It’s easy to sleep in and skip church on a Sunday morning. And if we skip a few Sundays, it’s easier to miss the next few. And for a few of us, we keep staying away because we fear that others might look down on us for not being around. Or worse, we are afraid that God won’t let us back in after we’ve stopped attending church.
But will God forgive me for not going to church? Or will He close the church doors on me for good?
God forgives us when we do not go to church. However, God desires that we make church attendance and participation a habit so we can more fully experience the joy of being in a Christian community. Even if we’ve been gone for a while, God welcomes us back when we return.
The Purpose of Church
An increasing number of Christians are getting to church less frequently, or have stopped going altogether. Some cite busy schedules that squeeze church time out. Others are turned off by scandals, hypocrisy, or broken relationships within the church.
Some have concluded that with online sermons, devotional apps, and plenty of other digital resources, gathering in person has become antiquated and unnecessary. We can be Christians without ever leaving the couch!
If any of this sounds familiar to you, consider if you would approach your work, your friends, or your family the same way. If not, then you understand how regular interaction with others in person better enables you to maintain and grow important relationships and engage in meaningful and fulfilling work.
Relationships and purpose are at the heart of Christian community, and God called us together as a church so that we can experience both in all of their fullness. When we think of church this way, we start to see church not as an obligation, but as a gift from God to us.
When you hear the word “fellowship,” what comes to mind? For many Christians, “fellowship,” means “social time,” such as a coffee hour after worship, a picnic, or a small group get-together.
However, this notion only captures a small aspect of the meaning of a much richer New Testament Greek word, koinonia.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.Philippians 1:3-6
In this passage (taken from the NIV), koinonia is translated as “partnership.” Other English versions render koinonia as “fellowship,” “participation”, “contribution,” or “communion.” So which translation is right?
They all are. But they are all somewhat incomplete, too.
This isn’t the translators’ fault. There simply is not a single English word that encompasses the full dynamic meaning of koinonia.
What Unites Us?
In different areas of life, people are united by different things. With our coworkers, we share a common purpose. With our families, a common heritage. We might feel a sense of camaraderie with other home-team fans at a ball game, a shared objective with people who share our political ideology, or a mutual responsibility for success with our business partners.
Koinonia expresses all of these points of unity at the same time.
This is how fully God desires His church to be committed to Him and united with one another.
In our previous piece on the Christian way of life, we examined the importance of Christian community in our faith journeys. Our standing as Christians is established through grace alone in Jesus. But our life as Christians is expressed through joining in the life of the church.
Doing Life Together
Earlier we looked at the opening words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This is a letter filled with joy over the church’s expression of love and encouragement for the church to continue in the koinonia of the gospel by growing in—and serving in—God’s love.
So why do Christians need the church in order to experience and express love?
The Church and Love
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.John 17:20-23
Jesus prayed that the church would be one just as he and the Father are one. This is a unity that comes from complete unconditional love for—and commitment to—each other.
It is because the church is built on this foundation of God’s unconditional love that Jesus could say that our love for one another is how people would recognize us as his followers (John 13:35).
As Christians who are committed to loving one another, our love compels us to:
- Encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25)
- Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
- Teach one another (Colossians 3:16)
- Care for each other’s needs (James 2:14-17)
Growing in Faith
Looking back again at Paul’s words to the Philippians, we see that even as Paul celebrated their partnership, he saw it as a good work that was still being completed. In fact, growth is a lifelong journey. We will not reach the fullness of perfection in this life. So for as long as we live, God continues to teach us and grow us.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.Colossians 2:6-7
Plants are nourished by soil, water, sunlight, pruning, and weeding. They depend on the gardener to complete these tasks. Likewise, the teaching, serving, and encouragement that we provide one another in Christian community enable us to grow in ways that we cannot achieve apart from one another.
Exercising Our Gifts
In a previous article, we explored the various spiritual gifts that God gives to believers. Through the church, we discover our gifts and are given opportunities to use them:
- So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. – Romans 12:5
- Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. – 1 Corinthians 7, 27
- So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. – Ephesians 4:11-12
We discover also from these passages that our gifts are designed to complement each other. As a church, we are able to accomplish much more for God’s kingdom by working together than we could as individuals each operating alone.
A Lesson about Peas
Years ago, a man told me that he felt closest to God when he was on his boat surrounded only by the ocean. He said it reminded him that we are all “like little peas” compared to the vastness of God.
I like his analogy, but for a reason other than the one he intended.
I like his analogy because peas are most useful when you have a lot of them.
You wouldn’t put a single pea on a dinner plate—you serve a whole pile of them!
In fact, the one literary reference to a lone pea—The Pea and the Princess—shows a single pea acting on its own to be nothing more than an irritant.
You can’t even go to the store and buy a single pea. You have to buy a can or a bag full of them. Even in the produce aisle, the least you can get is a pod—and it still contains multiple peas!
So yes, we are like peas. We are made to be united in every way. We grow together, function together, and belong together.
If you have been avoiding church because you believe it is pointless or because you are afraid that God won’t welcome you, be assured that He wants you there. He wants you to experience this unique gift and discover the koinonia that He has called each of us to.