It’s one of those images burned into my mind from many years ago. I drove past the neighborhood church often as a teen-ager. Their sign identified the church on the front side, and on the back side it read, “Let’s stay for church.” The back side of the sign was clearly visible from the church’s parking lot, so this was a message to the membership about the value of corporate worship.
Their schedule reflected the typical evangelical Sunday morning schedule many yet follow: small group Bible study, or Sunday School, earlier in the morning, then “church,” or worship, following. Apparently church leadership felt in that day that members needed reminding that the day wasn’t complete if they short-circuited the two hours they could spend in God’s house.
Things really haven’t hanged much in 40 years! Some Christians yet find excuses for not supporting worship, be it for family get-togethers, trips or rest. But sometimes Christians neglect worship altogether. This was a burden for a pastor friend in another county. He lamented that church members took the entire morning away from church for family birthday dinners and the like. Clearly frustrated, he told me, “We don’t have night church, so they have all afternoon to party with their family!”
The Old Testament prophet Malachi was likewise frustrated when his people brought unworthy sacrifices to the Lord. He chided them, “If you offer the same to the governor, will he be pleased with you?” (Malachi 1:8). We might extrapolate this passage and ask, “Would your employer accept the same excuses you offer the Lord?”
Corporate worship is commanded in scripture. It’s valuable time for at least three reasons.
One, we gather to praise God. Worship is God-centered, not person-centered. The Bible says God dwells among his people when they praise and worship him (Psalm 22:3). We need God’s presence to encourage us in our broken world.
Two, we gather in fellowship with God’s people. An old preacher used to define fellowship as “two fellows on the same ship”! We don’t serve God alone, and it’s encouraging to be with other believers, to make friends, and to support and pray for one another.
Three, we gather to equip ourselves for ministry in our world.
One of the late Robert Schuller’s rationales for a glass church was his belief that churches shouldn’t “hide” behind stained glass, but always focus on the world outside their four walls—a world in need of God’s love. Certainly, stained glass has its place, but Schuller’s idea is a good one. Worship isn’t done until we’re inspired to take our faith home and to the marketplace.
It’s not a bad motto to remember every week: “Let’s stay for church.”