It’s a phrase I’ve said or thought many times. Church is over, I’m sitting at home eating lunch, and I think to myself, I didn’t really get much out of church this morning. The worship leader was wearing a loud, distracting plaid shirt, that looked like an Amish quilt and a neon sign had been thrown into a blender and then reassembled at American Eagle. We also sang that one song that I really don’t like – the one that repeats the chorus over and over and over, like some sort of druid chant. And the sermon…well, it definitely could’ve been better. I mean, it was Bible and Jesus and something about holiness, but the pastor definitely can’t preach like Matt Chandler.
What did I get out of church?
Have you ever asked that question? I suspect you have.
After all, in our, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” culture, it’s hard to not be self-centered in our spiritual lives. We want to make sure that we’re being fed, built-up, and connected when we come to church. And we live in a world that is filled with reviews and evaluations. I loved the shrimp and grits at “John’s Seafood Shack” and gave the place five stars on Yelp! I had an awful customer service experience and I told all my friends on Facebook (I actually did this recently, but don’t ask me about it because I get angry every time I tell the story). It’s easy to treat church like any other consumer experience.
It’s interesting though, that when we look at Scripture, we find very few details regarding the things we should get from church. Rather, we find lots of details about what we should bring to church.
In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul describes what a gathering should look like: “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”
Paul describes church as a bunch of people coming together and giving themselves away. He expected that every one of the Corinthians would come prepared to give something, whether that be a hymn, lesson, revelation, tongue, or interpretation. For Paul, church was not a spectator sport. It was an all hands on deck kind of thing. No slackers allowed. For Paul, the most important question wasn’t, “What can I get out of this gathering?” Rather, the most important question was, “What can I do that will build others up?”
In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”
It can be tempting to think that ministry is the stuff done by pastors, worship leaders, and small group leaders. We let them do the work while we sit back and watch. But the passage from Ephesians makes it clear that ministry is done by every Christian. Pastors and teachers are called to arm the saints for ministry, and then the saints are to go into the battlefields. The most important question isn’t, “What am I getting out of this ministry?” The most important question is, “What ministry am I doing?”
John Frame puts it this way:
Worshipers should not take a passive attitude toward worship, such as we usually take toward entertainment. As we have seen, worship is a priestly service. It is latreia, “labor, service.” Therefore, we should go to church to do something: to bring praise to God and to minister to one another. This perspective should make us less concerned about what we “get out of” worship and more concerned about what we contribute to God and to our brothers and sisters. (Worship In Spirit and Truth, pg. 80)
Obviously, it’s important that we attend a church which allows us to experience biblical preaching, fellowship, the sacraments, and all the other important parts of church. But if our main question after every service is, “What did I get out of it?”, we’re asking the wrong question.
It’s time to be all in.