"We Are Family" part 4:
How Do You See the Church?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 25, 2007

 

Main Passage: Ephesians 1:19-23 (NLT)

 

Over the past five years or so, the media here in Canada has made a big deal about the fact that it seems fewer and fewer Canadians are attending church on any given Sunday. There are signs that’s turning around, and in fact some studies show church attendance is now on the upswing, but recent history has it in a downward trajectory.

During this same period of time, statistics show that Canadians seem to be becoming more spiritual… that is, they pray more and they meditate and they do things that are considered spiritual… they just don’t go to church as much. You ever wonder why that is? Well you are in luck because this morning we have the top ten excuses people use for why they don’t go to church. You ready? Here we go…

 

The Top Ten Excuses for Not Going to Church…

10. I relate to Jazz and Rock more then Handel and Bach
9. I’d rather sleep in my own bed than in a pew
8. I already served time as a child
7. Organ music makes me crave hot dogs
6. I can only remember three commandments
5. I feel guilty enough already
4. When I want to be told what’s wrong with me, I call my mother
3. Last time I knelt I had a hard time getting up again
2. I can’t afford the admission fee
1. People that happy just give me the creeps

 

Well, that was fun. But what would happen if we were to actually go out and ask people on the street why they don’t go to church? Well, I suspect we’d get several different answers. Some of the classics would be… it’s not relevant… they only want my money… it’s boring… I have other things to do on a Sunday morning… You’ll get lots of different answers.

But I want to take a slightly different perspective this morning. Instead of looking at the excuses, I’d like us to look at the mindset behind the excuses. Because when it comes right down to it, all of the excuses people may give you spring from a view they already have about the Church. So let’s take a look at three ways you can view the Church… There are other views, too, but we’re just going to look at three…

 

Three Ways to Look at Church:

1. Some See Church as an Obligation

There are people out there who see church as an “ought to” or a “got to.” “You ought to go to church” or “you’ve got to go to church.” It’s an obligation.

It used to be a cultural obligation. People went to church because everybody went to church. Didn’t necessarily mean they believed in God or had any kind of a relationship with Him: they just went to church because that’s what was expected of them.

In fact, you could ask anybody what their church was and they’d have an answer. You know, “I’m a Wesleyan” or “I’m a Baptist” or “I’m a Presbyterian” or “I’m a Pentecostal.” They may have had no idea what that actually meant, but that’s what they were. And they knew it. They were obligated to know it.

Here in PEI, the obligation was to know “I’m a Catholic” or “I’m a Protestant.” And that’s where the line was drawing. Again, it may have had nothing to do with actual faith and living in relationship with Jesus. Church was an obligation and people were obligated to know what their church was.

How stupid is that?

In fact, today… here on PEI… I find that people are still obligated to know what their church is. The difference now is that they may never actually attend. It may have been years since the last time they set foot inside a church, but if you ask them, they know what their church is. They’re obligated to know. It’s a cultural obligation.

And then there are some who see church as a family obligation. There are lots of people who have no interest in attending church at all… until they have a family. But then they have kids, and they think the church is a good place for the kids to be raised and to learn values. So they’re obligated to bring the kids to church.

And then there are those who are obligated to go to church just to keep everybody happy. A parent or a spouse wants you to go to church, so you go to church. In fact, if you don’t go to church, perhaps you don’t qualify for Sunday dinner. So that’s a no brainer. You’re obligated to go if you want to eat.


Now, I’m not much of a fan of Church as an obligation. I don’t think that’s the most positive or the most accurate way to look at the Church.

But I suppose there are worse things. I mean, people may attend out of obligation, but at least they’re in a place where they can be exposed to the good news about who Jesus is and what He’s done for them. They may go out of obligation, but once there they can encounter the life-transforming power of God and they discover real faith and real hope and real purpose in life.


But obligation can also lead to resistance… and resentment. People don’t like doing things because they “ought to” or they’ve “got to.” And so if people attend church out of obligation, one of two things are likely going to happen…

One… they’re going to continue to comply and attend church, but as soon as they step inside the doors they’re going to shut off. They’re going to disconnect themselves from what’s happening around them. They’re going to build up a wall inside and resist any of the benefits that may come from this… obligation.

Or two… they’re just going to put their foot down and refuse to go anymore. They’ve done the church thing and they’ve done enough.

Psychotherapist Wayne Dyer made the comment that…

“Relationships based on obligation lack dignity… If you are living out of a sense of obligation you are a slave.”
~ Wayne Dyer


That doesn’t sound like much fun now, does it? It’s certainly not the best way to view the Church. But that’s how some people do.

 

2. Others See Church as an Event

Kind of like going to the movies or going to the circus. It’s an event, not an everyday happening or even an every-week happening.

You might only go for special occasions… like baby dedications or baptisms or weddings or funerals. Like the guy who told a preacher, “Preacher the first time I went to church they sprinkled water on me and the second time I went they threw rice at me.” The preacher thought for a moment and then replied, “Yeah, and I suppose the next time you come we’ll throw dirt on you.”

But believe it or not, there are people who have never been to a church except for weddings and funerals. Church just isn’t part of their lives. It’s just an event.

It’s actually a little bizarre. There are people who never, ever attend church… but when they get married they want it to happen in a church. And when they have their first child they want it baptized or dedicated in a church. And when someone dies they go looking for a preacher to handle the funeral. What’s up with that? I think they are just superstitious. They think that maybe they’ll have a better marriage, a healthier child, and preferred reservations at the Pearly Gates if they include the church in those events. Basically, they see the church like a lucky rabbit’s foot, which obviously wasn’t that lucky for the rabbit.

And then there are the C & E-ers… those who only go to church on Christmas and Easter. After all, it’s the thing to do, right? Easter’s coming up in just a couple of weeks. And so over the two weeks there are going to be lots of people dusting off their suits. And Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without going to a Christmas Eve service, would it? I mean, check out the newspaper just before Christmas when they list all of the Christmas Eve services. It’s amazing how many extra services some churches have to have to accommodate the influx of people on that night.

And then are still others who attend church on a regular basis, but it’s still just an event for them. Like Hockey Night in Canada. For some people, every Saturday night is an event for them. You know, everything has to be just right… they put on their lucky shirt, they cook up some wings, they pour a big foamy glass of their favourite non-alcoholic beverage, and they settle in their favourite chair for an evening of yelling at the T.V. That’s an event for them. It’s something they do every week.

For some people, Church is like that. It’s an event.

And maybe that’s what it was like for Calvin Coolidge. When he was President of the U.S. he attended church alone one Sunday while his wife was sick. And when he got home his wife quizzed him and asked, “So what did the pastor preach on?” The President thought for a moment and replied “Sin.” “And what did he say about sin?” probed his wife. The President thought again and replied, “he was against it.” I wonder if he was really paying attention or if he went just for the event of being at church?

But this isn’t a new thing. Going back a long ways, people have treated church as an event. 400 years ago, Thomas Fuller made this comment…

“Many come to bring their clothes to church rather than themselves.”
~ Thomas Fuller

It’s an event for them to dress up and make an appearance and show off.

So some people see Church as an obligation. Others see it as an event. But either way… if people see Church as an obligation or as an event… then they aren’t to blame. The church is. For way too many years the church has marketed itself that way.

Some churches have tried guilting people into attending. You know… “If you don’t attend church you are going to hell.” But the truth is, simply attending church has absolutely no impact on your eternity. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore then going to a garage makes you a car. Or going to a Hockey Game makes you Bobby Orr. Sorry.

So, guilting people into attending doesn’t really do any good. And so, other Churches don’t bother with the guilt routine; Instead, they simply rely on the fact that people have always come to church. It’s the thing to do on a Sunday. So they offer Church as an event. But that just doesn’t cut it either. Church isn’t the only show in town anymore. There are lots of things that you could be doing at this very moment. You could be at the Flea Market. You could have the kids at a hockey game. You could be swimming. In weather like this you could be golfing. As of May, you could be shopping on Sunday mornings. The Church used to have a corner on the market on Sunday mornings, but not anymore.


So what’s the answer? What new and wonderful thing do we need to become in order to attract a new generation of believers? Well, actually, we don’t have to become something new. Instead, we need to become something old. Instead of looking at church as a religious thing that people are expected to participate in, we need to see it as a relationship thing where people are loved and accepted…. where we can thrive in a relationship with God and a relationship with others.

You see the Bible never saw Church as an obligation. Nor did it see Church as an event. As a matter of fact for the first 300 years the church existed, it was the socially and religiously unacceptable thing to do. People were obligated not to be part of the church. And the events people attended were often events where they watched Christians die. That was considered sport in those days.

So when the New Testament looked at the church, it wasn’t about obligations or events. Instead, time and time again, it came back to seeing the church as… what? … as a “Family.”

 

3. The Bible Sees Church as a Family

That’s what Jesus designed the Church to be. Going all the way back to the first days of the Church…

Acts 2:42a (CEV)
...they were like family to each other.

Wow, what a powerful statement. They were like family. A couple other verses…

Romans 12:10 (GW)
Be devoted to each other like a loving family.

1 Peter 2:17b (Msg)
Love your spiritual family!

Now, maybe you’re not particularly close to your biological family… or maybe your family has been a source of pain for you. So perhaps that distorts your image of what “family” is. Perhaps the concept of the Church being a family doesn’t sound all that appealing to you. But you need to understand, when the Bible describes the Church as a family it’s not talking about a dysfunctional family; it’s talking about a healthy family. It’s not talking about a disconnected association, it’s talking about a bonded relationship. It’s not talking about an arbitrary bloodline, it’s talking about a spiritual bloodline… bonded by a shared Christian heritage, a shared mission in the world, a shared focus of worship, and a shared hope for the future. We are a family.

Ephesians 1:5 (NLT)
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

Now doesn’t that sound like something you want to be part of? Doesn’t the whole idea of belonging to a family do something for you?

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
~ Jane Howard

So how do we move from obligation or “event church” to “Family”?

Well, I think the answer goes back to a comment that Jesus made to his disciples in the Gospel of John. Jesus was telling his disciples how others would know that they were Christ followers. Now, He didn’t say it would happen because of what they called themselves, or where they attended church, or how they voted, or how they wore their hair, or what type of music they listened to, or because they wore a little cross around their neck, or because it said so on their T-shirt. Instead, Jesus said…

John 13:35 (NLT)
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

You know, the very best people I know are in the Church.

The most loving
The most giving
The most compassionate
The most humble
The most serving
The most joyful
The most focused
The most thankful
The most thoughtful
The most wise
The most honourable

The best people I know are in the Church. Some of them are in this room this morning.

Oh, some people would argue that the church is where you find the most judgemental and the most hypocritical people. And that’s true—there is some of that in the Church. But that doesn’t change the fact that the best people I know are also in the Church.

Plus, we all know that those who are judgemental and bitter and hurtful are people who are themselves hurting, and they need to be in the Church because they need to experience the love and the forgiveness and the healing that the very best people have to offer.

“Isn’t it wonderful that there’s a place you can go where they welcome you—not because of what you are but in most instances in spite of what you are.”
~ Tony Campolo


Our love for one another will prove to the world that we are followers of Jesus. So what does this love look like?

Well, in the book of 1 Corinthians Paul wrote to the believers in the city of Corinth telling them how they were to behave toward one another in the church. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about spiritual gifts and how we are to serve each other using the gifts God has given us. And we looked at 1 Corinthians 12 where it gave some examples of how we are to use our gifts within the Church. And then Paul talks more about that in chapter fourteen.

But sandwiched in the middle is a passage that is very familiar to most of you because it’s often read at weddings. But in reality, it wasn’t written about marriage relationships, although it wouldn’t hurt to treat your spouse this way. No, it was written to tell believers how they were supposed to love one another. It was written to provide a framework for how we use our gifts in serving each other within our spiritual family. Listen to what Paul wrote…

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NLT)
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

So all those gifts we’ve talked about for the past couple of weeks—you could use them all you want, but no matter what you did—if it didn’t spring from a heart of love—it’d be worthless. So what is love? What does it look like? Well, Paul went on…

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

That’s what the Church is meant to be—a loving Family. Take another look at those… are you patient? Are you kind? Or do you get jealous or boastful or proud or rude? Are you domineering, demanding your own way? Do you have a short fuse? Do you hold grudges? You know, do you believe in people? Do you look for the best in people? Do you encourage people? That’s what love looks like?

Can you imagine a Church like that? I can. Because I see what God is doing here at Sunrise. He’s making us into this kind of Family. And more and more, I see Him doing this in His Church around the world.

You know, there’s a verse in the Old Testament where David wrote…

Psalm 122:1 (NLT)
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

And if the house of the Lord then was anything like the family of God now, I can understand that. Because I look forward to spending every Sunday morning with you.

 

[Much of this message adapted from material by Denn Guptill]

 

 

 

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