It was a lovely picture, of a lovely grassy meadow, with trees and pretty flowers and even a bit of sunshine. The post accompanying it said: this is my version of church. And a whole load of people commenting were enthusiastically agreeing that this was better than church – which left me feeling rather sorry for them because I’d just been to church and it was a lot lot lot lot lot better than being in a lovely grassy meadow.
So I thought it was time for a brief comparative study – what do I get from church that nature, beautiful though it can be, can’t give me? And I speak as someone who gets a lot out of spending time enjoying the beauty of creation – not only that, but I speak as an introvert, a person who has a strong need for solitude. Being an introvert means that spending time interacting with other people is something that costs me energy and I can’t do too much of it – and yet, there’s me going to church every Sunday and missing it badly if for some reason I can’t be there. So what is it that I get from going to church, that I couldn’t get from a nice quiet walk in a nice grassy meadow, or from spending time sitting quietly by a river or a stream, enjoying the stillness and recharging?
Here’s a list, in no particular order, of things I get from going to church that nature in all its beauty can’t give me:
(not attempting an exhaustive list)
- Teaching, to help me grow and mature
- The real joy of worshipping God in the company of fellow believers
- Helpful challenges
- Communion – a tangible reminder of what Jesus did for me on the cross
- Opportunities to be a blessing to other people (e.g. listening to someone who needs to talk, encouraging someone who needs encouragement)
- Opportunities to practise Jesus’ command to love one another – can’t do that on your own!
There’s also, of course, stuff like hugs and building friendships, or those moments of emotional high from a particular song that touches me or something in a sermon that hits me etc – there are all sorts of added extras, but they’re not what I go to church for. I go for the teaching and the fellowship and the chance to worship God with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Because when you come to faith in Jesus you become part of this big family, and it means so much to be able to be together! So much, that even though I am someone who deeply needs solitude and can’t do too much social interaction, I also deeply need to get to church every week, and there’s no way I’d trade that for time in a grassy meadow.
The grassy meadow can give me a lovely sense of peace and stillness, and a delight in the beauty of creation. And I can even have a very real sense of God’s presence there – he is, after all, everywhere! And being away from the hustle and bustle, in a place that’s quiet – sometimes you can sense his presence in a very special way. For the purpose of personally connecting with God, it can be really useful – but church is about a lot more than that. I can connect with God right here, right now, but being a follower of Jesus means being part of a whole body and it’s about much more than an individual personal relationship.
And as a person who loves solitude and stillness, I must add this: the grass and the flowers are beautiful and they won’t interrupt your quiet – but neither will they give you a hug, or a look that tells you you’ve been heard and understood by another human being, or words of encouragement when you’re feeling low or in pain, or words of wisdom when you’re not sure how to deal with a difficult situation. Nor will they make you a cup of tea. The flowers and the grass are pretty but they can’t offer you love. The people in my church – that’s what we do, we love one another.
And we do this because we know the love of Jesus.