In our day and age when we have access to sermons galore on demand and immediate contact with friends through our devices, the importance of commitment to the church worship service may be a hard sell for some people. However, there are solid reasons why every believer should count this as one of the highest priorities in life, and for every biblical counselor, why this should be a staple homework assignment for each of their counselees. There are certainly more, but consider the following four reasons why biblical counselors would do well to require their counselees to, not only attend the worship service each week, but also engage in it as they move toward spiritual maturity.
1. An act of self-denial
First, for our counselees, engaging in the worship service each week is a needed act of self-denial in a life that is often marked by self-love. The call of discipleship is a call to daily turn from self to Christ. Jesus himself said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Let’s admit it, it is easier to stay at home on Sunday mornings, and we can be masters at making excuses for not being there that don’t sound like excuses, so that no one really calls us out for it. But if biblical counseling is about helping people follow Christ in the midst of their particular temptations to sin, can we really follow Christ by neglecting commitment to his church? I understand that not every decision to stay home from church is sinful, but your counselees need to realize that a pattern of neglect when it comes to gathering with the body of Christ for worship is a symptom of denying, not just the church, but the Head of the church. Charles Spurgeon captures this concept well:
“I know there are some who say, ‘Well, I’ve given myself to the Lord, but I don’t intend to give myself to any church.’ I say, ‘Now why not?’ And they answer, ‘Because I can be just as good a Christian without it.’ I say, ‘Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? There’s a brick. What is the brick made for? It’s made to build a house. It is of no use for the brick to tell you that it’s just as good a brick while it’s kicking about on the ground by itself, as it would be as part of a house. Actually, it’s a good-for-nothing brick. So, you rolling stone Christians, I don’t believe that you’re answering the purpose for which Christ saved you.’”1
Christ saved us to be in community with other believers. As bricks are meant to be placed with other bricks to form a house, so we are meant to be placed with other believers to form the church. To deny this purpose is to deny God’s design, but to submit to this functionally, through commitment to the church, is to choose Christ over self, and thus fall in line with one of the purposes of our salvation — that we would “no longer live for [ourselves] but for him who for [our] sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15). Making active participation in the worship service a weekly homework assignment for counselees will help them establish a pattern of self-denial that will help them be who they are in Christ — part of his body.
2. Focus on the Lord
Second, attentively engaging with a biblical sermon will help to draw your counselees outside of themselves to focus on the Lord. For your counselees, the loudest voice in their heads for the vast majority of the week is their own. They need to increasingly have the voice of God in Scripture be the loudest voice in their heads in order to provide ammunition for the Spirit to use in the fight for godliness. Since the Bible is about God’s plan of redemption in Christ, if the Bible is being preached accurately, your counselees will be confronted with a sermon that will exalt Christ and lead them to self-forgetfulness. The sermon is a weekly event wherein your counselees can be put in prime position to “set [their] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2).
Though it is not obvious to some, being present in a worship service to sit under faithful preaching is different than listening to a sermon on the computer at home on a Sunday morning. Consider a difference Donald Whitney identifies:
“For one thing, inherent in the convenience of media preaching is the ability to turn it off if the message becomes too uncomfortable or ‘uninteresting’ … Sometimes what is uncomfortable or what seems uninteresting proves to be exactly what we need to hear. When we control the messenger and thus the message, we often miss that which God would have us hear, but which we would never choose.”2
Choosing to do “church” at home is another way in which we center Christianity around our will instead of the will of God, and the fallout from that is the malnourishment that comes from an unbalanced diet of spiritual food. If I allowed my children to choose what they wanted to eat for every meal, then they would be living on McDonald’s chicken nuggets and root beer floats … hardly the sustenance they need to thrive. In the same way, our choice of spiritual food in an at-home, media preaching environment will reflect our desires and what we want in that moment, which will be out of step with “the whole counsel of God” that Paul did not shrink from declaring (Acts 20:27). There will be attributes of God that we will neglect, facets of the gospel that we will miss, commands that we will know nothing of, and warnings that will remain unseen. And our spiritual lives will reflect it, since all of these are meant to instruct us and motivate us toward godliness.
3. Receive strength and encouragement
Third, there are believers at church to strengthen and encourage your counselees in the Lord. Participating in the worship service puts us in the context of a community of believers who are all called to serve one another for the glory of God. The worship service puts us in the channel of God’s grace wherein he is using his people to bless us as he empowers them to obey commands like Hebrews 3:13, “But exhort one another every day”, and Romans 12:10, “Outdo one another in showing honor”. This channel of grace also includes the blessing that comes from the Spirit’s work in providing the members of the body of Christ with spiritual gifts meant “for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). Our counselees need more than 60-90 minutes with their counselor every week. Surely that is an important time, but spiritual transformation is a community project. Grace does not just flow through the counselor, but through the entire church as they perform the “the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).
The reality is that it is not just unhealthy for us to neglect gathering together as believers; it is downright dangerous. Eric Davis, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, captures the threat of this trend, “Sure, you can be a Christian and not go to church. Kind of like a zebra separated from his herd getting eaten by cheetahs is still a zebra.” With sin present in our hearts, Satan prowling around “like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8), and the world following his lead, we are fools to think we can go at this alone without the grace of God working through his people.
4. Give strength and encouragement
Fourth, there are believers at church who your counselees can strengthen and encourage in the Lord. This is the flipside to point number three. Participating in the worship service is not just about receiving, it is about giving as well. Along with every other believer in the congregation, your counselees are also charged with obeying the one another commands of Scripture, and your counselees also have the Spirit’s gifting for the common good of the body. As we think of others as more important than ourselves and sacrifice for their good at the weekly worship gathering then we are conforming to the image of Christ who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Whether your counselees have an official ministry role at church on Sundays or not, there are opportunities for service all around them. There are people they can encourage, people they can listen to, people they can cry with, people they can rejoice with, and people they can pray with. When the body is gathered, opportunities for ministry abound, both formally and informally. This is important for us to remember in our American church context where consumerism has influenced our attitude and our expectations of the church worship service. For many, the worship service is only about what they can get. They come to take it all in and then go home. The problem with this thinking, however, is that it doesn’t square with the gospel, since Paul says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13). The gospel frees us from the law, but that freedom is not given so that we are free to live according to our selfish impulses, but rather, so that we are free to serve others. The worship service is an important opportunity to fulfill this purpose in our salvation.
As counselors we need to help our counselees see that while there is a tendency to think of church as less of a priority than showing up for work on Monday morning, the reality is that the benefits of the worship service far outweigh a paycheck or anything that can be obtained with it. May the Lord use us to open their eyes to the reality that the worship service is not a burden, but a channel from which God’s lavish grace drenches the one who places himself in its way.
- Mack, Wayne A., and Dave Swavely. Life in the Father’s House: A Member’s Guide to the Local Church. 2nd Revised and Expanded ed. edition. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2006, p. 41.
- Whitney, Donald S., and James Montgomery Boice. Spiritual Disciplines within the Church: Participating Fully in the Body of Christ. New edition. Chicago, Ill: Moody Publishers, 1996, p. 23.
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