In Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith argues that too often we come at an understanding of the church from a consumerist mentality. We are shaped by the shopping mall, and that in turn affects how we approach church and the Christian life. That is:
“I go to church because it fits what I need.”
“I go to church to feel this…”
“I go to church to receive that…”
“I go to this church for this ministry, and this church for that ministry…”
“I go to church because it’s all about me.”
“I don’t need to go to church, I can just listen to a podcast of xyz mega pastor.”
Too often our arguments for why someone should go to church don’t counter this, but instead feed it. Take for example this recent list of 10 Reasons to Be Involved in a Church. The author, David Roach, is writing to those who used to go to church but don’t anymore. He exhorts them to give church a second chance, and then offers his reasons why:
If you’re among these millions, please give church another chance. By getting involved, you’ll discover that what you once viewed as a chore is actually a blessing. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. Gathering with a church encourages believers to love others and do good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).
2. A church is the main venue for using your spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). God has given you abilities and talents intended to help other Christians. If you’re not involved in a church, others are being deprived of what you have to offer.
3. A church helps keep you from abandoning the faith. According to the author of Hebrews, the antidote to developing an “unbelieving heart” that leads you “to fall away from the living God” is to “exhort one another” (Hebrews 3:12-13)—an activity that occurs most prominently in the church.
4. A church helps you defend Christianity against those who attack it. When Jude told the early Christians to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3), he directed his instruction toward a group of believers, not a scattering of lone-ranger Christians. Answering challenges from coworkers, friends, and family members is always easier when you can ask fellow church members for help and wisdom.
5. A church is a great venue for pooling resources to support missions and benevolent works (2 Corinthians 8:1-7; 3 John 5-8). Your money combined with that of fellow church members can do a lot for Christ.
6. A church helps its members maintain correct doctrine (1 Timothy 3:15). You might begin to adopt unbiblical ideas without realizing it yourself. But you probably won’t adopt unbiblical ideas without someone at your church realizing it, and they can help you get back to the truth.
8. A church supports you when you face persecution (Acts 4:23-31; 12:12-17). You may not be imprisoned for your Christian beliefs like the apostles were, but a church family is still a great source of comfort when you face stinging words or unfair treatment.
9. A church is where you can be baptized and take part in the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Ephesians 4:4-6). These two ordinances are a vital part of any believer’s walk with Jesus.
10. A church provides the setting for corporate worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Though it’s a blessing to praise God alone, there is a unique joy that accompanies singing God’s praises with an entire congregation of Christ followers.
The list, as presented by Roach, starts with the individual, and makes them the consumer. It’s all about “me” and anything external to “me” is secondary. This list is a perfect example of the consumer mentality that is overtaking North American Christianity.
Are there benefits to being involved in a church? Absolutely. But these benefits should be secondary to the real reason we go to church. We go to church because we are the church. We go to church because God, through Christ, has called a body of believers and not a group of individual Christians. We go to church even when, and precisely because, it’s not all about us. It’s about Jesus, who laid down his life and calls us to lay down our lives (and desires, and possessions, and feelings) for the sake of the Gospel.
Unfortunately, the way this list reads, if I replaced the word “church” with “community group” or “parachurch organization” or “group of Christians meeting weekly at the pub” the same benefits would still apply to most of the list. This list is more accurately “10 reasons to be connected with other Christians” and not necessarily specific to the church.
(And that’s not even taking into account the justifications Roach that gives for each of the reasons, which are either very superficial theology or in some cases really really bad theology. While Roach does provide proof-texts, some of the proof-texts actually betray his very own explanations.)