Dear Church Family,

Why do you go to church? Now, when I say “church” in this context I mean the local gathering of believers who have covenanted together through membership. Yes, there is one and only one universal or catholic (lowercase “c”) church, but we must wait for Christ to return for that church to assemble together. So, until then, God has ordained the local church to represent the universal church in the physical community where the local church gathers. Yes, we meet typically three times a week in the same building, but a building is merely a place where the local church gathers together. So, when I ask why you go to church, I really mean, why do you assemble corporately with the people of God with whom you have covenanted?

Well, if we want to understand something God created, we should look to what He has told us about it. How has He spoken to us? His Word: the Bible. If you search the Scriptures in order to find an answer, you will find multiple reasons. We go for ourselves. We go for God. We go for others. These categories are about as broad as we can get and there is a plethora of reasons under each of these headings. My point here is not to talk about the specifics of these categories as much as I want us to focus on the order of the categories in our minds and hearts.

How would you arrange the three? How does Scripture arrange them? How do you actually arrange them? How would someone close to you say you arrange them?

Probably none of you would arrange them in order of importance from first to last: myself, others, God or even others, myself, God. Most likely you would say: God, others, myself—even if you couldn’t really defend why you ordered them that way based on Scripture. That is certainly the Biblical order, but do our minds and hearts actually reflect that order as we think about meeting together, as we prepare to meet together, as we meet together, or—maybe even most telling—when we choose not to meet together?

I fear that in many local churches in the United States, there is an overwhelming emphasis on the individual and his or her “personal worship experience,” but very little on the corporate realities that ought to demand our attention. You can hear this in language like calling meeting times: “services,” calling those services: “seeker-sensitive,” and telling individuals in those services to close their eyes because “It’s just you and Jesus.” However, you can hear it clearer with people begging to be entertained and complaining when they’re not. You can see this in lights dimmed low—but you can see it better with the lights turned up, exposing the isolated pods of people refusing to reach out to others or branch out of their comfort zones.

I say all of this not to rant or even to say, “I see this in you!” The reality is I see it in myself—and I hate it. It is so easy to allow our culture and its marketing to seep into our lives. We are prone to think about ourselves first and foremost in all areas of life—including gathering together as God’s people. We shift blame when it comes to why we aren’t growing or why we don’t gather with everyone else, but in turn we hinder God’s full blessing. Solely thinking for ourselves dishonors God and hurts the holiness of the local church. We need one another. We are dependent on one another. One helps or hurts the many. Let’s fight our sin individually for the sake of the whole. I thank God for you all and I am encouraged as I see God working in you.