf course. So if God can be experienced in so many different ways, why would anyone bother to go to church?
A lot goes on in a worship service. Not only do you come into the presence of God but you also partake of the bread and the cup. Hopefully, you experience the Word of God and gain a new insight that had not occurred to you before.
You can bask in warm fellowship with other congregants. It is an experience unlike what you can get alone.
Probably the most important part of attending worship regularly is having our faith renewed each week. When we separate ourselves from the Christian community, we have a tendency to let things slip. We get busy with our everyday lives, and that usually means worship, Bible study and our prayer life are put on the back burner or let go of completely.
I have seen regular attenders miss a week and then tell me how much they missed what was happening.
They tell me it seems their whole week was off. When they miss the second or third, it gets easier and easier to sleep in, make other plans or fall away completely. It reminds me of this story:
The pastor went to visit the older parishioner who had not attended worship in a long time. The old man let the pastor in, and they sat and talked in front of the fireplace. The pastor told the old man that he hadn’t seen him in church for some time. The old man nodded and agreed.
He told the pastor that he felt very comfortable worshipping God right there in the privacy of his own home. He didn’t see any need to get up and come to church. While he was talking, the pastor moved over to the fire and moved one of the burning logs off to one side. As often happens with fires, when you separate one piece from the group, it quickly begins to go out.
The pastor told the old man to take a look at the fire. To look especially at the log he had separated from the others. The old man acknowledged how the fire was going out on that log. The pastor told him, that is how our faith is. When we worship with others, we keep the intensity, the love and the fire within us.
When we separate ourselves, he said, we no longer have that fellowship, that community — yes, that family — to keep us attuned to the will of God.
Like many other things, attending church has a synergistic effect: the total is greater than the individual parts. We accomplish so much more together than we ever can alone.
When people of faith come together, the results can be astonishing. The naked can be clothed, the hungry fed and the folks living in the margins made whole. Peace can be a reality — if we come together as God’s people.
See you in church this Sunday?
The Rev. David Wise is pastor of Otterbein United Methodist Church in Greenfield. This weekly column is written by local clergy