As Christians, we know we are called and empowered toward lives full of joy. How could we not be joyous, our King has risen and He has freed us from the power of sin and the grip of death! If we are honest, though, we may not always feel joyous....
After graduating from high school, I went to an out-of-state college. As such, I could not bring the most defining aspects of my life: my friends, my family, and my church.
When I would go on holiday from school, these things would come back to me. For this reason, college often felt like something temporary, detached from my real life back home. While at school, I had enough space to form a new self. Space to seek new goals, ask new questions, establish new patterns.
Away from the routine of my parents, I asked: Would I attend church? Why did I need to if I could just read the Bible on my own?
As I read Scripture and grew in my relationship with Christ, I would learn to attend church, but, at first, I found myself tempted to replace church with other things.
Replacing Church on Sunday Morning
When I opened my mind to the possibility of missing church, I also let in many reasons why that would be better for me.
If I stayed back from church, I could study more of God’s Word at my own pace. Or, I could have another hour in my week to disciple someone I lived with.
If I stayed back from church, I could do better work in my academic studies. God wants me to succeed in my classes, right? I could spend the whole day in the library and finish my papers.
If I stayed back from church, I could sleep in and rest more for the week ahead. Sleep was important, right?
For me, Sunday mornings without church looked less like the first few reasons and more like the final one. I felt guilty about this. And, I decided if I was going to miss church, I had to read the Bible during that time.
I did this, and faithfully reading the Bible, far from providing me a substitute for church, quickly lead me to see attending church as an essential part of my Christian walk.
Reading the Bible Led Me to Church
The more I read the Bible, I learned a lot about why I ought to go to church. And, I also learned more about the great joy attending church could bring to me. I began to see church less as a chore and more as a gift from God.
The Gift of Worship
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
… addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. (Ephesians 5:19)
I would be lying if I said that the word of Christ was dwelling in me richly during those Sunday mornings away from church.
Sure, I could read the Bible on my own—but did that alone time compare to how the conversation before the service, the pastoral prayer, the hand-selected worship songs, the prepared sermon, and the fellowship afterward all worked to settle the word of Christ in my heart? No.
You might say, as I did, that it is possible to recreate a church experience on the internet. Either listening to a church service or listening to a couple worship songs followed by a video or audio recording of a pastor’s sermon.
Consider this: An important aspect of Ephesians 5:19, which I picked up from an article by Tom Olson, is the phrase “one another.” While I certainly can worship on my own, reading God’s word, praying, and singing a song in my dorm room, I cannot use my worship to strengthen someone else’s faith.
Part of why I go to church is exactly why I sing in church despite my bad singing voice. For in my earnest worship of Jesus Christ, I may strengthen another person’s faith in him.
The Gift of Rebuke
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (1 Corinthians 5:12)
Attending church means you put yourself in a community that cares about your spiritual well-being. You have people who will keep you in check. Being in the building, participating in small groups and bible studies, and being baptized in front of others are all signs to others that you are taking your faith seriously.
When someone who knows you mean to live the Christian life sees you living some other life, they will come and tell you. While this may not seem like a good thing, I assure you it is a blessing.
A college friend of mine, who was about of the same church carpool group as me, came to me and asked if we could speak privately. He explained that I had, on several occasions, spoken to him and others with a prideful, condescending attitude.
He was able to call me out because he knew I wanted to live a humble life. I felt very guilty, and greatly embarrassed, but I was also grateful that he told me. Far from rude, his words were gracious. He did not need to say anything to me, it may have been easier for him to stay silent, but he spoke to help my soul.
Having been rebuked, I could more intentionally seek Christ’s help in those moments where I was tempted to be prideful.
The Gift of Unity
I … urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called… bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
In this life, we are called be lights of the world to the lost. We are not hermits—we live with people who disagree with us or who hate us. And the hardest part is this: We are called to love them (Matthew 5:43-44)! Without spiritual nourishment, this disunity will exhaust you.
Church is a gift because it is the one place in which we can dwell in biblical unity with one another. Note that the word here is not uniformity—we don’t have to look alike or think the same things about everything—but unity—meaning we all proclaim Christ as Lord.
I’m not saying there won’t be disagreement or conflict within the church, but a unified devotion to Jesus Christ has a way of eclipsing the things that try to separate us and redeems us back to each other.
Protect You Church Attendance
So, if you are a college student, or just someone starting a new pattern, protect your church attendance because it will bring you great joy in the Lord.
Without regular church attendance, you might find yourself feeling disconnected and at odds with others, unchecked in your fight against sin, and without an opportunity to encourage others in their faith.
Know that Christ, in establishing the church, has provided us a way out of these things and into the joy found only in him.