Church is a strange place on Sunday mornings. Often it seems a dry place. The structure is so monotonous and repetitive—there’s the welcome, the worship, the announcements, more singing, the message, prayer, more singing, and the benediction. Every Sunday, the routine is more or less the same. Quite frankly, I find it easy to be bored in church. I find it easy to fall into the “anti-institutionalized religion” trap, failing to see that the church is more than a meeting every Sunday morning.
But what’s worse than all of that is that I am ashamed of church.
I am ashamed of the seemingly repetitive structure and form that church on Sunday morning takes. I am ashamed of the cheesy worship songs. I feel like a fool when the worship leader decides to make everyone in the pews worship “Father Abraham” style. I often fall asleep during the sermon. I yawn during the prayer. I gladly tell others than I am a Christian, but to tell them that I am a regular church attendee is another matter altogether.
One Sunday it hit me—I’m so embarrassed about church that I would never bring want to bring a non-Christian with me on Sunday morning.
If I, being a Christian, think the songs lame, the actions silly, the sermon drab, and the prayers dry, how much more will a visitor think the church is lame! It’s my job to be a part of the church, so I remain. But for the non-Christian, why should he attend and endure the three-chord music and sleep-inducing sermons?
And so it is, in my foolish pride and human “wisdom” (which really translates into folly), I decide that no non-Christian I know will want to come to church. What’s more, I decide that should he come for one Sunday, he will definitely not want to come to the next. Not only does he not want to come to church, but I also figure that he will not want to hear about the redemptive and saving power of Christ in my life. I think he is not interested, and I don’t want to shove my faith down his throat.
No one likes to be force-fed. Even if I were starving, I would be quite angry if someone grabbed the juiciest of steaks and shoved it down my throat. Obviously, eating is a very voluntary thing. Everyone wants to do his own eating; no one wants someone else to shove anything down his throat.
Consider what it would be like if I was a starving man who had experienced the discomfort of having people try to force me to eat. Every time, I would cough it up and throw up. But suppose someone else comes along. They have a steak, and it’s sitting on the table in front of me. It’s just sitting there—they’ve generously place it in front of me. My eyes widen in anticipation, but just as I reach out to grab it, he pulls it away and briskly turns the other way and walks over to his friend. “Why?” I wonder. “I need that—I’ve wanted that for so long.” But I do not say anything. I am silent, but even as I lower my eyes in disappointment, I hear him say to his friend (who also has a plateful of steak,) “He won’t want it anyways. Look at him—you can tell that people have tried to force him to eat this before. He won’t want what I have.” And he walks away, leaving me hungry.
Isn’t there something wrong with this picture? Isn’t there something wrong with leaving the starving man hungry just because he has had negative experiences with people force-feeding him? Yet this is how many of us live our lives. This is how we think of our churches. We assume that people will not want what we have. We assume that they will be disgusted with our church. In short, we tie the hands of God with the ropes of our foolish assumptions. We completely negate the power of the Holy Spirit with our foolish thinking.
Somehow we come by the idea that good songs and solid preaching are going to draw people into the church. But the truth is a good song has never drawn in anyone. Nor has a good sermon. The best sermon in the world never brought one soul to a relationship with Jesus. There is only one who draws people into the Kingdom, and that is the King. He may use our good songs and powerful speaking abilities, but they are just conduits. He is the one who gives these things their power. And if He can use the good songs and the touching sermons, He can definitely use the dumb songs and the seemingly incoherent sermons.
The same goes for our lives. We cannot assume that people will not want to hear about the life we have because of this or that reason. We need to trust to something greater than our ability to persuade. We need to trust to the Spirit that dwells within us. It is Jesus who draws people to Himself. To shift the focus onto our own abilities to draw people to Him is to concede to ineffectiveness. The Spirit uses our abilities—and more often our inabilities—but it is He who does the work of transforming the hearts of people. Why, then, do we assume His responsibility?
Next time I sit in church, I’ll probably groan through the songs and the monotone sermon once again. But what will always amaze me is that where I see cheesy songs and dull sermons, someone else sees something that they have been wanting for his entire life sitting right in front of them. There’s something else moving, and once again, I’ll realize that God is not one to use only abilities, but inabilities as well, and His power truly is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).