Recently, the broiler went out in my oven. Having ordered the part, Christina assured me I could install it. I’m not known as a handyman, so this felt risky to me. Thankfully, I found a step by step tutorial online. I nailed it. The broiler works perfectly.
The internet is full of these how-to guides. I remember when YouTube was only for cat videos, but now you can find every kind of tutorial imaginable. Other sites use written out text with pictures. Maybe I’ll get around to video and pictures at some point, but I thought I’d at least write a tutorial on how to go to church. It seems necessary.
First of all, I do get it. If you are a believer, you are the church. Church is not a building; church is God’s people. So we aren’t talking about going to a building. But when your church gathers, how do you go? How does this gathering work best? Here are some guidelines and tips.
It Starts With God
In Revelation 1-3 Jesus is depicted walking in the midst of seven golden lampstands. We are told these lampstands are the seven churches in Asia Minor. Jesus was walking in their midst.
I mention this because Christians rightly believe God is everywhere. But this does not mean you can experience God alone at the beach in the same way you can with your church family. God is everywhere present, but present in a special way when His people gather.
Think about this. When sin occurs, God is there. His presence at that time is one of broken heartedness and separation. Sometimes God is present for judgement. Sometimes God is present for mercy. But when the church gathers He is present in a special way.
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).
When we gather, in whatever form it takes, there is the possibility of His special presence with us. It is a presence altogether different from His presence with or in us personally. The collective gathering is different because God interacts differently with us collectively.
This might sound dumb, but your church attendance needs to be on your calendar. I’m not saying everyone needs to keep an actual written or digital calendar, although it might be a good idea. What I’m saying is that putting church gatherings into your calendar in advance is helpful. It helps you feel it isn’t an optional meeting, but something you have committed to in advance. If something else comes up, another invitation, you can see how there is a conflict. It might be helpful to see "church" deleted or erased when you decide for something else.
Like going to work or school, successful church attendance begins the day before. Get a decent night of sleep and you’ll be more prepared to give and receive during the time with your church. Decide what you’ll wear tomorrow, and if you have children have them do the same. Too many Sunday mornings are spent frantically looking for a rogue left shoe. Think about what time you need to wake up to give yourself — and your family — plenty of time to peacefully get ready to leave.
This is a big one if you attend a morning service. Since it’s Sunday, we feel all weekend about our wake time. We need alarms Monday-Friday, but we don’t want them on Sunday. But this usually won’t do. Set your alarm for the proper time and wake up when necessary. I’ve always tried to wake up with enough time to have a little Bible reading and prayer, followed by breakfast and a shower. Giving enough time for this helps put me in a good frame of mind for the day.
Departure & Arrival
Figure out how long it takes to drive to the church building. Add ten minutes, fifteen if you have children. This will allow you time to check in your kids, grab some coffee, say hello to a few people, and find your seat, all in time for the beginning of worship. If you want to get the most out of your time with your church, this includes enjoying the entire church service. I have found that some human contact beforehand, with a little space to prayerfully ask God to bless and use me during our time together, is helpful. If you are rushing into the gathering you’ll have a harder time shifting into that moment.
Expectancy & Preparation
Have a belief that God will work. This very day. He wants to renew your mind. I almost wrote, “He might want to,” but He does. There’s no maybe about it. He wants to use you to encourage someone, serve someone, greet someone, love someone, or get to know someone. His Word is sharper than a double edged sword. He wants to use it in your life. Have an expectancy of these things and you’ll see more than if you passively engage with your church. Mute your phone and give your full attention to the Lord through His church.
Most churches like to sing at some point in their corporate gatherings. During that time, sing. It is good for your soul, your heart. As you sing, mean it. Think about the words your are singing. Don’t wait for your emotions to well up within you. Many times the emotion will follow the motion. But it isn’t about the emotion anyway, it’s about the God who deserves your adoration and praise. Give it to Him. Prayerfully push out the distraction of the day and sing. This time of prayer in song might end up being the most powerful part of your week. At the least, it will prepare your heart to receive His Word.
The teaching (or sermon, lecture, talk) is an important part of the all-church gathering. The Holy Spirit does the real work here. But on the human side of things half the work is the teacher’s and half the work is yours. You will get out what you put in. To bottom line my advice here: bring your Bible and take notes. My teaching style is expositional (directly from the Bible verses), so I don’t like teaching when people don’t have their Bibles opened/on. Bring your Bible to church. Additionally, note taking might help you track and process the Word. I know some people cannot process a teaching while taking notes, but many could benefit from this practice. My personal habit is to take notes during a teaching of any kind. This keeps me engaged, training my mind to concentrate for long durations of time. Whatever you do, don’t passively take in a teaching. Like the cheerleading squad at my high school used to say, “Be aggressive. Be, be aggressive.” Get after it during the teaching time.
Go out of your way to thank all the people who served you and others that day. To thank the teaching pastor is good, but also thank the worship team, the sound techs, kind ushers or greeters, and especially children’s church workers if they’ve served your family. A thankful heart is a healthy heart. Cultivate thanksgiving every time your church family gathers.
Eventually, a healthy believer will serve his local church family. Your act of service — or part of it — might happen during the weekend all-church gatherings. When you are ready, step into some form of service. Give yourself to it. If your church has multiple weekend gatherings, I recommend serving during one and attending another.
After The Service
After the structured time of church worship comes unstructured time with your church family. There are times you’ll have to get on with the day rather quickly, and other times you’ll simply want to. Resist that urge, because it is healthy to linger around after church services. This provides a great opportunity to meet people, extend yourself, and talk with others. You might find yourself praying for, encouraging, or listening to someone. Or you might receive prayer, encouragement, or a listening ear. Perhaps eating a meal with other believers would be appropriate during this time slot. If possible, try to discuss something the Lord showed you during the more structured time. Perhaps a truth, conviction, encouragement, or command would be edifying to share and talk over with others.
Throughout all of this, prayerfulness must rule the day. Pray for the teaching pastor the night before. Pray for the servants who will give their lives during the gatherings. Pray for your own heart to receive. Pray for those who don't yet know Christ. Pray during the worship time, that God’s Spirit would help the congregation. Pray during the corporate prayer times, for you are meant to agree along in prayer. Pray during the message, that God’s Word would break through into human heart. Pray with others following the service. Cover it all in prayer.
I ought to warn you, however. If you do these things you might find your heart overcome with love for the church Jesus Christ shed His blood for. He loves the church immensely, and you might find yourself growing in that love. I say this because Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” When you invest your time and resources in your local church, you are putting your treasure there. Soon your heart will be there also. Be warned.
Jesus talked about the seed of God’s word falling on four different types of soil. Only the fourth bore fruit; the others were eaten by birds, allowed no room to grow, and choked out by weeds. I believe what I’ve outlined above can help cultivate the soil of your heart and mine for all Jesus Christ has for us. Let’s engage and get the most out of our all-church gatherings. They aren’t the only meetings we should be a part of, but they are meaningful, so let’s engage in them for the glory and honor of God!