Two of the “characters” in my childhood church were a couple of sisters. They were in their sixties or seventies at the time and well-respected by the rest of the congregants.
When anyone wanted a good illustration of what being faithful or serious about faith was, these two sisters were often mentioned because they were so consistently present in the life of the church. We children were told, “even when they don’t feel well they are present at worship services.”
I can’t say I would admire their tenacity today. Part of it seemed to flow from a punch-the-card, obligatory approach to piety. However, I do think the idea of habitual association with other disciples of Jesus is important. With apologies to Dave Letterman, here are my top ten reasons that attending “church” should be part of one’s disciplines.
Reason ten: You get to see your grandfather snore. My grandfather never saw a pew he couldn’t sleep on. It wasn’t because he was uninterested; he just had a hard time sitting still for that long. But it helped me as a kid to see that family, life, and foibles were components of a Christian community. We were all just folks.
Reason nine: Spudnut donuts are great Sunday evening food. My family had a tradition, and it was to invite a big gang of people over to my grandparents for Sunday night fun and those delicious hot donuts made from potato flour. Something about the donuts and the informality of the evening cemented our relationships.
Reason eight: At our church old folks encouraged young folks. “You’d make a good pastor,” I was told, before I had ever thought about what I wanted to be. There was something sweet about an old person taking an interest in the future of a child, and sometimes kids were inspired to do great things with their lives.
Reason seven: Sunday school workbooks were a big deal when I was a child. These workbooks had no graphics, interesting Internet links, or iPad apps to make them compelling. They were just page after page of Bible drills and fill in the blank. But the strategy worked. We learned interesting things about the Bible because our teachers and our parents continually taught us the things they wanted us to learn. Our parents knew that children grow up to practice what they were taught was most important.
Reason six: At church we got to hone our speaking skills. It was not uncommon for a child to be asked to read a scripture or lead a prayer in our worship services. Those experiences gave us confidence and poise as we became more and more adept at public presentation. These skills transferred to lots of other contexts as well.
Reason five: The regularity of worship helped us develop personal discipline. Things that are not done habitually are often lost as other distractions and demands are given higher precedence. Our parents were teaching us what was important to life.
Reason four: Churches are known for their potluck socials, and individual members of churches are known for their food specialties. Potlucks are a good excuse to sit down with each other to visit. We learned that there were not many things more important than setting aside opportunities to be with friends, and food is the cement of the relationships.
Reason three: Faith communities offer good medicine to each other. That medicine comes as a delicious pie, delivered at the right time, or a cup of coffee and time for chat, or a warm hug and a word of encouragement. People often pay counselors to do what a strong community can do just as well.
Reason two: Developing the habit of attending worship makes one’s faith stronger. How? It does it by giving a place to talk about faith, to debate it and examine it. A faith community provides spiritual food and strong ideas. Being with others supplies inspiration and support available in no other place.
Reason one: Developing the habit of worshiping with others is a good way to strike a blow at the isolation of our world. The place where Satan does his best work is where we are isolated from others. Habitually worshiping with others places us in a context where we are protected from weakness, temptation, and loneliness. Skipping out on group life makes us weak.
One of the New Testament writers said that neglecting to cultivate this discipline makes one “weak and ill” in a spiritual sense. Truly.