Here’s why I don’t always want to go to church: There is no experience that will more accurately diagnose the spiritual illness I would rather deny, than living through a worship service.
Church is a giant barometer of sin. A friend of mine who sang in a church choir told me that during the time in his life when he was spending Saturday nights in gay bars, the only way he could walk into church was to pretend to be a completely different person. He couldn’t reconcile what he’d done the night before with what he was singing in the morning, so he tried to keep his life carefully split. This tension was not something he could keep living with; eventually he gave his whole life to God and stopped the promiscuous behavior. He could no longer hack the craziness of not being integrated.
Going to church is one of the ways I stay integrated and a lot less crazy than I would otherwise be. The weekly discipline of gathering with a big group of believers and focusing on God invariably shows me how I need to repent. A few personal examples:
- After a week when I have over-committed and overworked, I walk into church and see a needy person who usually wants to talk longer than I want to listen. I have a powerful impulse to hide. As I duck into the ladies’ room, it’s pretty clear to me that I am running on empty and no good to anyone until I take time to be alone with God.
- During the time of confession, the worship leader asks God for forgiveness for “all that we have done and left undone.” Immediately I remember something I promised to do for one of my kids over two weeks ago. I realize I remembered to do what was important to me, but forgot what was important to him.
- During the sermon, the pastor reads from Matthew 7 about removing the log from your own eye before taking a speck out of your brother’s. I become aware that I am actually thinking resentful, judgmental thoughts about the person sitting next to me as the sermon is being preached. Oh the irony.
- As I listen to a song during the offering, I find myself rating its production values, and am forced to admit that I am choosing criticism over worship.
By the time I leave the service, it is more than clear to me where I need forgiveness and change. If I’d stayed home and made French toast instead of going to church, it would have been easier to believe myself a pretty good person.
When I’m at church I especially need to ask myself the following:
- Do I feel superior to someone? (That’s the sin of pride.)
- Am I easily irritated? (That’s intolerance.)
- Am I anxious among this crowd? (I’m probably over-focused on my own performance and what people think of me.)
- Am I overwhelmed by people’s needs? (This points to a weakness of faith.)
Everyone will have their own custom list of sins to watch out for, generally in the areas of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath or sloth. Digging up our sins is no fun, but it shows us our need for God, and when we go to God he heals us and sets us free.
There is nothing like gathering with a bunch of people whose company we haven’t chosen, to worship a God who sees right through us – to clarify our sins for us. We can’t grow without it.