I have no doubt that there would be absolutely unanimous agreement that the church’s move to weekly Grace Group meetings has been a very beneficial and productive development for us. This became apparent again for me at a recent Group meeting where we had the opportunity for refreshing transparency and constructive introspection as we discussed and shared our reasons for attending Lord’s Day worship.
Even those who love to attend Grace Group, but seldom volunteer any verbal participation, were willing to be honest and speak up in answering for themselves the question, “So, why do you come to church on Sundays?” The reciprocal gift of honesty at this point, I am sure, was positively experienced in every Group. This is the range of responses we shared in our group.
First, I go because I have to. We were able to share some common sense of obligation in the area of wanting to please God—almost like doing something meritorious, earning brownie-points with God. Since we have said that we are believers, and those observing our lives are aware of that testimony, some spoke of needing to keep up appearances. Others spoke of almost crippling feelings of guilt if they stayed away without good reason.
Second, I go because I need to. Some people who are involved in some aspect of ministry on the day—music, crèche, transport, Sunday school or children’s church, or tea duty—rightly feel the pressure of responsibility to attend. For others, a sense of responsibility arises out of the burden to obey the fourth commandment: to keep the Lord’s Day special by being involved in formal corporate worship.
Third, I go because I’m expected to. At BBC, having spoken often around that familiar and biblically defensible concept of the obligations of grace, some people are refreshingly conscious of being in formal covenantal relationship—an undertaking having been made regarding regular attendance. It was this sense of commitment that, for some, gave rise, not only to the motivation to attend, but also to a subtle and not easily-defined sense of failure—almost personal condemnation—following unwarranted truancy. No, there was no sense of being condemned by others, but an awareness that attendance is not an insignificant or unnoticed thing where we have agreed to be our brother’s keeper. The Bible does clearly command that we ought not to neglect the gathering of believers.
Fourth, I go because I’ve been taught to. Some people who have been raised by believing parents could testify of the habitual attendance. Whether or not to worship God in formal corporate circumstances was not a weekly debate or option in their home. We go to church on Sundays—no debate! For these people there was a sense of privilege in having grown up with this heritage. Yes, there was a common admission of momentary resentment at times that life was so predictable and unvaried. And yet, this resentment was overshadowed by a sense of privilege.
Fifth, I go because I don’t want to miss out. Attendance at other fellowships whilst on holiday in other parts of the country or the world, has made it abundantly clear that a systematic expository ministry is not universal. Some congregations have a very varied and unpredictable diet of topical preaching. Going through books of the Bible one verse, or one chapter, at a time does make things very predictable. But it is this very predictability that creates an attraction all of its own. I don’t want to miss out on the next instalment. I want my attendance at the Grace Group to involve meaningful participation, which makes weekly attendance a foregone necessity! Even worse, what would it be like to have God move upon us in a miraculous way in the power of the Spirit, and me not be there to experience it for myself?
Sixth, I go because that’s what we do on Sundays. Some people admitted that church attendance was merely part of their family culture. While there were those who spoke positively of heritage and habit being a blessed thing, there were others who spoke almost resignedly of attending worship because this was simply how their week was structured. There was nothing better to do, and it just seemed plain right to keep on doing what they have become accustomed to doing on Sundays. Church attendance is part of our culture.
Seventh, I go because I benefit. While any conversation around a topic like this can begin to sound like children debating the benefits of eating their vegetables, there was unanimity that sinners simply must appear before God for the regular provision of perspective, restoration, encouragement, and formative teaching. Sick people benefit when they simply discipline themselves to take their medicine!
Eighth, I go because so much preparation has been done. This is a fact that so easily gets overlooked. Sunday worship services don’t just materialise out of nowhere; a number of people work hard in their preparation. A venue is prepared and set in order. A suitable environment is prepared physically and technically. Musicians practice. A preacher takes pains with a manuscript. Service leaders prime their hearts. Worshippers pray in anticipation. All these many hours of preparation ought not simply to be dismissed and spurned! What a pity not to benefit from it all.
Ninth, I go because I’m paid to. At risk of being misunderstood, vocational elders can also admit to the realisation that attendance at worship, and involvement in leading others in worship, is also technically their job; it is what they are paid to do. Being financially sustained in their work is, of course, a biblical notion, and yet, in the emotional ebbs and flows of motivation and engagement, spiritual vitality and momentum must not be taken for granted. Elders oftentimes need to work twice as hard to lead others in worship and at the same time worship God authentically and sincerely! It is cumulatively exhausting always being up front, depended upon to deliver and lead! But, cut the cackle and do what you have been called and gifted to do!
Tenth, I go because I want to. All genuine believers know the sweetness of that sense of privilege and blessing, when in looking ahead to corporate worship, or looking back on recent experience of the same, they know the benefit of having truly engaged God in the prescribed activities of corporate worship. They know that they have benefitted intellectually, emotionally and socially from the fellowship with loved and trusted friends. They know they have received grace through the means of grace! In a privileged world of options, worship of God on the Lord’s Day has become a preference and a priority!
The interesting reality is that of the above possibilities, we all know the interesting and nuanced, almost inexplicable mix of motivation as we gather for worship as the household of faith!