JESUS IS BUILDING HIS CHURCH: WHAT HAPPENS IN CHURCH?
God is concerned about his people gathering or meeting together rather than about the buildings we meet in. But what are those meetings meant to do? Church meetings are not a way for a Christian to affect God, to change him. Church meetings are a way for God to change us, to make us different (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Church is not for a Christian to come and go through the same words each week and think, ‘I’ve done what I ought to.’ We may be uncertain and fearful that we have not done enough. Or proud because we think we have done enough.
Church is not for a Christian to come and show God my feelings, to show him how much I love him. We may be uncertain and fearful that our expression is not good enough. Or proud because we think we have expressed such deep devotion.
We do express ourselves, our desires and hopes, in our prayers and in the songs that are to God. But that is not the main reason to come to the meeting. Church is one of the things God uses to change us. When we gather, God uses the teaching, the songs and the prayers to train us to love him and what he has done for us. He trains us to fit in with who he is and with his purposes. He trains us to no longer be fearful and uncertain, we know what he has done and is doing. He trains us to no longer be proud, we know he is the one at work, not us.
This may be a different way of thinking about church from what you thought it is about. You may need to read this sheet a couple of times and think it through.
When we think church is all about me expressing myself to God it creates problems. If we understand that God is using church to change us, we avoid these problems. For example:
1. If I think church is for me to express myself, I will be tempted to be a hypocrite, looking good and not admitting my sin.
When we see that church is something God uses to change us, we will find it easier to admit that we are not scrubbed up, impressive people but that we are weak and inclined to sin.
2. If I think church is for me to express myself, I won’t bother coming to church if I don’t feel like it. After all, what is the point if I am not in the right mood to express myself?
When we see that church is something God uses to change us, we don’t have to ‘feel like coming to church’ for church to be good for us and for us to take part in. In fact, many of us don’t feel like coming on a Sunday morning. But after the church meeting, we are glad that we came. During church, we find that it is only once we start to sing that our feelings may catch up with the songs we are singing.
3. If I think church is for me to express myself, I easily become selfish. I complain about parts of church that don’t suit me.
When we see that church is something God uses to change us, we will join in. We do need to try to find out when we don’t understand parts of the service. Ask; What do these words mean? Why do we pray that prayer? Why do we always have the Bible read? And so on. But we join in, knowing God uses these to change me and others.
4. If I think church is for me to express myself, it is easy to think that what I do matters most, not what God is doing.
When we see that church is something God uses to change us, we see he is doing the main action, not us. He uses our meeting together to do that. We should join in because we trust that God will use our weekly meetings to change us and those around us.
5. If I think church is for me to express myself, I may make the mistake of thinking that words must be spontaneous and unplanned to be genuine and sincere. So using the same words in confession or creeds cannot be sincere.
When we see that church is something God uses to change us, we can find that carefully planned words help. We should take care we don’t use them thoughtlessly. But sometimes it is only by using words many times that the penny drops. We know that doing the same thing again and again is good in other parts of life: to keep teeth healthy by brushing, to learn piano.
Church is not for us to come and show God our devotion. It is how God re-directs our hearts, trains us to desire the right things. Church isn’t something we do to God, it is where God does something to us.