Why Doubters and Atheists Should Come to Church (Why Even Go to Church Part VI)

I knew a woman who spent years in the New Age movement, getting deeper and deeper into occult practices. It had started as a spiritual adventure and ended as a nightmare, leaving her desperate to find the truth about God. She told me once that as soon as she walked into our church’s service, she could feel God there and knew that she would keep coming. Through some spiritual process that was hard to explain, she knew she was home.

The most intelligent of my classmates in high school, an eloquent and convincing atheist, arrived at school one Monday morning with an uncharacteristic smile on her face. She announced to me that she had become a Christian.  I asked her what brought it about. She said she had attended a performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” At the beginning of the song she was an atheist, by the end, she was a Christian. All my labored apologetics had yielded no apparent change, but something about people singing worship music had reached her.

I remember the first few times I was among people in a worship service (dragged along to camp by a friend in school.) As I watched this roomful of kids singing and praying, I sensed that something real and profound was going on. I didn’t get it, but I wanted to. I sensed that I was missing out on something really important. Seeing worship was not enough to make a believer out of me, but it was the beginning of a very close watch on the Christian community, and the asking of a lot of questions.

Because of experiences like these, I think anyone seeking truth or longing for a connection with God should come to good church services. Obviously, people are not going to worship until after they believe, but often in the process of listening to songs, prayers and sermons, powerful things happen in our souls. Obviously I have blatantly evangelistic motives, but before dismissing Christianity, it only makes sense to be sure you’re not just going along with the culture. (Christianity, as most of us know, is just not a thing right now in the U.S.)

Ed Stetzer, a writer in missiology and church growth, tweeted this last year: “One of the most effective evangelistic methods a church can use is exposing the unchurched to the authentic worship of God.”

I would argue that people who aren’t Christians should try out some good worship services to be thorough in their exploration of what life has to offer, and people who are Christians should show up weekly, if only to be on the lookout for some people  who might have questions. That is, after all, our commission.

 

A Weekly Dose of Beauty (Why Even Go to Church Part III)

So far, I’ve made a case for showing up at church to be grounded in truth and involved in a community of love. Now I want to plug our desperate need for a weekly dose of beauty.7190209497_49c2cdc6d3_o

Clearly God values beauty, what with the creation of sunsets, flowers, waterfalls, people from LA. The first thing God told his people to do after he rescued them from slavery was to build a place for worship,  to use their most precious stuff for it and employ their best artists to make it. All its architecture and objects were their visual reminders of the law and character of God, skillfully made with gold, silver, precious stones and fine fabric. The tabernacle was beautiful.

Just as clearly, it is in us to seek beauty. In “Beauty Pays, ” economist D.S. Hamermesh demonstrates that beautiful people are more likely to be employed and are better paid. Even against logic, we gravitate to beauty. It soothes us, delights us, renews us, gives us hope.

Christian communities have always valued beauty, making their buildings and worship events as lovely as they could manage. Gothic architecture points us to heaven. Stained glass hints at a glory beyond the glowing panes. Modern churches may be stark in design, but they shoot for beauty with their music production and their screen work.

Some churches are ugly, but not many, and never intentionally. Traveling with a Christian theater company takes me to a lot of churches, and even in the simple ones, people bring flowers, hang pictures and practice their music to make it flow. In preparing something beautiful for God, we do Him honor, but then, as so often happens with God, our giving ends up blessing us and we find ourselves nourished  by the beauty we soak in as we worship.

It may be a song’s haunting chord progression, a few seconds of riveting movement in a dance, a few eloquent sentences, or an awesome movie clip – but sometimes, one sublime moment in worship can stir us to a new level of faith, or hope, or love.

Life can be so harsh. Some of us work in tough, ugly places all week. Most of us are bombarded with the media’s disturbing sounds and images. One of the important ways we can care for ourselves is to soak in the music, art, poetry, drama and crafted speech that we experience in church.

Beauty is the physical demonstration of God’s goodness. Where evil prevails, places get ugly. Part of the horror of concentration camps, battlefields and crack houses is that all beauty has been destroyed. Where God rules, beauty takes hold.

We need to get together to celebrate the beauty of our God, and be renewed by it.

(Next in this series, “A Giant Barometer of Sins.”)