The service begins, as it always does, with the announcements. I don't read the bulletin anymore because I know the service leader is going to spend the first ten minutes reading it to us. My eyes wander back and forth between the worn carpet, dated drapes, and the dimly lit cross behind the pulpit. The microphone rings as Mr. Brown nervously takes over to read a passage of Scripture. Despite his monotone delivery, an older gentleman in the last row offers a hearty, "Amen," as Mr. Brown returns to his seat. Now it's time to sing. I mumble along with the congregation, but I'm distracted by the piano player who seems to be making more than her usual mistakes, and the man singing off key over my shoulder. The service leader indicates that it's time for prayer and invites one of the deacons to the stage. His prayer sounds very formal and I wonder if he prays the same way at home as he does in church. The offering plates clank together in the back of the sanctuary signaling the service leader to come up and offer a few words about tithing. The piano player is at it again, watching carefully as the the ushers pass by each row. She ends right on cue and the pastor begins his sermon. Unfortunately, the baby crying in the third row is so distracting that I'm having a hard time paying attention. A few moments later and my eyes feel heavy. I hope nobody notices that each blink gets a little longer than the last. After the service I make my way down a colorful hallway to pick up my children. I'm greeted by a teacher who hands me a stack of papers and declares that my children behaved a "little better" than they had been the week before. We walk toward the parking lot and I wonder why church has become such a struggle.
Have you ever experienced a church service like this? I hope it wasn't this extreme! But I'll bet you can relate. Maybe you find it difficult to sit still and focus. Or, perhaps you have a hard time connecting. There may be many reasons for the struggle. You may wonder if it's really worth it.
Still, God has called His people to meet together regularly to pray, read Scripture, sing, listen to a sermon, fellowship, and engage in special events like communion and baptism. In others words, Christians are called to participate in the life of the local church. If that seems difficult for you, let me offer some words of encouragement from the Apostle Paul:
Consider these words as you reflect upon your participation in the body of Christ. How would your Sunday morning experience be different if you approached it with a spirit of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience? Might your heart be different if you committed to bear with your brothers and sisters in Christ? The monotone Scripture readings, ringing microphones, fussy children, or the unkind words of another lose their sting when your frustration is replaced by a spirit of love that binds us together in perfect harmony.
Friend, remember that membership in the body of Christ (played out in the local church) is a privilege. Only those redeemed by the blood of Christ are eligible to participate in this grand display of the glory of God . Allow the joy of your salvation to serve as the motivation to joyfully gather together with the body of Christ each week, even when church is a struggle!