My wife and I have to make regular decisions about how we’ll spend our limited time (I’m pretty sure you feel like this too, yes?), and we often have a tension to work through between time spent with our church family, and time spent doing other things. Now with three kids, this decision-making process gets even more complicated at times. And recently, quite a few conversations between us and others have centered on that tension, and has had us thinking about it a lot. What place should our church family really play in our lives, as we try to have the best marriage that we can, try to be the best parents possible, the most productive workers we can be, etc?
There’s also a trend today of involving oneself in programs and causes outside the church or that are nominally connected to churches (read: humanitarian causes); but if this isn’t the case across the board (and it isn’t by any means), there’s still a pretty common trend today of guarded and/or lacking involvement in a local church. Speaking for my own generation, many of us have seen this in the last decade and a half, partly as a reaction to an imbalance of too much church-centeredness in the Christian world. Folks realized church programs were taking up way too much of their time, and they didn’t have enough down time with their families during the week, let alone time to get to know their neighbors and bring the Gospel to bear in those relationships too. But for our family, we’ve discovered that some degree of healthy, mostly un-programmed church involvement is really necessary for our family, and we carve out time for it.
Here are just a few reasons why we make time for church.
1. It’s family time.
Dare I say it: the family of God trumps even biological family ties. We’ve been bought by the blood of God’s Son, to bring us into His family. We’ve been raised from the dead. And we’re told to spend time together for a lot of reasons. Among these, are the commands to love one another and bear one another’s burdens. And how do we genuinely do these things? By making time to be around people in our church family, getting to know each other, and then being able to encourage, admonish, and pray for one another as we share hardships and joys together. Members of a family need one another for a lot of reasons, and the family of God is the ultimate example of this.
2. The Church is us, not the building.
The “Church” in Scripture refers to believers – to the bride of Christ, the saints. We are the Church (though local church families are also a practical outworking we see in the New Testament, of the family of God doing what it just naturally needs to do in specific locations. Again, we are the Church. So the way we normally talk in our culture, about “going to church” on Sunday, or whatever, is really kind of silly language the way we often mean it. We are the church, and Scripture calls us to not forsake the meeting of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:23-25). The point is to be together, not to do a “church service” the way we often think of it. Think of all the people who show up to a “church service” on Saturday or Sunday, who really aren’t a part of that local church family. They’re really not “meeting together” in the sense that the book of Hebrews commands.
Though the “service” model of doing church misses the mark at times, we need to meet together, and there are things that need to be happening when we do meet as the Church – preaching and teaching, and public reading of Scripture; singing together; public prayer, etc.
3. We really, really need each other.
I need my local Church family to be there for me when my burdens get heavy. When I’m stuck in the Slough of Despond, or climb the Hill of Difficulty, as John Bunyan might say, I need the Brethren. I need the Church, and the members of God’s family that know me, and are known BY me. We really need each other, and if we’re going to persevere to the end as believers in Jesus Christ, the presence of other believers in our lives will be a huge way God enables us to do that. For prayer, admonishment, killing of sin, and for building up – always building up.
So my wife and I carve out time for us and our kids to spend time with the other families in our church. We go to church functions, but we try for a way in which we’re not overcommitting to involvement in “programs,” but where we’re just spending time around people. Thankfully, we’re a part of a church that doesn’t overload its people on programs and events, to free us up for the most important kind of time spent with one another.
We attend our midweek Shepherding Group (small group Bible study), and we love it. Even when it seems inconvenient in our week, we do our best to carve out the time and get there. Because we’ve found it keeps us from sin, makes our burdens light, and refuels our joy in the Gospel and in our Savior.