The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

WHY BOTHER WITH CHURCH?

Delivered 11/15/2015
Text: Hebrews 10:11-25
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

I have a story for you. Two fellows are out fishing on a Sunday morning. As they sit quietly in their boat in the middle of the lake, in the distance the sound of church bells can be heard. One fellow says to the other, "I feel a little bit guilty about being out here instead of being in church, don't you?"

His friend replied, "Naw, I don't feel guilty. My wife wasn't feeling well this morning, so I wouldn't have been able to go to church anyway."

Another story. A young lad was late getting to worship. After the service the pastor greeted him and inquired as to why he had been late. With little hesitation the boy said that he was going to go fishing until his dad told him no. Although disappointed that the boy would even consider going fishing instead of coming to church, the minister affirmed the father's wise choice. Then he asked, "Where's dad?"

The lad answered quickly, "He said there wasn't enough bait for both of us to go fishing so he went alone."

Fishing on Sunday morning...or golf...or the beach or the mountains. Happens all the time. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, some people must dearly LOVE their church.

"And what denomination are you?"

"I'm a Seventh Day ABSENTIST!"

What is the big deal about coming from week to week anyway? Why bother with church? A good question as this congregation wonders about a new pastor. There are lots of reasons to stay away. Church is not very entertaining: preachers can be pretty boring; the music is not exactly Hit Parade; it takes time out of one of the few chances during the week when folks can just sit back and relax; there is every likelihood that you will be asked to take on some chore if you show up; and worst of all, they figure you should actually pay money for the privilege. The NERVE of an outfit like that!

A mother wrote in Readers' Digest that she once asked her young son what was the highest number he had ever counted to. He replied, "537."

She asked, "Why did you stop there?"

He replied, "Church was over." Hmmm.

Some people do not bother with church because they think they are too good for it. They look at the folks who DO come from week to week and see petty, back-biting gossips; they see business people who worship every Sunday but whose ethics on Monday are no different from those who never darken the door; they read and hear of the excesses of the televangelists. They put all this together and then claim that the church is just a bunch of hypocrites - and they do not want to be accused of being the same thing by joining in with them - Thank you!

At the other end of the spectrum are those who think they are not good ENOUGH for the church. They have gotten the message that unless they meet a certain social standard, unless they wear certain kinds of clothes, unless they drive certain kinds of cars, unless they live in a certain kind of home, unless they make a certain amount of money, we do not want them. If they have ever had any kind of marital difficulties or problems with the law, we would prefer they stay away. And for that matter, if they are ALREADY a member of the fellowship and some problem comes to light, we would just as soon throw them out. It has been said, "The church is the only organization in history that shoots its wounded." Churches sometimes can be exceedingly cold, and that is sad.

Why SHOULD someone bother with church? I will grant the church is NOT all that it ought to be. But, it is tremendously MORE than any other organization has ever been.

Millions of lives have been changed by the message preached and taught in the church through the years. People have been challenged to reach new heights in their relationships to both God and neighbor. Christian missionaries have gone to the far reaches of the globe sharing the gospel as they healed the sick, taught people how to read and write, brought new and better tools for the improvement of life.

In our own nation, how many great institutions of learning were founded by the church? How many hospitals bear names like "Good Samaritan," "Baptist," "Presbyterian," "Methodist?" How many day care centers, soup kitchens and retirement homes are operated by churches? How many millions have been raised for disaster relief? How many hours of private counseling have been sought? To whom do people finally come when they realize the bankruptcy of their lives before a holy and righteous God? There is no question that more could have been and can be done, that there have been occasional horrible aberrations, but no other organization anywhere at anytime has done NEARLY as much as the church!

This weekend, the attention of the world has been turned to Paris in the aftermath of the coordinated attacks of Friday evening. One-hundred-twenty-nine dead plus hundreds of others wounded. And all this mayhem supposedly in the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful. Horrible! France’s version of September 11th.

I would not be surprised if church attendance in France, not to mention other nations who feel vulnerable to these kinds of attack, will find more people at worship today, as we did in this country in the aftermath of nine-eleven. On Friday evening I e-mailed my friend, Scott Herr, the Senior Pastor at the American Church in Paris, expressing concern and offering prayers for him as he ministers to a congregation traumatized and confused by the horrors they have experienced. A few minutes later - 3 AM Paris time - Scott responded, “Thank you so much, David. Please continue to pray for the victims and their families, the police and other first responders. This is not over yet...” No, it is not.

Yes, church IS a source of comfort when life seems to be whirling out of control. But there is an even MORE important reason to bother with church: God's Word tells us to. Listen to what we heard in our lesson again:

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
I wish the translators had chosen some other word than "provoke" - there is already enough of the wrong kind of provocation in churches. A better choice might be "to spur one another on...to love and good deeds." We gather together to remind each other what God has done for us in Christ; we can have our attention called to the things that need doing in our world, things in which we can make a difference; we can challenge ourselves to make the improvements in our own lives that we know would be pleasing to God. "There is no substitute for living around other Christians. [The] primary way of learning to be disciples is by being in contact with others who are disciples."(1)

To those who complain about the hypocrites in the church, we say IT IS TRUE! There ARE hypocrites...along with all sorts of other miserable sinners. But then, that IS why we are here - because we KNOW we need help. We need to be spurred on. Jesus said, "I came NOT to call the righteous, but sinners."(2) The church is not a collection of saints. Saints-in-the-making, perhaps, but not yet. We need the spurs.

We are not to "neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some." True Christian worship is the gathering of the faithful to re-enact and call to mind the great truths of the gospel; it is a hearing again of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ; it is an opportunity for affirming our commitment to him PUBLICLY with all that we have and all that we are. It shows the world whose side we are on! THAT is worship.

Regardless of what some might claim, worship does not happen in a fishing boat or on a golf course. No question that the beauty of creation lends itself to reverie...but, as a practical matter, fishermen are not praising God when the big one gets away; golfers are not offering any hallelujahs when they take triple bogey on a hole. To say that any real worship goes on out there is just not true. Believe me, I know...and I could quote you the language to prove it...but I won't.

Scripture says we can use our weekly gathering together for "encouraging one another." Life can be tough. There are times when we feel like giving up. We NEED the fellowship of caring people to get us through difficult moments.

In years past, people turned to the church for that fellowship, but today, less and less are doing so. Despite the fact that polls consistently show that Americans are exceedingly religious (some 95% claiming a belief in God), recent statistics on the number of unchurched people in this nation make us one of the largest mission fields in the world. Folks still need help, but they are not looking for it in the church.

For years, surveys have indicated that members of the youngest generation of adults in the U.S. are far less likely than older Americans to identify with a religious group. But a major new Pew Research Center survey finds that, as time goes on, the already-large share of religiously unaffiliated Millennial adults is increasing significantly. A high percentage of younger members of the Millennial generation – those who have entered adulthood in just the last several years – are religious “nones” (saying they are atheists or agnostics, or that their religion is “nothing in particular”). Overall, 35% of adult Millennials (Americans born between 1981 and 1996) are religiously unaffiliated.(3)

This is no trivial matter. If the mainline church, the church that provided the moral compass for this nation during our first 200 years, continues to decline as it has over the past generation, who will shape our nation's values as we move farther into the 21st century? I shudder to think. "Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some..."

Finally, come together...bother with church...because "the Day [is] approaching." For almost 2,000 years the church has been waiting for the Lord's return. In every generation since his ascension, many have been convinced that the last days are either here now or just around the corner, and ours is no exception. But, when you think about it, whether the second coming is near or not, our meeting with Christ IS. Our faith is firm that when a Christian dies, we go to be with our Lord. That means the time is short under any circumstance. And that means we need preparation...the preparation we get in meeting together from week to week.

Two little boys were walking down the street and turned in the driveway toward one lad's home. On the porch was the boy's grandmother - it was a nice day, and she was sitting in a rocking chair reading the Bible. The one lad asked the other, "What's your grandmother doing?"

The boy responded, "I think she's cramming for finals."

I realize that I have been preaching to the converted this morning; after all, YOU ARE HERE. But it will be you and you and you and you who will help to get friends and family to worship from week to week - people come to church because they are INVITED and because they feel WELCOME! That will be up to you.

Perhaps, as an added incentive, we can do what one church is purported to have done and offer a "No Excuse Sunday." On "No Excuse Sunday,"

  • We can have cots in the back of the church for those who say, "Sunday is the only day I can sleep in."
  • We can have steel helmets for the congregation to relieve the fears of those who say, "The roof would cave in if I ever went to church."
  • We might provide blankets for those who say "The church is too cold," and fans for those who say it is "too hot."
  • We can make score cards available for those who wish to list names of all hypocrites present.
  • We could provide TV dinners for those who cannot get to church and cook at the same time.
  • We will set aside one section with trees and grass for those who like to find God in nature, and have a putting green in the Narthex for those who cannot imagine Sunday without golf.
  • We will let folks know that some relatives will be in attendance for those who like to go visiting on Sunday.
  • Finally, we can decorate the sanctuary with both poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the church without them.


History offers no parallel to the church. There is no question that what goes on in parliaments and legislatures, in Congress halls and Senate chambers, is always of importance to humanity. But when the world is out of joint, when people's minds are disordered and their hearts are failing them for fear, then the thing of supreme importance is the living church, with all of her sanctuaries of worship and her avenues of service, where men and women come to have their faith strengthened, their thoughts clarified, their ideas uplifted, their convictions born, and their characters created. You see the church has introduced the world to a vision of perfection. The church has introduced the world to Jesus Christ.

Almost 200 years ago, the French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville came to these shores to study this fledgling democracy. He studied the cities and towns, factories and farms, rivers and harbors. He wrote, "I sought for the greatness and genius of America in [all these places, but] it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power."(4)

Why bother with church? There are lots of reasons to stay away. But they pale in comparison to the reasons we have to come. It is the LORD'S church, the Lord's WORK, it is the Lord's WORD that calls us to fellowship. Our future...as individuals, as a nation, as a world...depends on it. And where will you be next Sunday? See you in church!

Amen!


1. Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989), p. 102

2. Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32

3. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/12/millennials-increasingly-are-driving-growth-of-nones/

4. Pastor's Professional Research Service

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