People often ask me why I go to church.  Interestingly, that question can be asked for very different reasons.  Some ask because they are merely curious.  Others are interested in my spiritual journey.  Some are trying to find ways to talk themselves into continuing to attend church.  Others ask it in a somewhat incredulous fashion, wondering why anyone would do such a thing, especially in our increasingly skeptical age.

There are many ways to answer the question of why I attend church.  I guess an obvious answer is that since I am a vocational minister it is a requirement of my work.  But I attended church before I became a minister and would continue to attend if I were no longer in ministry.  I could also give a theological answer about how the Scriptures assume we will be a part of a gathering of God’s people if we are his followers, etc., etc.  Or, I might base my answer on morality, saying that it helps me to be a better person.  For me, though, the answer is based on personal experiences that have shaped my thoughts about church.

I attend church because I was taken to church by my parents.  As far back as I can remember my family attended church.  There were times in my life when I resisted going to church and wasn’t very happy about having to attend, but I continued, because my parents asked me to.  While there were plenty of times I would have preferred staying home and joining my friends in a game of football or so I could sleep in, my parents continued to insist that attending church was important, and they were right.  It became apparent to me very early in life that church was important to my parents.  Between the two of them, my parents at one time or another held about every leadership position in our church and devoted a lot of time to its ministries, and this made a deep impression on me.  My dad, who often worked the night shift, might get only an hour of sleep before going to church, and after the conclusion of worship would take communion to the homebound.  When you’re a kid you are very impressed by that level of devotion.  I’m still very impressed by that level of devotion.  Because church was important to my parents, it became important to me, and I’m grateful they insisted that I attend.

I attend church because of the people in my home church who invested in my life.  I could give you a long list of names of people who took an interest in me. A couple of them were ministers, but most were not.  Most of them were friends, neighbors, parents – people who lived in our community, attended our church, and most importantly, cared about me, and because they cared they became very influential to me.  They were people who provided me with an example of what it meant to live a life of faith.  They taught me how to pray, taught me the stories of Scripture, and, most importantly, modeled faith to me.  Most of them probably had no idea of the impact they had upon my life.  As so many of them are now in eternity, I hope they have learned how much they meant to me.

I attend church because I need a reminder that life does not revolve around me.  I have a tendency toward self-absorption, and thus need a reminder that life consists of far more than myself and my needs and wants.  Our society seems to be growing in self-absorption, often forgetting there are countless people who have far less in life and live lives full of struggle and difficulty.  Attending church reminds me that I must look beyond my own life, recognize there are so many in need, and do my part to make the world a better place.

I attend church because I believe there is a spiritual component to life, that it must be nurtured, and that it is best nurtured by connecting my life with others in a congregation.  I can sympathize with the “spiritual but not religious” to the extent that I have often been frustrated with some of the institutional aspects of churches, but I continue to believe that I need to bind my life with the lives of others in order to grow spiritually.  I can also appreciate the sentiment that one doesn’t need to attend church in order to worship; worship can take place in many settings.  I do not, though, confuse worship with an appreciation of God’s creation, which is all I would manage in a boat or on a golf course.  I enjoy those places, but I do not believe I am worshipping when I am there.  When I attend church I know I will be challenged in ways I am not challenged anywhere else and will be asked to do things I am not asked to do anywhere else.  There is nowhere outside of church, certainly, where I hear that I am to love my enemies.

A skeptic might conclude that I’ve simply been “programmed” to attend church.  Maybe so, but I will be forever grateful that attending church has become part of who I am and I know it will always be an important part of my life.

Dave Charlton

November 15, 2012

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