A friend and I had a long conversation. It was a typical discussion that happens when pastors get together. We tried to fix all of the problems in the church and the world before we got up from the table. As is typical, nothing changed when we finished our conversation.
After an extended debate about transitions and succession, we considered our own future retirements from pastoral ministry, God willing.
“When I retire, I’m not going to church anymore,” my friend joked. “I will do like my members and just watch the services via livestream.” My friend assured me that he would faithfully pay his tithes and offerings each week. But he would do so from the comfort of his fishing boat on Sunday mornings.
We laughed heartily. Then the conversation moved on to other topics. But the question my friend raised kept gnawing at me.
Would you go to church if you were not a pastor?
There are times I feel like the man who slept in one Sunday morning. His wife insisted that he wake up and get ready for church. “Give me three reasons why I should go to church today,” he mumbled, pulling the covers over his head.
His wife had three ready answers. “First, it’s the Lord’s Day and it is your duty to assemble with God’s people for corporate worship. Secondly, the Lord has been good our family and we should give thanks for his blessings. Thirdly, you’re the pastor of the church!”
Yes, I am a pastor. And I am paid to be at church on Sundays. It is my responsibility to be present and prepared to serve each week. I take these ministerial duties seriously. In fact, pastoral ministry has been a vital part of the Lord’s sanctifying work in my life.
But let me be clear. I do not go to church merely because I am a pastor who must be there. I would go to the church, even if I was not a pastor.
I would go to church if I were not a pastor, because I would still be a Christian if I were not a pastor. And to be a Christian is to be a participating member of the local church.
There is a growing trend in which professing Christians have abandoned the local church. There are many reasons why people who claim to follow Jesus have stopped going to church. But no one seems to acknowledge the reason given by the Apostle John:
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
Church hurt is a real thing. But the Lord has given clear instructions for dealing with stubbornly unrepentant sinners in the church (Matthew 18:15-20). The Lord’s solution for problem people is church discipline, not church abandonment. And Christ promises to be with the two or three gathered in his name to preserve fidelity of doctrine, holiness of life, and unity of fellowship in the church.
“The church is full of hypocrites,” some claim. I could not disagree with more. Most importantly, the Lord Jesus Christ is not a hypocrite. He is the Word, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). If Jesus is who claimed to be, he is worthy of our trust, obedience, and worship, even if he commands me to join a bunch of hypocrites!
There are many good reasons why I would go to church if I were not a preacher. But the primary reason is because Christ is the Head of the church, and the church is the body of Christ. Christ does not have “out-of-body” experiences. You cannot have a high view of Christ and a low view of the church at the same time.
I love Jesus Christ. And I love what Jesus loves. Christ loves the church and gave himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). You may not like the way the bride of Christ looks. But be careful how you treat Christ’s bride. And remember that what the church is now is not what the church will be. Christ is sanctifying the church that he may present her to himself with spot or blemish.
In the meantime…
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)