Sunday, September 24th, was my last Sunday as Senior Pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church. On Sunday, October 1st, I was officially no longer the Senior Pastor. I walked off the platform on September 24 and I haven’t gone back. I probably won’t go back for several more months. As the “former pastor,” I want to be sure I give the “new pastor” plenty of room to establish his own ministry. My presence could, whether I wanted it to or not, complicate things. So, I’m giving all of us – him, me and the church – much needed space.
On the few Sundays that have come around since my retirement, I have been faced with a dilemma. For the first time in my adult life, I wasn’t being paid to go to church. I grew up in a deeply committed Christian family. If the doors of the church were open, my family was there. I may not have been paid in cash to attend church, but not all payments are cash. In my family there was a definite payoff to attend church.
I started working in the church when I was in seminary and I haven’t been out of the church’s employment since. For most of my life, I have been paid – in one way or another – to go to church.
Now, I’m facing a question I’ve never had to answer before. First, do I go to church? And second, if I do go, why? Simon Sinek, the well known expert in leadership, tells us good leaders always start with why. In fact, he wrote a bestselling book with that title, “Start with Why.” For most of my life, I’ve never had a choice. If I wanted to get paid, I had to go to church. If I wanted to do what I felt like God had called me to do, I went to church. Frankly, I went to church and I never gave it much of a thought.
Now, I have to think about it.
Honestly, I love Sunday mornings. I love the quiet mornings with a good cup of coffee, a good book and my journal. I never knew this was an option. I love having the chance to have a late breakfast with my wife and talk about our week. I love having a day when I don’t have to be in a hurry. I never knew this was an option. If this is what the pagans are doing instead of attending church, well, they may have a point.
Because I had never thought about it, I started asking my friends why they went to church. I thought since they had never worked for the church, they would have figured it out. I was wrong. Most of them responded with “I don’t know.” How can you not know?
Because, like me, they had never thought about it. A habit was established when they were young or when they got married and then, they never thought about it again. They come out of habit and when something like covid breaks that habit, they never get that habit started back again.
So, after several weeks of thinking about it, here are the reasons that, for me, I will go to church. I know my list isn’t exhaustive. Everyone will have their own reasons as to why they attend church. I’m not even saying my list is correct. I’m just saying it’s mine.
First, I was invited. Throughout Scriptures, God calls for His people to come into His house. I have the great privilege of living in the greater Nashville area. Because of where I live, I get to meet a lot of interesting people. In Nashville, when you connect with someone you find interesting, you meet them for lunch or maybe coffee. When you become friends, you invite them over to your house. Being invited to someone’s home isn’t something you take lightly. Jesus has invited me over. I wouldn’t miss this moment for anything.
Second, there is something about the sacredness of the moment. Something so sacred that it makes me turn off my cell phone and sit quietly. Maybe it’s my age, but I really don’t need much in a worship service. I really don’t care about the music or who’s singing. I don’t need much in a sermon. I need the silence. The deep, rich, soul healing silence of being able to think a complete thought without being interrupted. I think we need to rekindle the deeper meaning of the word “sanctuary.” It’s more than a building. It means “safety.” There is one place in the world where the world can’t mess with you… the church.
Third, I need to express my gratitude. The world is catching on to the value of gratitude. You can buy notebooks and tablets to record things you’re grateful for. Self-help gurus tell us we can find healing by simply being grateful for a few minutes every day. Christians have known this for thousands of years. In everything, we’re told, be thankful! I need to stop by the House of God at least once a week and say “thanks.”
Fourth, I need to see my friends. I need to meet new friends. I’ve always been amazed at the stories people carry in their lives. I’ve often told those in attendance to be kind to those around you. You never know how much pain may be sitting next to you. Everybody gets a turn in life. Sooner or later, life ambushes you. I need to be there for my friends. God knows they have been there for me.
Lastly, I may have retired, but I haven’t surrendered. Sure, I could spend every Sunday morning on my back porch, but that’s not where the fight is. The fight is in the world. There are people who need hope. There are others who need grace and mercy. We can’t just walk away and let them continue to slip away. We have to show up for the fight. So, I’ll keep showing up.
Those are a few of my reasons for going to church. I’ll probably have more reasons after I think about it a little more. And after you think about it, what reasons will you have? Why do you go to church?