However, churches do not serve only as ‘petrol stations’ or entertainment hubs where we go to fill up or be uplifted. They are also places of mutual ministry.
A recent conversation over lunch with a colleague led to the topic of which church we were attending. My colleague sheepishly confessed that she had not been attending church for some time as she was “not getting anything out of it”.
This may not be a surprising answer to many; in fact, I myself feel lethargic about attending church on some Sundays. This is especially so when we feel tired after a heavy work week or a late night out. There are those who admit to occasionally wondering if it is time to move to another church. What explains this pattern of church attendance – or more accurately, non-attendance?
Some, I suspect, see church attendance as mainly an avenue to receive: To unburden our guilt or worries and leave with more peace of mind; to receive inspiration or be uplifted by the service; or to seek direction about difficult decisions.
When such church-goers leave empty-handed, they begin to ask if it is time to frequent another church. Can we blame them if they hope to feel the presence of God in a stronger way elsewhere? Is it wrong to look for a place where the serving of ‘spiritual food’ seems to be more generous or the diet more varied? I remember leaving a church after being tired of almost every sermon revolving around the theme of ‘fire and brimstone’.
Then there are some church-going patterns that reflect migrations; like herds of bison who move to greener pastures or pods of pilot whales, we follow the career postings of our favourite pastor.
All these patterns of church attendance reflect a ‘user-like’ mentality: What can this church offer me?
What if we went to church to serve and to give to others? Then we may be going to churches where they have a dwindling congregation; we would not be put off going to a church where its choir is small or even non-existent; uninspiring sermons and dull worship services might prompt us to continue with these churches to see if we can contribute in some small way, even if it is to encourage other believers.
This is counter-intuitive thinking, but not out of sync with the spirit of what the Church was formed to be. We are all asked to join a community of believers, where we are to honour, show hospitality and kindness to one another, to study and to teach the Word together, to encourage and even admonish one another. Believers were not told to go to church to be ‘spiritually fired up’ and to feel good about themselves.
I know many of us do not always feel victorious in our daily walk, and some experience periods of extensive spiritual dryness. Going to church to look for support and help is a reasonable and a right response.
However, churches do not serve only as ‘petrol stations’ or entertainment hubs where we go to fill up or be uplifted. They are also places of mutual ministry. And herein lies one of mysteries of service: That when we give, we too receive. When we minister to others, our pain and our needs do not magically go away, but they are somehow accompanied by less angst.
What about Chronic Pew-Warmers who do not miss a single Sunday of attending church, and may even pride themselves on sitting in the same place every week? Regular church-going is a virtue but it is not enough; regular church-goers must think about what the Lord wants them to do besides turning up on time every Sunday, and ask how they too can be a meaningful part of this community.
Picture by Rawpixel/Bigstock.com
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.