Children ask this question on a semi-regular basis; I know my three boys have given me many opportunities to answer it. As a worship pastor, I am embarrassed to admit that I have found myself facing another service and asking the same question: why again? Did we fail last week, or do it wrong? Was last week’s service not enough?
I have not always had good answers at hand, beyond a Scriptural command not to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), but over time have drawn on encouragement from some portion of Scripture or a godly writer. Having faced the challenge to frame those encouragements in ways that kids can understand and my own heart will accept, allow me to pass on my best three answers:
We are going to church today because Jesus is alive. You may not remember this, but Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday morning. As the news spread, all of his friends spent that whole day telling each other the story and talking about what it all meant. They named it “The Lord’s Day.” It was a thrilling way to spend the day, and so they decided to do it again the next week. And every week ever since for two thousand years.
So, think of it like your birthday. The day you were born is so special to the people who love you that we celebrate it every single year. The day that Jesus rose from the dead is so special to the people who love him that we celebrate it every single week.
We are going to church today to practice the gospel. Some words are easier to learn than others. It seems that no one needs to teach us words like “mine” and “no!” Other words are more difficult and take a lot of time to learn—words like “Thank you” and “I’m sorry.” But those words are also important and we need to learn them.
Church is a place where we can practice these words in the most important ways. We can see our sin and what it means, we can feel regret in our hearts and say “I’m sorry, God, for sinning against you.” We can hear his words of forgiveness to us and say “Thank you, Jesus, for saving me.”
And just like we don’t always feel sorry or thankful when we say these words, sometimes our broken hearts don’t feel sorrow for our sin or thankfulness for our Savior. But we gather together to ask the Lord to mend those hearts and to help us feel the truth of what we are saying. And we see the words that used to be natural— “mine” and “no!”—become harder and harder to say.
We are going to church today to learn how to love strange people. Almost everybody only wants to spend time with people who they feel most comfortable around. People generally want to hang out with people who have their same amount of money, have the same skin color, are their same age, like the same food, and watch the same TV shows. Other kinds of people are strange to them.
But there is a big danger with that, because the world is filled with many people who are very different. If we only spend time with people like ourselves, we will be tricked into believing that we are better than those who are not like us.
At its best, our church helps us avoid that problem. It reminds us that, fundamentally, the most basic thing about us is not our money, our skin color, our age, or our favorite tastes. The most basic thing about us is that we are sinners who need a Savior. Because of that, our church is filled with people who are different from us, all of us learning that we are not better than others, but are all in need of the same grace. We gather with strange people and remember that we are also strange, and recognize that the gospel reunites estranged people with their God.