This has become a concern as I interact more with various Christians facing challenges and difficulties in their situations and spiritual walk. In the course of our conversation, I would always ask them where they worshipped at. This would indicate at least three things to me: one, if they belonged to a local church; two, if they are regular in their attendance at this community; and, three, if they are actively involved in the life of this community.
Without prompting, these would proceed to describe their church experience, and it would usually sound like this: “Oh, I enjoy the fellowship. The worship (referring to the time of singing) is wonderful and touches my heart. The messages are really good and I am always blessed by the preaching of the Word. The pastor is very nice and friendly.” In other words, on the surface, everything sounds ok to me … you are blessed and having a great time in this church.
And so, I ask the next question, “Why aren’t you talking to your pastor or church community about this problem you are facing right now?” And almost always, the reasons given do not necessarily line up with the positive church experience described, ranging from “I don’t feel a connection or belonging,” to “I don’t think it would be right to discuss this with my church,” to “My church doesn’t teach us to handle such challenges.”
As I thought about this, I realised something about this rather common occurence: All these may have had a nice, positive church experience. But the main question that must be asked is, “Have these grown in the Lord at all?” Sadly, from what is shared and observed, I don’t think so. This may sound overly harsh, but it is the truth. The scary thing is that these can quite readily quote Scripture and spew Christian slogans as well as any other believer. But they go on living compromised lives, basking in the feel-good messages of God’s love and grace. They are deluded and deceived into thinking that as long as the church experience is positive, they are ok. NO, IT IS NOT!
I believe these are not isolated cases that I have come across in my limited sphere of ministry. Given today’s consumer culture that has crept into the Christian community, more and more are going to church for that feel-good factor. This explains the musical-church phenomenon that is so prevalent amongst believers as they scout for the best speaker, the message, the ambience, the experience, the goose bumps, the worship team, the children’s ministry, the youth ministry, and the menu for Sunday lunch. If they feel good about it, they stay. And if they don’t feel good, it’s time to be ‘led by the Spirit’ to look for another church.
In case anyone misunderstands me, or the point of this article (rant), I am not begrudging anyone of a great time in the community and fellowship of believers. As a pastor, I definitely do not wish for my congregation to be dragging their feet to church, or dreading another Sunday morning, or another sermon preached by yours truly (God forbid!). But more than just a positive church experience, my deepest desire is for each to grow and mature in Christ.
To this end, I am challenging and provoking us all to reflect and ponder more deeply what our faith is really about. Is it just about having a good time, being entertained and feeling good about ourselves? I think not! We have been saved from sin and judgment for a plan and a purpose! Hey, Jesus paid a high price for that! The spiritual journey is about growth and maturity towards the image of Christ. Along the way, we must be meaningfully engaged in the ministry and mission for the sake of Jesus and His Kingdom.
Don’t be fooled that everything is fine just because your church experience is fun and happy-clappy, or if bank accounts are full and life appears good. The Pharisees and the rich of Jesus’ day were all deceived into thinking they were the ones more favoured and blessed of God. We could as easily fall into the same trap.
All said, praise God if you are really enjoying church and Christian fellowship! But don’t stop there. Ponder the following questions, and allow the Holy Spirit to search deep to reveal what is truly in your heart …
- Is it primarily all about you, your emotions and your desires?
- Have you placed church experience above your relationship with God?
- Do you worship God for who He is, or only for what He can do for you?
- Is worship defined as a good song that brings tingles and tears, or a response to the awesomeness of God?
- Do you know and agree with the vision and mission of your church?
- Are you contributing, with God’s help, to the fulfilment of this vision and mission?
- Is it just between you and God, or are you connected with others who truly love Jesus?
- Are you willing to be held accountable, allowing others to speak the truth into your life?
- Is confession and repentance something you do regularly?
- Are you a taker or a giver?
- Do you ask “what’s in it for me?” or “who/what/where have you called me to serve, Lord?”
- Do you enjoy church only for yourself, or do you derive joy from serving God and others?
- Do you get upset and think of leaving when things don’t go your way in the church?
- Are you following the crowd, or truly being led by the Holy Spirit?
- Do you read your Bible? Do you know and abide in the Word?
- Are you a hearer and a doer of the Word? Are you applying all you are learning?
- Are you one who professes faith with no works to show for it?
- Do you only talk Christian but not live Christian?
- Are you growing and maturing spiritually?
- Are you pursuing a life of holiness by His grace, or presuming upon His grace with a life of compromises and excuses?
- Do you love Jesus as King and Lord of your life?
- Are you one of the multitude, or are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?
- Are you willing to surrender, to yield, to deny yourself, to take up your cross and to follow Jesus?