My cell group had a fun boxing day gathering and we played this musical pass the parcel game. You know the drill, pass the box around until the music stops and whoever is left holding the baby, gets to answer a question from a deck of question cards held by the game master.
Funnily enough, we kept drawing or getting asked this particular question:
Which part of church service do you enjoy the most?
c. sermon; or
d. feeling of closeness with God.
I never got to answer it because (*smirk* ) I was never left holding the parcel - Mr Grey got it three times and his face when he got it the third time was just priceless.
But I mulled over the question the next day and how it related to my church and the reasons for attending church and concluded: it's always the sermon. It has to be the sermon.
I changed churches this year. December 2010 will mark the end of my first full year at church.
It has been a hard year. I struggled and fought so hard against admitting that it was hard and lonely because it would make it seem like my decision was wrong or that I was somehow a failure.
But it was.
It was hard because I left behind a church family I loved and still love so much. I left behind friends I was close to and who had struggled and prayed with me for 1.5 years as God called out to me. It was hard because I joined a church whose members had been attending since they were babes in arms and who were already close knit. Mainly, it was hard because I had such a rebellious attitude; the way I cope with change is to sulk and throw myself a pity party that lasts several months and get increasingly grumpy. Not a good recipe for acclimatizing to anything.
But the upside is that in the last year, church and the reasons for church became increasingly clear. So back to the question - what part of church do you enjoy most?
Not the music because musical tastes differ from worship leader to worship leader. While the worship at my church is lovely, I know it's not fully the reason I'm there. I'd show up even if they decided to switch to singing only hymns with an organ accompaniment or if they did the full on rock band.
I did and still do enjoy church fellowship. In fact this probably ranks second but this year... without my close friends, I felt agonizingly bereft. They're nice, the folks at my church, but it's not the same as having people you're already close to around you all the time. Friendship takes time and it's something I look forward to - that the friendly acquaintances of today may become the close confidantes of tomorrow.
I just read another blogpost by an old friend and in it, he talked about his grief and anger about the fact that his church’s solution to faltering attendance is to put in new programs. Camps! Activities! Welcome committees!
In the meantime, sermons are reduced to “10 ways to live your best christian life now!~” or “seize the moment! (Coz God says so!)” type pep talks.
It’s so typical that it’s sad. So no, in the end, its not just fellowship, friends, music or great seats/lights/auditoria.
Changing churches helped me realize that it's the teaching of God's word that is the key. Not for nothing did Christ explicitly say that "if you abide in me and my words abide in you" then and only then, "ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you". The rest, the music, fellowship and closeness with God are built on the right teaching. Closeness to God, music and fellowship must be built on knowing Him and His word.
So I guess the one lesson I took away this year (when the pity party ended!) was the reason for church. Church can’t just be fellowship, friends and great music. It has to be solid teaching that drives home the fear of God and the awesomeness of His love and grace. It has to help you remember that however many grand plans you make, your little day is rounded out by sleep and death.