By Rev. Joseph Yoo
When I was living in Santa Barbara, I met a young man who loved the outdoors. He spent Sunday mornings either paddle boarding on the beach or hiking in the mountains.
He said to me that he felt closest to God when he was alone in the elements; that he was filled with awe and God’s presence as he was on the mountain top or taking in the silence around him in the middle of the beach. “I mean, that’s worship to me. I don’t ever feel that way about God when I’m at church. If I want to get close to God, I just go out into nature. So I don’t feel like I need the church. I’m just tired of all the BS and politics and what not of the church. In there… I get nothing from being there. Out here, I feel free and I feel God right next to me. I feel like I can still love and worship God without the church.”
During that season of my life, I, too, was tired of it all. And what he shared resonated with me. I also felt the desire to spend a Sunday morning on my own in nature seeking peace from God and peace from being away from church.
All I mustered up was, “I feel you.” I knew that wasn’t the best of pastoral responses I could’ve come up with. But it was all I had.
Still, I shouldn’t have let my disillusions get in the way of what I should’ve said.
Hindsight 20/20, what I should’ve said was that private worship is important. It is vital to our faith journey to find moments where we feel alive in God’s presence on our own. But we shouldn’t limit worship to just a one-on-one thing. That is an incomplete faith. It’s half of the greatest commandment. We’re called to love God and love others.
It’s important to “get something” out of worship. But that feeds into our consumer mentality: that worship is about us and our preferences.
If your faith in Jesus consistently leads you to ask, “What’s in it for me?” I’m afraid that you might be a bit confused. Following Jesus leads us to ask, “What’s in it for others?”
When we remove ourselves from church to worship God on our own, we eliminate the beauty of community. We were created for relationships. We were not meant to go through life alone.
Christianity is not a solo sport; a one-person band; it’s not about “Me and God vs. the World.” Christianity is about being in community with God and with God’s people. And when we are adamant about not needing the church, we’re effectively eliminating half of our faith.
I get it: Churches and faith communities get messy. Being around people gets tiring and draining — especially when we’re called to a higher standard but end up with people who tend to be more judging, condemning, and hypocritical. We are broken people. And the brokenness is on its full glorious display in churches and communities.
The easy path; the path of the wide gate and broad road, is to say, “To hell with it all” and forge our own solo path of Me, Myself, and God. But nothing of worth in life comes from taking the easy path.
While community is messy, it’s also beautiful: it’s a beautiful mess being part of a church. And more importantly, it’s a physical reminder that we are not alone.
The first worship celebration after the destruction from Hurricane Harvey was a powerful experience. One of our praise singers lost his home in the flood. I didn’t expect him to be at church, let alone be part of the service. But he showed up. Crying, but never stopping to sing. His presence alone was a powerful testament that we will get through this. Together.
There were others who lost everything. There were those who lost many things. There were those who lost some things. There were those who lost nothing. But we were together because we needed to be together. We were together because community can be a powerful reminder that we are not alone: not only is God with us, but we’re in this together, and we’ll carry one another through.
I think that’s one of the reasons why church attendance spikes after a tragedy: not to just to make sense of what happened, but to be surrounded by others.
That Sunday, we were reminded that we are stronger, together — that we are in this together. There was a sense of hope; of healing; and a sense of purpose because we knew the work that was ahead and we knew that God was calling us to help rebuild our city. There was a bigger purpose than just me and what I’m getting out of it by being here.
One purpose of worshipping together is to break the monotony of the week. Worship abruptly changes the beat of the drum we’ve been marching to all week. Because most of the time, we march to our own beat of individualism: I do things to provide security and comfort for myself; to meet my needs; to make a life for my own.
And when we worship together, I am reminded that my faith, my life — it’s not about me. It’s never about me. I live for a greater purpose than to live for me. Worship connects me to God and, just as important, it connects me to you.
Worship reminds that in God’s kingdom there are no boundaries or borders or restrictions; there’s plenty of seating available at God’s table. You are as much of a child of God as I am (even if you root for the Dallas Cowboys).
Worship reminds me that I am not alone; that I’m not the only person working on the harvest. It reminds me that not only do we gather together but we are sent into our world together.
Worship reminds me that Jesus is the center of my life.
And when Jesus is the center of my life, I am reminded that you matter deeply to me.
Rev. Joseph Yoo is a Californian Texan that currently serves as one of the pastors at First United Methodist Church in Pearland, Texas. Find more of his reflections about life, ministry, and "Game of Thrones" at JosephYoo.com.
Feeling moved to find a community of people to worship alongside? Let us help you with our Find-a-Church feature.
Posted October 23, 2017