Recently I was asked this question: “What keeps you coming back to church?” My mind immediately began to sift through all the things that drew us to the church we have been attending for about 3 months.
After going through some difficult church situations we were tired, discouraged, confused, disillusioned…you name it! We felt it! We needed time to rest, think, pray, heal, and seek God. We visited several churches during a period of about a year, yet we did not feel drawn to any of the places we visited.
During this time, two faithful pastor friends met with us. They did not try to recruit us to come to their churches. They only wanted to help us sift through the rubble of what was left behind from what had been torn down in every way. These godly men, with their compassion, counsel, and prayer helped us in the process of getting back on our feet again.
God has led us to a vibrant, inner-city church plant. It is unlike any place I have ever attended and is the place we believe God wants us to stay and serve in new ways and in a new season.
So what keeps me going back to church?
Is it the friendly people? Well, this church is definitely a friendly church! Is it the fact that, from the first day we visited the church, we have had multiple people tell us that they have been praying for a couple our age to come to the church? Although we do LOVE that we are wanted and needed in this group of people that are all younger than we are, even that isn’t what keeps us coming back. Is it the fact that the pastors are committed to expository, biblical teaching? That WAS on the top of our list of things we were looking for and we really do love the preaching there. But, no. Not even that is what keeps us coming back.
There is one thing that keeps us getting in our car every Sunday morning and driving to the city of Baltimore to meet with this vibrant group of believers. On the days when we wake up with a knot in our stomach because memories of past church pain still lingers, when we doubt our gifts and abilities and wonder if there is a place for a couple our age, when everything feels unfamiliar and we miss going to church with our kids, when the enemy whispers words of condemnation and accusation in our ears and tells us we are not needed anymore – we remind ourselves of Hebrews 10:24, 25:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24, 25
One commentary says the following about these verses: “Meeting together is not merely suggested by the Bible – it is commanded. Growth in faith is greatly influenced by having Christian examples around us. This is why the Great Commission was for the church to “make disciples,” not merely to talk about Jesus (Matthew 28:18–20). Verse 24 commanded Christians to look for opportunities to inspire others to love and good works.
This verse specifically disapproves of the failure, on the part of Christians, to meet with other Christians. The Greek term used here is enkataleipontes, referring to “an abandonment or forsaking.” The ESV translates this term as “neglect,” since it implies a failure to do something one ought to be doing. In clear terms, Christians have an obligation to fellowship with other Christians. This is not only necessary for discipleship, but so that we can meet each other’s needs, and encourage and inspire other Christians in their faith (Hebrews 3:13; Colossians 3:16).”
No matter what has happened or what we have gone through, God’s Word has been the source that we fight to look to for our answers about how we are to live. In a (church) culture where many are leaving the faith because they have seen some bad examples, because of pain inflicted by leaders they trusted, or because of faulty teaching they have received, we are determined to look to the One who will never let us down and who has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:1-4). We know that if we look to anything or anyone else for our answers we would likely join the mass exodus!
When we are faced with the reality that some of what we have experienced is not the way it’s supposed to be, we know that the only place we will continue to learn how things are “supposed to be” in the church is by looking to His Word — not the culture, not Christian celebrities, not books on cultural issues, and not in the most popular podcasts. We know that our biggest need is to seek God for ourselves and study His Word, allowing His spirit to drown out all the voices, anxiety, disappointment, and feelings of inadequacy.
We know that the only way we will be able to persevere and grow in our faith is if we are connected to other believers who challenge us in our walk with God. Yet, as much as we love our new church, we also know that it will not be a perfect church, and we will not place our hope in a group of people because they are not the ones who will enable us to continue to obey Hebrews 10:24,25.
We are learning to thank God for the not-so-great experiences that we have had in the church because those experiences have challenged us to be in the Word in a deeper way. We have been convicted of attitudes and error that have been exposed in our own hearts as we have had to sift through wrongs done to us through the lens of God’s Word. And, thankfully, we have been reminded of the many examples of Christ-likeness that we have seen over the years and we are asking God to help us imitate the precious, faithful believers we know and have known, as they imitate their Savior (1 Cor. 11:1).
That is what keeps us coming back to church.