by Michael Wilkes
I’m aware that church is not a building that you go to. It is, however, a people you go to be with. So, it isn’t wrong to say that you are going to church. And I assume that you know very well how to get to church. But, do you know how to go properly? If you do, are you practicing what you know?
How we go to church says a lot about our view of the worship gathering and our expectations. Do we go with anticipation for God to deepen His work in our own hearts and in the lives of our family? Do we expect lost people to be saved? Do we expect hurting people to be healed? Well, we certainly should. If you are a follower of Christ I believe there are three essential elements for us to think about when we go to church. If you are not a follower of Christ, just get there! You will hear the good news about how our sin is forgiven and our relationship with God restored through Jesus. You will see people who are changed by the love of God, but we are far from perfect and continuing to learn and grow—hence the need for continued instruction.
When you attend the worship service you are not a spectator of a performance. It is not an event for your entertainment. It is a gathering with the express intent of joining together in unity to bring worship to God. Sure the songs we sing may bless and encourage you, the sermon preached may challenge you, and the testimony of other’s walk with Jesus may inspire you, but you are there primarily to bring something. Going to church properly requires that we confront our self-centered motives and look for ways to glorify God and bless others.
When the worship band is on stage, they are there to help you lift your heart to God in worship. When a pastor is preaching the Word, you should listen actively and intently with an expectation that the Holy Spirit will shape your heart and direct your life. When someone leads the church in prayer, it is so you can actively pray along. You should not see yourself as a bystander or part of an audience but as participants. Our audience is the Lord. What we all do together as the church is for Him.
You should be proactive in discovering ways you can use all the gifts, talents, and experiences that God has entrusted to you to be a blessing to others. Strive to be part of the church by helping to show hospitality to one another and guests, serving in the nursery, or in some other practical ministry team. It brings glory to God and health to the body when each member is doing his/her part (Ephesians 4:16). It is when we are collectively working together that the gospel is most clearly put on display.
I know how hectic it can be to get out of the house on Sunday mornings—especially with kids. It is difficult enough to get to the service on time. While this is a noble feat, it should not be our goal. Don’t be the guy who starts his victory dance before getting into the end zone. Our goal is to come with hearts prepared. Too often in the hustle of getting ready and getting there, we fill our hearts and the hearts of our family members with anger, frustration, resentment, and anxiety. Jesus isn’t interested in receiving our gift of money (or worship, or service) until our grievances with others are settled:
"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
-- Matthew 5:23–24
No one plans to have an argument on the way to church, but do you make plans to protect it from happening?
Yet, our preparation for worship with the church is more than taking practical steps to protect our families from frustration and tardiness. It begins with a proper view of why we gather and the One we are worshipping. The worship gathering of the church is an invitation from God to enter into His presence in a special sense with His people. We should not take it lightly and approach the gathering flippantly.
"Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation."
-- Psalm 24:3–5
Our Father, whom we approach in worship, is holy and it is important that we come to him with hearts prepared through fresh repentance. When we come harboring sin or ignoring it, we grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), hindering our experience of God and our ability to bring anything pleasing to Him or edifying to the church.
Do you take the time to prepare your heart to gather with God’s people? Do you lead your family in a time of preparation that involves more than getting dressed and eating? You would do well to take time Saturday night before bed and/or Sunday morning before leaving the house to remind yourself and your family of what it means to be part of Jesus’ church, and to pray for your hearts to be prepared for the work God wants to do through us as we gather. And this brings me to the final element, which is our chief means of both participation and preparation.
God used the ministry of the London Metropolitan Tabernacle under the preaching of Charles Hadden Spurgeon (1834–1892) to reach thousands of people. One Sunday five college students were spending the day in London, so they went to hear the famed C. H. Spurgeon preach.
While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who asked, “Gentleman, let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?"
Being a hot July day, they were not really interested. But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they agreed. The young men were taken down a stairway. A door was quietly opened. Then their guide whispered, “This is our heating plant.” Surprised, the students saw hundreds of people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself. It was Spurgeon.
The impact of the ministry of this church is often attributed to the giftedness of their preacher. Spurgeon is referred to as the “prince of preachers.” Sure, he was uniquely gifted. Sure, God used him, but it was God’s work through and through. Even Spurgeon knew that prayer was the key to the impact of all their ministry. Regardless of your particular gift or role in the body of Christ, you are capable of participating in prayer. As mentioned above, prayer should be an integral part of your preparation for the gathering. You should pray for your own heart and family—expressing repentance and thanksgiving. You should pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ and their families. You should pray for those leading in the worship service and preaching to be empowered by the Spirit. You should pray for God’s continued direction in all the ministry of the church. You should pray for the lost who will be gathered with us to hear the gospel, see a true picture of the gospel through us, and be saved!
Prayer is also the greatest means of participation in the service. There is a robustness to the task of prayer that we often do not realize. When we sing our songs of praise rightly, it is prayer. When we offer our hearts to God during the service in repentance and surrender, that is prayer. Even when we are listening to God’s Word preached, we can and should dialog with God in our hearts. That too is prayer. We should be in prayer throughout the service. Sometimes we may be called on by the Spirit to intercede for others—maybe even during the preaching. We should come expecting to pour out our hearts to God in prayer as He leads. And when we do, God will answer! When we gather spiritual warfare is taking place and prayer is our means of engaging in it.
Do you remember the story of Israel’s battle against Amalek in Exodus 17? Moses was instructed to hold up his staff as they fought. When his arms got tired and the staff lowered Amalek would begin to prevail, but as long as the staff was raised Israel triumphed. Moses couldn’t hold the staff up by himself long enough, so what did the people do? Aaron and Hur came beside him and held each of his hands up until the victory was won (Exodus 17:12). This is a great picture for us to store in our minds during the worship service. When a man is standing to proclaim the Word to us, he is not called to carry the weight of responsibility alone. You are there to help keep his arms lifted—probably not by going up to the pulpit, but definitely by praying fervently.
We need to grow in our recognition of the weightiness of what God intends to do as we gather together. We need to be intentional about our preparation and participation. Though we may dress casually, our approach to worship and ministry should not be. Let’s go to church rightly and reverently and see what God is pleased to do in our families, our community, and among the nations!
Michael Wilkes is the Preaching & Missons Pastor at The Oaks Church in Denham Springs, La.