Some persons are considering whether to venture into a church this new year. Maybe they have never attended a worship service or have not returned since experiencing particular church to be distressing or mind- and soul-numbingly boring.
A deep urge propels all except the most anti-social to congregate. Reports last year described how some atheists and secularists are mimicking the church by assembling to sing songs, recite liturgies, hear talks and read poems. Although these gatherings make no mention of God, Jesus or any other divinity, they attempt to create community, or what the church calls koinonia.
It should not surprise that even those previously burned or bored by worship may give it another try. If you find yourself in that category, I encourage you to follow through on your yearning. Be diligent; be determined; try numerous churches if necessary.
The great missionary and evangelist E. Stanley Jones once observed that there are a hundred different doors through which people enter the church. Each is valid in its own way. Here are some of the portals which might provide entry to would-be worshipers:
GUILT: Guilt is inescapable except for the completely amoral. Coming before God in worship involves confessing sin, seeking atonement and relieving feelings of guilt. Plenty of people in the pew are seeking guilt-relief. Best of all, by making the effort one often discovers that some guilt is misplaced and unfounded.
CURIOSITY: Most of us will never experience the White House or Pentagon Situation Room, the top of Everest or the Mormon Tabernacle. But you can worship – and most of the time be welcomed – in hundred of places even if you initially attend only out of the curiosity. A curious Moses turned aside to see what made the bush burn.
MUSIC: There are increasingly few places where music is publicly performed (and where people sing in public) but you can still enjoy it in worship. Music and the arts run the gamut in church, from sacred harp to symphonic, from bluegrass to Broadway. Praising God includes use of lyre and harp, voice and instrument. Music is a portal that brings people close to God.
FRIENDSHIP: Americans move on the average of once every five years; many of us crave relationships deep and lasting. People of all ages come to church because friendship is important. Some of them are even looking for romantic love. My momma said I’d have a better chance of finding my bride in a church than in a bar.
DRAGEE: Perhaps you’ve said, “I’m not coming to church until I’m motivated.” That sounds noble, but motivation can also include being motivated to please somebody else: a spouse, fiancé, child, parent or friend. Be assured there are others in the pew who are there as dragees, too. They first came only to please somebody else.
I could describe dozens of other doors, including something as hard to explain as seeking to be a better person. Jones’ one hundred doors suggest each person enters worship uniquely motivated. No door is more “spiritual” than another. God can use any motivating factor.
Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.