Thursday, February 19, 2015

When The Novelty of Death Wears Off

It’s interesting how death has a way of awakening our senses to what is really important. I remember when someone's aunt called me a few years ago to tell me that her niece had just passed away. She said, “I realize now I need to get back to church because life is just too short and I want to set a good example for my children.” The great thing is that she ended up coming with quite a bit of her family! Sadly, within a couple of weeks the novelty of death wore off and they stopped coming to church.

I never understand people who call me, email me, text me, message me on Facebook, tweet me on Twitter (shall I go on?) and tell me, “Pastor Bob, I really need to get back to church and will begin this Sunday!” This happens so frequently to me that I am quite confident this is a regular conversation pastors have with people all across America. The good thing is that people do actually show up that Sunday when they say this to me. However, it’s often the people who have this sudden burst of inspiration who end up coming for a week or two but quickly disappear after that. Often, the desire to come back to church wasn't brought on by a need to be in the institutional church to hear from God, but rather to be with people who love and support them. It is when we’re in crisis that we realize we need friends to help us. What these people are looking for is to have a feeling of belonging.

Think about the people at the doctor’s office who hear, “Things are not looking so good” or receive a diagnosis of some life threatening or terminal disease. Once again, I am amazed by the way that the desire to come to church takes hold of them so quickly. A bad diagnosis is all many people need to fire them up to become a devoted church attender. This really is a crazy roller-coaster that leaves those who make church attendance a lifestyle decision scratching their head. Now because the doctor told you something you didn’t want to hear you are finding yourself in need of support and hoping to find it? That’s convenient.

Let me clarify by saying I have no doubt these people in need will find the support they are looking for in a church, but why stay away so long? Why be forced to create new relationships and bond with people you hope will understand your plight when you’re in the midst of a crisis? Had you stayed plugged into the church you would have known exactly who to call or talk to. The bonds you would have already formed would be there and you would know you had people around you who would lift you up.

The deal is this: if you stay plugged into a church and make it a lifestyle decision rather than a weekly choice, you will have the support system you are hoping for. Some of the strongest friendships I have ever seen were formed in the church. It is easy to understand why you think it’s easier to not go to church when times are good. Perhaps you had a late night at work, or the kids are cranky, you are cranky, or sleep just feels like a better option. I get that. However, the benefits of being a part of a loving community of believers is priceless. It cannot be bought and it’s not something that develops overnight. Finding your place in your church community when times are good gives you access to help and support when the tough times come.

My greatest concern about this roller-coaster of treating church like a weekly choice rather than a lifestyle decision is, when will it end? Inevitably another loved one will die, you’ll receive bad news from the doctor, or some other calamity will come at you in your life…and then what? Will this cycle just start over again? Why put yourself through that emotional upheaval when you can stay plugged into a support system that knows you well?

Obviously, there are many good reasons to find a great church. It may be a struggle for a while to find the right place but when you do find it, stick with it. You will be glad you did.

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