The Churchgoing Habit

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In Sunday’s sermon I mentioned that the churchgoing habit is an easy one to break.

If I had had more time I might have talked about how it happens, how you take a Sunday off and realize there are all those other things you could be doing during that time, all those other things other people actually are doing during that time: sleeping in, going to the beach, going to the mountains, having a second cup of coffee, reading the New York Times, mowing the lawn, lounging by the pool, or doing nothing much at all.

It’s a nice change of pace, but I’m guessing it could quickly become the new normal.  And it might take weeks, or even months, to become aware that something was missing, something you used to get at church that you aren’t getting anymore.  And on your best days you might acknowledge that what you were missing is pretty important: the fellowship of other believers, the robust singing of hymns, the prayers of the people, the Word of the Lord, and the faithful preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, one that consistently challenges the false gospels of appearance, achievement, and affluence.

So I’ve come up with a strategy that will make the churchgoing habit harder to break.

It came to me when I was talking to a couple of guys on their cigarette break.  I was just standing there, and one of them offered me a cigarette.  “No, thanks,” I said.  “I never have developed that habit.”  “Lucky you!” he said.  “I’ve been trying to break it for years.  Cigarettes are expensive!” (he didn’t mention that they can also kill you).  It struck me then that people will pay good money for something that has the potential to kill them simply because cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive.

And that’s when I came up with my new strategy.

Let’s just pump some nicotine into the air conditioning system at church this summer, let it waft over the pews along with all that cool air as people sit there and listen to the sermon.  They won’t even know they’re inhaling it, but somewhere around Monday or Tuesday of that week they’re going to say, “Man, I’ve got to get back to church!”  They won’t even realize they’re doing it, but as they keep coming to church and keep inhaling that nicotine the addiction will begin to grow stronger and stronger, until they start saying things like:

“I’m dying for a sermon.”
“I sure could use a good hymn right about now, couldn’t you?”
“I haven’t had communion in, like, forever!”
“Will Sunday ever get here?”

I know there are probably laws against adding nicotine to the air conditioning system, but the churchgoing habit has gotten a little too easy to break.

And desperate times call for desperate measures.

–Jim Somerville

KOH2RVA: Day 321

smokingOn Wednesdays I go down to the basement level of the church to speak to the men and women who come to First Baptist for hot showers, clean clothes, a cup of coffee, and a little bit of the love of Christ. I enjoy doing it, and I try not to make it too “preachy.” I simply try to encourage people who live a harder life than most of us can imagine.

But this week I told a story I heard from church historian Bill Leonard years ago. It was about a time he visited a rural church in Kentucky that didn’t even have a building: the congregation just sat outside on wooden benches. Bill sat down beside a man who was wearing a pair of faded bib overalls, with a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes in the front pocket.

When the preacher got warmed up to the subject of his sermon he said, “I’m getting tired of these people going out honky tonkin’ on Saturday nights, getting’ drunk and carryin’ on like they do. What kind of example is that to be settin’ before our kids?” And the man in the bib overalls said, “Amen, preacher! You tell ‘em!”

And then the preacher said, “And what about these young women walkin’ around with their skirts cut up to here and their blouses cut down to there, showing off everything the good Lord gave ‘em? How is a young man supposed to keep his way pure?” And the man in the bib overalls said, “Amen, preacher! That’s right!”

But then the preacher said, “And what about cigarettes? People who call themselves Christians walkin’ around suckin’ on them cigarettes like a baby sucks on his bottle! That’s got to stop!” And that’s when the man in bib overalls turned to Bill Leonard and said, “That ain’t Bible and I ain’t listenin’!” and walked off in a huff.

I said to my friends at Community Missions, “That’s a funny story, but it does raise the question of who you listen to. This man said he wasn’t going to listen to something that wasn’t in the Bible, but what he really meant was that he wasn’t going to listen to something he didn’t agree with. What about you? Who do you listen to? Who has authority in your life? Is it the Bible? Is it your mother? Is it the voices in your head?

I said, “For me, it’s Jesus. I believe he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and I believe that if I follow his Way I won’t be disappointed. So, I read the Gospels, and I underline what Jesus says, and I try to live by it. And even if I get to the end of my life and find that Jesus has led me to a locked door (although that’s not going to happen), I don’t think I will have any regrets. I believe his Way really is the best way to live in this world.”

It’s the reason First Baptist Church is on this year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia: because it’s so important to Jesus, because he mentions the Kingdom some 120 times in the Gospels, because he teaches his disciples to pray that God’s Kingdom will come, and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

So, we’re working hard to bring heaven to earth, and it’s not necessarily because we want to, but because Jesus said so.

What about you?  Who do you listen to?