By Kym Bishop for SUmag
Most Millennials seem to be asking why we should bother going to church. After all, it is much simpler to stream a service online, or download a good sermon. It’s far more convenient to watch when it suits us and we don’t need to change out of our pyjamas to hear the Word of God.
These days you can even join an online church, and statistics show that online church membership is on the rise. Not only can you watch a service from the comfort of your home, but now you can also have your name on a membership list, give towards meaningful mission projects and participate in online bible study groups. All without ever actually having to talk to another person. No one makes you hold someone else’s hand, or greet the people around you. There is no one singing off key behind you, no noisy kids to distract you. Sounds good. Simple and convenient and no fuss.
So why bother with church?
Well, we’ve all heard that church is not the building. The church is the people, and the people are the church. So think about it, when we ask the question, ‘why bother with church?’ what we’re really asking is not, why bother coming to a particular building, or any specified space for that matter, but why bother with the people?
Why not just be a Christian who doesn’t belong to church? Why bother with the messy business of human interaction when it comes to our faith? What is it about this collective of less-than-perfect people that makes belonging to a church community worth the inconvenience?
In the book of Exodus, we have an example of another group of less-than-perfect people, the nation of Israel. In being set free from slavery in Egypt, this group of people had just left the only land any of them could remember and the only life they knew – a life of slavery and oppression. So when God gave them their freedom, God also offered them what God knew they needed most – the chance to become a community, a collective, a people with a kingdom identity. In creating a community who belonged to himself, God was also creating a community who belonged to each other.
What we see throughout the Old Testament is that the faith of the people was experienced collectively. Their whole faith story is remembered and enacted together. Their relationship with God and all that God has done for them, lives in their communal memory. They need each other in order to remember who they are and all that God has done. And their faith practices include telling the generations who come after them about the ways of God. The people were to live and experience the commands of God within the context of community, together.
Why? Because we encounter God in the people around us.
Because God reveals God’s self to us through his creation and we are all his creation. We are made in the image of God, all of us, and when we look, really look into the faces of other people, we will find God.
Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote about a concept called ‘the face of the other’. The Book of Exodus describes the Ark of the Covenant as having two angels facing one another. In the space between the two faces, is the Divine Presence.
So we don’t go to church, Sunday after Sunday, to worship because we’ve got to or because the coffee is great, or because the building is lovely or even because it is convenient. We go, because we are expecting to encounter God in the others who also come for worship. Through our relationship with the person who sings off key behind us, and the tired looking parents of noisy small children.
Yes, sometimes church can seem to be more of a hindrance to our worship than a help. There are cultural barriers that seem difficult to overcome, there are practices that seem strange, that sometimes make you feel uncomfortable. It is messy, inconvenient and complicated. Yet, for us too, just like the people of Israel, faith is lived and experienced in community.
It is in the face of the other that we encounter God. That is why we bother with church. So, get off the couch, God is waiting for you in the face of another.