Why I went last night.

February 11, 2007 at 11:18 am 9 comments

We went to church last night and this morning I am wondering why, after all these years I still go.  We have been travelling a lot lately and we don’t go much when we travel.  After 50+ years of almost never missing church, frankly, it has been nice to not go.  But we went last night and while it was OK, music was good, preaching fine, some friends were there, it wasn’t “all that”.

Why do we go?  Why do you go, if you do?  I have friends that are people of faith but they just don’t do church.  It just doesn’t work for them. Increasingly that is true for more and more of us.  While the mega-churches (over 2K in attendance) continue to grow, all other sizes of churches in America are in drastic decline. More than 100 churches close their doors every week.  Mega-churches are at least interesting and the music is usually better.

For many, church holds painful memories and when something bad happens to you at a church you hardly ever go back.  I can relate both professionally and personally.

I could go on and on about why I think church has become passe and why many don’t bother anymore.  My answers would range from sheer boredom to insensitive people and lackluster leadership but I think most people don’t go because they do not find in church what they are driven inwardly to seek-peace and security. 

Life is so hectic and so hard and from one day to the next we can never be sure what will happen and so when we can, we look for ways to feel peaceful and secure and the worship experience in most churches doesn’t provide that. 

In many cases it just exacerbates the feelings of insecurity and fear we feel most of the time.  What with the constant pitch to join or come or help out or serve or participate or give and then a format that mostly focuses attention straight ahead on people we either find interesting or don’t, worship seldom fosters a sense of peace or security.

By the way, the need for peace and security is built in to us.  We were created with them and the Creator intended that in worship of Him we would find them fulfilled and yet most of us don’t.

Peace and security are words that come from the ancient Hebrew language.  Shalom and shalvah.  They are both words rich in meaning and not easily defined but here is one attempt.

Shalom means wholeness, the place where all we were intended to be and feel and enjoy and live are gathered up and released into our lives.  Shalvah is a word that describes the sense we have when we feel at home, calm, cared for, protected and free to live out the life God created us to live.

As poorly as I may have defined them, is this not, at some level what you long for and miss and revel in when you actually know you have grasped them, if just for a moment?

The One who created us intends for us to find shalom and shalvah in worship.  To find it in a community of faith where, when we gather together, we draw peace and security in and from the Presence and the Power that is enthroned on the praises of His people.

When we don’t find it there we stop going and we look for it somewhere else.  Some find it in their family,  their club, their friends or other gatherings.  I was at a huge dog show not long ago where there was a sense of shalom and shalvah among the people who brought their dogs to show and spend the weekend camping and sitting around the campfire sharing stories about dogs and common experiences.  If you are part of a group like that you know why you would rather go there than to any church you have ever been in.

As disillusioned as I am about the church and the potential it has to provide shalom and shalvah there is still a deep longing in me to find these needs met in worship of the Creator with people I can care about and I know will care about me, with the scars, wounds and everything else that makes me and you what we are. 

I guess that’s why we went to church last night.  I still have hope.

Is it happening where you are?  How have you experienced shalom and shalvah?  Are you satisfied with the expression of church you are part of ?  Do you sense the Presence and the Power? Care to share with us why or how you have found shalom and shalvah?


Entry filed under: Christianity, Church, Faith, Thoughts.

All wrong reasons. Good stuff.

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. JennJo  |  April 14, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    I’m just catching up here, that’s why this response is quite a few months after your post.
    But, I hear you. I have been trying to figure out this whole church thing myself. Church as we know it just doesn’t seem to fit the description of “the assembling of the saints together.”
    I mean, coming in, facing forward, “greeting your neighbor,” listening to someone’s perspective on the Word is all well and good, but lately it just doesn’t bring me what you spoke of when you described shalom and shalvah: “Shalom means wholeness, the place where all we were intended to be and feel and enjoy and live are gathered up and released into our lives. Shalvah is a word that describes the sense we have when we feel at home, calm, cared for, protected and free to live out the life God created us to live.” This really made me sigh and long for what might be.
    I’ve been asking myself: Is it the Acts church style that is what we’re missing? And what does that encompass exactly?
    To me, it just seems like the Acts church service (from what I know of it) was a more intimate, raw, honest gathering together than the current church service is, and that seems like shalom and shalvah to me.
    Its hard for me to be at home in a large group of people I hardly know.
    Its like a family reunion where you get together with virtual strangers who you know by sight or history and everyone is polite to each other and “enjoys” the others’ company for the time allotted and then you all return home to your regular lives. You may keep in touch a little more with cousin Dorothy over email or Aunt Janet on the phone, but you don’t become more intimately acquainted with even 5% of the people you saw there and you don’t impact eachothers’ lives in such a way that you all better people.
    I crave the closeness and intimacy of a group of believers who really know me and who I really know in which we are pushing each other forward toward all God intended each of us to be and to go for.

  • 2. Earl & Ruth Radmacher  |  February 13, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    God straightened my thinking out about why we go to church almost 40 years ago. We (all six of us) were on our way to the Wednesday evening prayer meeting at Hinson when Rebecca, our oldest, said “Daddy, let’s sing.” I said, “Good. You start it.” Then the next one had his request, and the next, and the next until we had gone around the whole family. By that time, we were at church and did I ever feel good. We all bounded into our respective groups and I was ready to receive a solid message but I got nothing but disappointment. The first disappointment was our pastor wasn’t there. The second disappointment the associate pastor preached. And the third disappointment was that he did a pitiful job. I thought, “Why did I waste my time coming to hear this yo-yo murder the word of God. I would have been better off to stay home and read my bible. I waited–impatiently– for him to get through. After what seemed like an eternity he said “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I turned to go out and reached back to grab Ruth’s hand and she wasn’t there. When I had turned to go, she had turned the other way and was engaged in a conversation with an elderly lady, Mrs. Findlay. We had heard that the couple that normally picked her up to bring her to prayer meeting didn’t that night because of the ice, but she felt it was important enough to be there that she, an 80+ old woman, walked six blocks on solid ice to be present. Thus Ruth said, “We want to thank you for your faithfulness.” Mrs. Findlay broke out in tears and said, “I want to thank you for that. I am just a useless old woman who doesn’t do anyone any good and I have been complaining to God ‘Why don”t you take me home.’ Oh, don’t misunderstand me. Over the many years I have done many things in this church. I’ve played the piano, sung in the choir, led the choir, taught Sunday School, been SS Superintent. Etc. I’ve done about everything in this church except preach from that pulpit but I’m not doing anything now. I’m just a useless old woman. I was asking God why He leaves me here.

    And now you have been God’s answer to me. He wants me to stay here to pray for you.” Wow! I shriveled up in my narcissistic attitude and it changed my life. I shall always be thankful for the encounter with Mrs.
    Findlay that night.

    Over the last four decades, that narcissism has come into full bloom in the present postmodern culture where the big word has become how I FEEL about it rather than what God specifically says about it in His Word. Recently, one of our free grace pastors was speaking on this problem at the annual meeting of FGA and he gave us a contemporary version of “It’s all about you Lord, it’s all about You” namely, “it’s all about me Lord, all about me.” He went on to give another song a postmodern twist, namely,
    “I worship me, that’s who I am. there’s none like me”

    This is the day of denial of absolutes, but, praise be to God, He got some of the kinks out of my brain that night through Mrs. Findlay’s example so that the passage I have preached on more than any other is Hebrews 10:19-25 (the high point of Hebrews). I demonstrate my love for others by “not forsaking the assembly”–the episunagoge–The God-ordained meeting place of the saints.

    Greg, I have literally presented that message hundreds of times and God has never failed to use it. And it is needed more today than it was then but at 75, after intestinal surgery and open heart surgery, I do not have the strength I once had, but God-willing, I will include it in a conference series at Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, North Ireland April 3rd – 8th. Please pray for me.

    Greg, with everything in you fight the pity party. Be a soldier! You have much by gifting to offer and 1 John 2:28 is still in the book. How about coming to the annual regional meeting of FGA (see http://www.freegracealliance.org ) at Corban College in Salem June 4-5?

  • 3. Diana Burke  |  February 12, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    Fellowship… a command. It’s helps us keep perspective and balance. There to serve as called. If serving as called and living as led and filled then yes because HE dwells within His people. Satisfied? Never entirely, not intended to be. I need to know why I long for eternity. Shalom and Shalvah – only found in T-He Presence and T-He Power that is enthroned. I love my church. Full of broken sinful people, deceived but not destroyed, still hoping, still longing. God is able – Amen!

  • 4. Jaynee  |  February 11, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Since you asked…….I’m finding my Shalom and my shalvah in my Jesus because people let me down. I attend my church because I am called there. Called to serve a broken people who for some reason need my personal brokeness to help give them life. It seems God has decided that being laid open in front of people is a good place for his children to be sometimes. It is humbling and I feel very vulnerable. So I’m faced with the choice to squirm and resist or surrender into God’s Arms Of Love and like a small child, finally relax and let him meet my need in His way, intended for my ultimate good.My Hope is not in the people or in the place we call church, but in the God who stirred us all together.

    Kim Hill and Judie Lawson wrote a song called “In You Alone”. I don’t know either of these sisters in Christ but their words echo my Shalom and Shalvah:

    In You alone is where I find my comfort.
    In You alone, you’re my only hope,
    In You alone My heart has found a resting place. In You alone.
    In You alone is promise I can cling to,
    In You alone, You’re my security,
    In You alone My soul has found a dwelling place.
    Only in You alone.

  • 5. Mimi  |  February 11, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    Sometimes I think we forget that the church building isn’t the church – the Body of Christ; it is the people in the building…and you don’t have to be in the building in order to be with the Body.

    We can worship God anywhere, and we should. Actually, nature calls us to worship the Creator when we open our eyes to the marvels of His handiwork.

    I appreciate Kasey’s comments about not judging how another worships. How I talk to/worship my Father is my business: sometimes it is through music, sometimes through prayer, sometimes through the Word, sometimes through service, sometimes with others, sometimes alone, sometimes in the midst of trials and pain, often as I walk through His creation, telling Him, “Thank you and You are wonderful beyond words;” isn’t that what worship is – giving God the recognition He deserves no matter the circumstances or location?

    I have an awesome Father, won’t you “sing” with me (no matter where you are) – then all the world will see how Great Is Our God!

  • 6. KC  |  February 11, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    Greg, I have to say the experience you describe and the attitude that you shared is the reason I am more and more convicted that “Church” is not about what you get.
    Danna said in her post that the reason she went to church was that she “was too undisciplined to worship and pray and read the word every single day.” Yes, we’re called to do all of those things, but I would further point out that GOING to church is also an act of discipline. It has to be, we’ve been called to do it. So church is about the discipline we have to commit to worshiping Him and “giving” to Him. Anything we “get” is a blessing.
    And having grown up in the Church, it still takes discipline to return each Sunday. I’ve experienced bad preaching, bad music, bad doctrine, bad people, etc, etc. That’s Church and I still go. You never know what you’re going to “get,” but it doesn’t matter, we’re called to be there, we’re called to “give” there. We’re called to give our money, give our time, lift our voices, bow down, lift our hands, give glory to our Creator. God loves his Church and he loves to be worshiped.
    Personally, I’m at a place in my walk where I don’t like the music at any Church period. I think its too distracting and showy, I look around and see people singing their hearts out and I only have feelings of contempt. I even think my wife goes to Church just to sing! What’s up with that? Well that’s worship for her. I look at the fancy guitars the slick beats and the “manipulating” transitions and think, “What is this American Idol.” It feels so commercial and its everywhere. But that is MY problem. Deep down I know that this is where other people around me find the “shalom and shalvah” that you described. I find it in the Word. I find it when we finally put the guitars down and someone starts to preach the Word. I know that the discipline of staying awake, being attentive, taking notes, etc., etc. is an act of worship. It draws me closer to God. Then I look around and I see the same person that was singing their heart out asleep. Church touches everyone differently, always has and always will.
    What I will never understand is why and how people choose not to go to Church. I’m not talking about taking a break or in between congregations or whatever. I’m talking about Christians that unequivocally denounce the attendance of any and all churches. Find a church and commit to it. That’s what I say. Now that’s not to say you have to stay their forever. I believe there are God given reasons that people switch Churches, but again that is for them to settle with God.
    Finding the perfect Church, the perfect song, the perfect sermon, the perfect congregation or home group will not bring you “shalom and shalvah.” Only a disciplined focus on Jesus Christ will bring you that and as long as we live in the world, it will only be glimpses. Our souls are destined to be reunited with Christ and anything else falls short.

  • 7. Danna  |  February 11, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    I believe we were the friends you were talking about at church last night. Having experienced hurt from “church” and taking a “time out” for a few years, I know why I went to church last night. I went to church because I was too undisciplined to worship and pray and read the word every single day by myself. I couldn’t get to those high places just by being alone. I went because I believe God speaks to me through other people. I feel like I get out of worship what I put into it. If I can remove myself from the presence of people and enter into worship where my mindset is totally on the Lord then I can be lifted up into the heavenly places. I can’t play instruments and go there by myself. But when there is music and worship I can certainly go there without effort. I went to church last night because I love to hear the word. I love to hear someone else’s perspective on scripture and meaning. I may not agree but that is no matter. I went to church last night because the Lord gently tells us not to forsake the gathering together. I went to church last night because I am hungry hungry hungry for the things of God. I went to church last night to see happy people trying to have the victory in life and living.
    I LOVED church last night. I have no judgement as to what you are trying to say. Honestly, I’m not sure I get it . . And taking a time out is very personal. If anyone can find peace and joy from staring at a flower or looking at the clouds go by, good for them. But I found that those things don’t help me with things like attitude, victory over weaknesses, not being judgemental, being kind, being honest, being a witness for my Lord Jesus.
    If there is a perfect church then I believe we have probably arrived in Heaven. . . . We are all on our journey together setting up treasures in heaven. I felt like I was reminded of that last night. I went to church last night and came away fulfilled, happy and with hope in my heart that I can have a great week.
    Lord Bless You.

  • 8. Marty Wilson  |  February 11, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Through many of my earlier years I visited many differn’t churches in search of this security feeling you spoke about. I asked myself the same questions in my younger years..why do I want to attend church?? I couldn’t seem to find any church that I totally agreed with or liked or enjoyed. So I quit going for a short period in my life. Then it was one day that I realized that its not the people of the church that I missed but the fellowship with the Lord in his house. Its the one place that whether your there alone or with 100’s of others, you know that the Lord is always there and you know you are in his presence. The minute you step inside it radiates his holiness and the spirit moves us like no other place. There will never be “one” church that will ever satisfy our needs. Only God can do that and that is where the security comes from. When we attend church and go with this attitude it all changes. If you think the church can bring you the secure feeling or the people you will surely fall and be disapointed and never develope the secure feeling that the Lord has intended for you. As for me I look forward to going to church just to get to visit with the Lord! It is his home after all.

  • 9. .justin  |  February 11, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    i would be curious to see how you would run a church in your present situation and circumstance. having experienced all that you have in the past 2 years.

    please don’t be hurt by this statement [i don’t think you will be]:
    a lot of the examples you gave of church [paragraphs 4-6] were very good descriptors of what church was like while you were running it, like most of the “non-mega-churches” around the county. FBC is still that.
    i wonder what you would do different, if you had the opportunity?
    would you revert back to what was familiar and comfortable for 50+ years of church attendance?
    or would you be able to live it out different?

    so maybe this question leads me to the practical:
    if you were to lead/build another church, what would it look like on a sunday?
    what would it look like throughout the week?
    what would be the same?
    what would be different?

    i long to be an agent of change.
    i long to see CHURCH return to a true life-giving place.
    if it’s not we are wasting our time.
    and i fear we are currently wasting our time.

    thanks for writing and sharing.

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