Why Sunday Morning Matters
Have you ever wondered why you should go to church? The fact is lots and lots of people are asking that question and opting to not participate – and I’m not talking about those who are not Christians. I’m talking about Christians. Nationwide, even in growing churches, people are attending church less and less. Now I don’t propose to have the answer to why that is or the solution as to how to remedy the situation. Are people too busy? Probably so. Are people simply feeling less and less guilt about not going? Probably so. Has the availability of online services and sermon podcasts contributed? Probably so. But one thing that is worth exploring is the WHY behind church attendance. Even as a young kid I never wanted to do anything without knowing “why”. Anytime I run across a book or resource that gets to the “why” of something I always find it helpful, even if there’s some points of disagreement. I simply like it when someone tries to give a thoughtful response to important questions.
Enter Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been working my way through this challenging book. Fundamentally it’s an examination of how we are formed as people, whether Christian or not. He does a masterful job of showing how everyone is being formed, or to borrow religious language, “discipled” all the time. The job of the church is to work toward counter-formation – as we are constantly being formed by things like the shopping mall, the sporting events, the university, to name a few. Counter-formation can happen in many environments, but it should never be to the exclusion of the Sunday church gathering. Why? Because to not gather is to deny the very identity you have been given. A Christian is a “called out” one and the church is simply a “called out” gathering for the “called out” ones. When we gather, part of what happens is that we are being formed more and more into our called out identity.
Consider what Smith writes below…
The rather mundane fact that people show up is, however, an indicator of something fundamental: that a people has gathered in response to a call. “Whenever we gather for public worship,” Horton declares, “it is because we have been summoned. That is what ‘church’ means: ekklēsia, ‘called out.’ It is not a voluntary society of those whose chief concern is to share, to build community, to enjoy fellowship, to have moral instruction for their children. Rather, it is a society of those who have been chosen, redeemed, called, justified, and are being sanctified until one day they will be glorified.” The very fact that we gather says something, implicitly trains our imagination in a way. “Gathering indicates that Christians are called from the world, from their homes, from their families, to be constituted into a community capable of praising God. . . . The church is constituted as a new people who have been gathered from the nations to remind the world that we are in fact one people. Gathering, therefore, is an eschatological act as it is the foretaste of the unity of the communion of the saints.”
Your presence on Sunday matters. Your actual physical, bodily, flesh and blood presence matters. It is not enough to simply listen to a sermon from home (though that is great for the times we have to miss for sickness, serving in kids ministry, travel, etc.) God has designed the Sunday gathering as a significant part of your formation as a disciple. To not gather is to deny yourself an opportunity to live more fully into your true identity. If formation was simply a matter of cognitive intake, then listening to sermons via podcast would be great. But formation is more than taking in information. To gather is to be reminded, though all the facets, or liturgy of the service, that we belong to God solely through His grace. You lose out on that when you simply sit in front of your computer screen watching a service. Being a “called out” person who “stays in” goes against the grain of who you are.
There is a certain hint of scandal here, of a reality that cuts against the grain of our late-modern liberal sensibilities: for as we’re making our way to worship, not everyone is coming. Our neighbor’s home might still be quiet and darkened; folks down the street might already be mowing their lawn; we might walk softly through the dormitory hall because many of our peers won’t emerge for hours; we may even be leaving family members in our own home who don’t answer this call to worship, this summons to gather. Since we, on our own, don’t have the inclination or ability to answer the call, our response in gathering is already a sign of God’s redemption and regeneration at work. But the neighbors and strangers we pass on the way also remind us that God’s peculiar people is also a chosen people (1 Peter 2: 9), called out from among the nations, graced “without why,” elected to be a renewed people for this still-sleeping world.
If you are a “called out” person you should “get out” and gather with God’s people. Not because this saves you, but because it forms you. May you be formed more and more into the image of Jesus as you gather with Jesus’ body, the church.