Tag Archives: worship

What is the Best Part of Going to Church?

There have been times in my life when I would have known exactly how to answer this question, but due to some troubling issues in my church, I have been faced with the necessity of deeper thinking on the subject. However, as with most problems, there is a real value in being compelled to think deeply instead of giving a flip answer on a deep subject.

During a visit with family this summer, I saw a headline in the local paper that asked the same question as the title of this post. I was somewhat unnerved by the answers the reporter chose to share. The article originated in the Kansas City Star, but I saw the reprint in Cedar Rapids in The Gazette on August 6, 2016. Two quick answers were featured in the article, and the two pastors who answered were allowed the opportunity to flesh out their answers as the body of the article.

The short answer by Pastor Bob Hill of the Community Christian Church was, “Participants can delight in living in a caring community.” The short answer by Pastor Duke Tufty of Unity Temple on the Plaza was, “Church is an ideal place to keep happy, upright and balanced.” What do you think of these answers?

This post is my response to the question, and I think these answers miss the whole point of going to church. I should make sure that readers know that the phrase, “going to church,” has at least two discrete meanings: 1 – to attend the primary weekly worship service, and 2 – to participate in the life of a church. My immediate reaction to the title was to think of my answer based on the first meaning, but when I read the answers of the two pastors, I felt that they were responding to the second meaning. I don’t feel that they gave a good answer for either meaning.

If the question referred to the first meaning, then the question was about the “best part” of being in a worship service. Some worship services may celebrate a caring community, and some may be about personal happiness and mental health, but in my experience, that is not the focus of a worship service. A worship service is about our human obligation to love God, to praise him and to give thanks for his presence and power in our lives. Our worship obligation is a response to the fact that Christ has set us free from enslavement to Satan, cleansed us from the spiritual harm done by Satan in our lives, and called us to service to him and to every person we meet. Worship is in part our gratefulness for what God has done, but in very large part, worship is a celebration of who God is. It isn’t about making us feel good; it is more about making us into good people.

If the question referred to the second meaning, the answers may have some elements of truth, but something important was missing from both answers: our salvation through Christ and our grateful service to Christ. In regard to our overall participation in the life of a church, the best part is the way the life of the church constantly draws us closer to Christ and helps us to become more like Christ. If any part of church life fails to do those two things, it is irrelevant to the work of the church. Christ must be central to everything the church does. We don’t have therapy to offer to people; we can only offer Christ. We don’t have entertainment to offer; we can only offer Christ. We don’t have a good social life to offer. We don’t have mental challenges to offer. We can only offer Christ. If our church is doing something that is not about Christ, it is worthless.

A few years ago I visited an unfamiliar church. The people were very pleasant and friendly. In the bulletin were announcements of activities that looked like a caring community. There was an Al Anon meeting scheduled for one evening, and I assume that meeting might help people achieve balance in their lives. However, the sermon for the day was a commentary on a recent women’s rights convention, and there was not one mention of Christ or the Bible. The gathering would have qualified on every point as a meeting of women’s rights advocates, not a service to worship Christ.

I have never again visited the church that preached women’s rights, even though it would be much easier to attend than the church where I am now a member. I never will. I do not believe advocacy for women’s rights is “the best part” or even a legitimate part of going to church. Followers of Christ legitimately advocate for various human rights as part of the mission to be salt and light in the world, but the sermon in a worship service must never fail to be Christ-focused. The worship service itself must draw people nearer to Christ, rather than stir up a fever for one or more social or political agendas.

The rights of women and other basic human rights are important issues, and it is certainly legitimate for Christians to want the human world to treat women with the respect due them as God’s creation. To teach what Jesus modeled in his life as evidence of the value he placed on men and women is a proper sermon element, but no element of the sermon should transcend or blot out the presence of Christ.

The best part of going to church, whether you mean attending worship or serving in the life of the church, is the way the church, Christ’s own body, constantly points us to Christ, never permitting any issue or concept or agenda to transcend our call to deny self and follow him.

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Should Children be Forced to Attend Church with Adults?

Recently, my pastor decided to provide a “children’s sermon” each week, right before he preaches to the adults. The format will be familiar to many people. As soon as the pastor is ready to preach, he calls the children up to the front of the church. He sits with them on the steps. He usually has a an object or photo to introduce his topic, and he teaches in childrenspeak while the adults wait. This format and practice are believed by many to be a good way to engage children in worship.

I profoundly disagree.

Many try to say that the whole idea of children in the worship service is a big mistake. Children are noisy and fidgety. They don’t understand what is happening, and they get bored. The only way to hold their attention is to entertain them while they learn something without knowing it. People also complain because noisy children and crying babies interrupt and distract. It is better, they say, to eliminate noise sources so the grown-ups can worship in peace.

I profoundly disagree.

I was glad to read a concurring opinion last week. Speaking of the experience of young children in “big church,” the author wrote,

Of course, it is over their head. It is supposed to be over their head. They are beginners. The English language is over their head as soon as they come out of the womb. But we don’t say: Well, let’s put them with other children in their own situations and limitations so they can understand a word or two. No. We immerse them in the English language every day that they don’t understand 90% of in the hope and expectation that they grow up into joyful use of the English language.

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-children-sit-through-big-church

Guess what. I remember going to church before I understood it, but those memories all come flooding back frequently in my adult life. Those memories are some of the earliest steps I took toward becoming the person I am today.

As a child, when we sang the Doxology, I thought the “heavenly hosts above” were sitting in the balcony. How I wanted to sit in that elevated company! But when I grew up, I came to understand something very different. Now my memories of worship as a child are even richer than before; the images are not changed, but my comprehension has changed.

I remember sermon content from childhood, too. Don’t doubt me. I learned about the beam in my eye and the splinter in someone else’s eye before I could understand it. I learned that people need to forgive each other over and over long before I could comprehend the math of “seventy times seven.” I heard about the Good Samaritan, and the selfish brothers James and John long before I was “old enough” to understand worship. I learned about the wide gate and the narrow gate, and I knew it was about choices, but I had to grow some before I understood how to make wise choices. Because I remember the settings where I first heard these stories, I know I was nine or younger at the time. When I heard or read the stories later, those new experiences built on the old ones.  I could sing a lot of hymns by heart when I was nine or ten, so I know I heard them frequently and was attentive enough to get the words at a very young age.

I remember hearing about Zaccheus, too. Not just the Sunday School lesson. I heard the sermon, and I absorbed the truth that meeting Jesus can change someone immediately! I can still see my pastor leaning forward and gesturing toward the congregation. That memory returned when I later heard my Sunbeam teacher tell about Zaccheus.

I vividly remember an Indian pastor telling all of us that the ministry of Jesus was “preaching, teaching, and healing.” His sermon shaped my image of missions and mission work profoundly. I was nine years old at the time.

I have these memories, because my parents took me to church with them. They did not give me coloring books to keep me quiet; they told me to be quiet, and I knew the consequences of disobedience. The other parents did the same, and I saw more than one child temporarily removed from the sanctuary for an education in the etiquette and meaning of worship. My parents told me to bow my head and pray when everyone else did. (I knew about praying, because we did it at home.) They told me to stand up when the other people did, and be respectful of God’s house. I was not to scoot right and left, fall in the floor and climb back up into the seat. I was not to wander in the aisle. Bathroom breaks were taken care of before church. During church, we remained in church, and we behaved appropriately. I did not understand why we needed to be respectful of God, but I did not understand why I needed to be respectful of my parents, either. I learned all those things over time, but my early experiences prepared me for the higher level truths.

I remember wondering as a child how the ushers actually delivered God’s money to him, but I had no doubt that He received it. I remember wondering, when I was very small, if God hid in one of the rooms behind the choir loft to hear our prayers and hymns. In the big picture, I doubt my childish misconceptions were a lot farther from the truth than my adult ones. After all, my efforts at visualizing God suffer from warping by my sinful human nature at any age. However, I believe my parents did the right thing by taking me to “big church,” (a term I never even heard as a child–nobody had imagined a separate church service for children then) and I believe my faith is stronger because of it. My appreciation of and my glad participation in worship as an adult has roots in years of worship experiences that poured over me and around me and through me long before I understood any of it.

When Moses gave his farewell address to the Israelites, he spent some time talking about the importance of educating children while they were still children. Inspired by God, the creator of all things, seen and unseen, Moses told the Israelites to talk with their children about what they had learned in the wilderness. He told them to be talking with those kids morning, noon, and night. They were not to have children’s church, but they were to have Everyday School, conversations between parents and their children about God. Moses said children needed to be part of every worship service.

Children need to be in church. There is no other way for them to absorb the meaning of worship. There is no other way for them to grow up in the faith. Children need to be in church, and they need to recognize that they will need to grow up in order to understand it. That is what it means to grow up. Too many adults today never did grow up in their faith, because nobody let them be exposed to the necessity of growing up. They do not know that growing up is necessary. They still think that God has failed them if they ask for self-serving gain and don’t get it.

If children need the instruction and language of “children’s church,” then they need to receive it in Sunday School. When they go to church, worship is what they should be doing. They will not do it “right” the first time. They may have trouble singing the songs and following the hymnal, but just like the discipline of courtesy to adults and obedience to authority, they will learn to worship. God spoke to Samuel when he was just a child, and even though Samuel did not likely understand what it was all about, he did what God told him to do, and he never forgot the experience. Your children should not be led to think of church as something to tolerate while the grownups do their secret thing with God.

 

Take Your Little Children to Church

Parents teach their faith by sharing their faith in worship with their children.
Parents teach their faith by sharing their faith in worship with their children.

An article I read recently reported that many people with young children allege that they choose not to attend worship, even though they claim that they love the Lord, because the church they want to attend does not offer babysitting during worship.

I have observed for a long time that the statistics are climbing for young people turning away from Christian faith, or claiming no connection with religion, and I think I know the reason. These young people truly have no connection, because their parents did not give them any reason to make a connection with Jesus.

The claim that a church should have babysitting for small children during church is completely at odds with the way the Bible teaches us to rear our children. Moses said that children should be part of our faith in action from the time they are born. We ought to be talking with them night and day about what God has said and done in our lives. If that is God’s teaching, then we certainly ought to be taking them with us to church.

Several years ago we visited a large Catholic church in a heartland state as guests of my sister-in-law. This church was filled with children, and some were babes in arms. During the worship, there was some minor scuffling in pews where there were numerous children. We heard a baby cry during the sermon and also during the words of institution. There were children everywhere and they were both seen and heard from time to time. It hurt nothing. In fact, my husband and I both remarked how good it was to have children in church.

Our own church at that time had a program to occupy children to age 12 with other activities during worship. The children never attended worship, although some were brought in for communion, and the adults never attended Sunday School. In the hour between two worship services attended by more than 500 adults, it would be unusual to have more than twenty in the adult Bible class.

When we Christians publicly lament the falling away of the current generation of young people, we might ask why they make this choice. Why do the young people not continue in the faith of their fathers? I believe the answer is that their fathers and mothers have not taught them the faith of their fathers or modeled before them what it means to have faith in Christ. Their parents have not sat with them in church and helped them to understand what worship is, starting in the cradle. It is a very secular notion that children should not be exposed to religion or asked to process the teachings of religion “until they are old enough to decide for themselves.” God’s way is to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

It is interesting to observe that the same secular thinkers who allege that people of faith have no right to teach their very young children about Jesus certainly believe that it is best to teach those same children about gender fluidity and the experimental way to determine sexual orientation at the vulnerable age of four or five. Secular thinkers validate the teaching Moses gave several thousand years ago, recorded in the Bible, a book secular thinkers and so-called progressive Christians consider to be a relic, not a guide. Contemporary culture leads contemporary parents astray by luring them to believe that children do not need, cannot handle, and suffer risk when exposed to religion in early childhood. Yet contemporary culture knows very well that in order to assure that a child lives a certain way, it is essential to start teaching him to live that way when he is very young.

Churches vary widely in the “services” available to protect parents from the discomfort of dealing with their children during worship services. My proposal: stop offering any such services. Children ought to remember that they cannot remember not going to church as a family. If they are in worship with their parents from the cradle, as babes in arms, then their early memories will be drenched in hymns, Scripture and the fellowship of the faithful. They certainly won’t understand everything as children, but being in worship with their parents provides all sorts of opportunities for parents to talk with their children about Jesus and to explain why we do various things as acts of worship. The things children learn in the context of the family relationship will serve them well when they learn to read and discover the same truths in the Bible for themselves.

As for the parental complaint that “I can’t worship when the children are fidgeting,” please remember that you take fidgety children to movies, ball games, and other activities where attention is required. Parents accept the obligation of rearing children when they bring children into the world. Teaching children to be quiet when told and to do other things when told is simply part of the process. Frankly, it seems to me that rearing children to learn how to meet God in worship is a very fundamental part of one’s own worship during the parenting years.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” Hebrews 1:1-2. The author of Hebrews knew Jesus and had a living relationship with him. In the context of that relationship, he knew God even more richly than through the revelation recorded in Scripture. Our children learn through relationship, too. In relationship with their parents, they learn that God is real, he loves them, and he deserves their worship. People certainly do pick up Bibles, read them, and meet Jesus in those pages, but children can meet Jesus in the lives of their parents long before they are able to read anything. If my relationship with Jesus means anything to me, why would I not share it with my baby in my arms?

The best thing churches could all do is to invite babies and small children to worship. Make sure parents know that children are wanted and welcome. Instead of bag with coloring pages, give parents small guides for worshiping with children. The guides can include ways to prepare the children for worship ahead of time and encouragement in the discipline and self-discipline that makes worship possible. It is a win-win when a child learns something about both obedience to parents and obedience to God in the space of one hour. That accomplishment is surely more valuable than coloring a few pages to be taken home and trashed.

Christian parents need to be filling their children’s minds and hearts with Jesus, because the secular thinkers of the world are aggressively using early childhood to teach Satan’s agenda in kindergarten and grade school. Christians dare not wait to tell children about Jesus until they are “old enough to decide for themselves.” If Christians hold back and do not fill their children up with Jesus when they are young, secular educators will fill those vulnerable little hearts up with broad knowledge of gender fluidity and sexual experimentation to find out “what makes you happy.” There won’t be any room for Jesus after the secular educators have done their work.

The evidence is all around us. Children who were shuttled off to nursery and children’s church during worship believe that adult worship is a boring and unpleasant obligation. It isn’t fun, like the fun of nursery and children’s activities. Christian parents need to teach their children that being a Christian isn’t about fun; it is about knowing Jesus. Knowing Jesus can be fun, but there actually are more important aspects to life than having fun. If Christians want their children to know Jesus, they have the obligation to introduce their children to him at the earliest opportunity, and they must not let anyone tell them to wait till the child is “old enough to decide for himself.” Children do not get to decide much for themselves. Somebody will set the agenda for a child’s life. If the parent does not do it, secular educators will. Christian parents must bring their children of all ages with them into worship services.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Photo: artist not known
source: http://lemonade.fatcow.com

 

Hymn Meditation

Psalm 23

My shepherd will supply my need,
Jehovah is his name;
In pastures fresh he makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.

He brings my wand’ring spirit back
When I forsake his ways;
And leads me, for his mercy’s sake,
In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death,
Thy presence is my stay;
A word of thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.

Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread,
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days:
O may thy house be mine abode,
And all my work be praise!

There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger or a guest,
But like a child at home.

By Isaac Watts
In the Public Domain
Source: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/watts/psalmshymns.Ps.54.html

  • This hymn is based on Psalm 23. How do verse 1 and 2 of the hymn enhance the thoughts inspired by Psalm 23:1-3?
  • Isaac Watts faces his fears emboldened and comforted by God’s presence. The psalmist relied on the shepherd’s rod and staff. What encourages Isaac Watts?
  • Enemies may be individual people, or they may be forces at work in the culture. What enemies besiege you when you are enjoying the fellowship of the Lord?
  • Surveys in contemporary culture reveal that few people consider weekly worship in a building with other worshipers to be a big priority. Compare the view of worship described by Isaac Watts with the psalmist’s description. Compare these views with comments people of your acquaintance make about worship. Why do Christians need to gather with other Christians for worship? How would you explain that need to a secular thinker?

A Hymn For Meditation

hymnalMy God How Wonderful Thou Art

My God, how wonderful Thou art,
Thy majesty, how bright;
How beautiful Thy mercy seat
In depths of burning light!

How wonderful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be;
Thy endless wisdom, boundless power,
And glorious purity!

Yet, I may love Thee, too, O Lord,
Almighty as Thou art;
For Thou hast stooped to ask of me
The love of my poor heart!

No earthly father loves like Thee,
No mother, e’er so mild,
Bears and forbears as Thou hast done,
With me, Thy sinful child.

Only to sit and think of God,
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name,
Earth has no higher bliss.

Father of Jesus, love’s Reward!
What rapture it will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze, and gaze on Thee!

By Frederick W. Faber

From http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/m/y/mygodhow.htm

  • Where in the Bible can you read a description of heaven similar to the one in the first verse of this hymn? Why is God’s throne called a mercy seat? What must I believe about myself if I think I need a mercy seat?
  • If wisdom, power and purity are attributes of God, what can we expect from God?
  • Why is it bliss to think of God and speak his name? Do you actually agree that to speak God’s name is bliss?
  • The US culture is quite secular. Even Christians act as if rapture in the presence of God is a little bit much. What do you say to people who laugh at the idea of delighting in the presence of God?
  • If God’s teaching is full of wisdom, then what should you do with God’s teaching? When you live by God’s teaching, secular friends and neighbors make fun of you, or even accuse you of illegal discrimination. How will you defend yourself is you are arrested for child abuse for teaching your children God’s laws?