You’ve heard me recall aloud how my preaching professor, William Muehl, urged us seminarians “to preach as though everyone there almost didn’t show up on that Sunday.” His charge was less about that phantom “relevance.” He was more about preaching with urgency on things that matter. Rather than make the gospel relevant to your life in a modern world—which usually means watering it down—I want to make your life in this modern world relevant to the gospel. Big difference!
Bill Muehl was way ahead of his time in at least one sense: every year fewer and fewer folks attend worship in America. Perhaps some days you ask: why bother? Our July attendance has been good but every August attendance drops off a cliff.
This much is clear. Attending church in order to get your card dutifully punched—attendance for attendance sake–is on the wane. Why? Back in the era of Moses Mather, our founding pastor, our church was the hub of society, culture, and also partnering with others in the life of Darien–besides connecting people with God.
Today much of that gets done on the electronic appliances of an internet world.
So then why attend church? Actually, I know a pastor in Boston for whom such talk as that is a pet peeve. “You don’t attend church. You attend worship.” At first, I wanted to groan at this stickler for detail. But more and more, I get her point.
We don’t attend church. We are church. Yes, just like the Sunday School ditty merrily affirms: “I am the church; you are the church; we are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together.”
So the real question is: what does it mean to be church? Being the church has something to do with living your life for Christ–in the peaceful and loving shape of the cross–and demonstrating that love by serving others and sharing your faith.
Being the church means abandoning being a spiritual consumer in favor of being a faithful contributor, sharing your gifts, both tangible and intangible. We can’t do that apart from other Christians. Our gathering together is Jesus’ idea. We don’t attend church. We are church as we take on the mission Jesus gives us. Church is less about filling seating capacity than it is about seizing our sending capacity.
Another compelling reason to be with us on Sundays is a desire to keep growing your faith. This isn’t so much about increasing how much we know as it is stoking how much we love—both God and neighbor. The future of the church will be built upon those who want to share in this purpose, express it in service, and engage the mission of Christ’s church where we live and even to the corners of the earth.
The more we expect from each other such a vibrant level of engagement rather than pandering to spiritual consumers, the more vitality we will see sparkle here. Nothing will change the world more powerfully than sharing the love of Christ with a world in desperate need of it. That gets me out of bed from Sunday to Sunday.