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.