I do it three times every week: Every Sunday morning, every Sunday evening, and every Wednesday evening I walk into church. Sometimes I walk into church eager and full of expectation; sometimes I walk into church grudgingly and grumpy; sometimes I walk into church sick or sorrowful. But week after week I do it. And I attach very little significance to it.
In the opening pages of his little book How To Walk Into Church, Tony Payne describes the common experience:
I suppose it must have happened upwards of 2000 times by now.
I exit the car, usually with a wife and various kids in tow, and amble in the front door, tossing off a quick greeting to whomever is handing out the folded sheets of paper that in church-speak are called ‘bulletins’.
After a quick scan of the seating situation—who has already parked themselves where, who I might want to avoid and so on—I choose a spot not too near the front and sidle into the chosen row, smiling feebly at the person sitting on the other side of the seat that I’ve politely left vacant between us.
And there it is. I’ve walked into church.
Not exactly a taxing or impressive feat, and hardly worthy of having a book written about it, even a very short book like this.
But things are rarely as simple as they seem.
No, things are rarely that simple. Many of the mundane and repetitive tasks that fill our lives have outsized importance: Walking into your home at the end of a long day’s work, saying goodnight to your children, participating in family devotions—these are little things but significant things, just like walking into church. After all,
How you walk into church will be determined by what you think church is, and what you think you’re doing there.
If you think church is a bit like going to the movies, you might walk in expecting to be entertained or inspired.
If you think church is an opportunity for personal devotion and worship, you’ll probably walk in not wanting to interact too much with anyone else.
If you think church is something you have to do in order to ‘do the right thing’ or stay on God’s good side, you’ll walk in with a determination to do what needs to be done (and then leave as soon as possible).
So how should we walk into church? Here is what Payne asks you to consider: Walk into church praying about where you should sit. Yes, it is that simple. And it has that much significance.
Of course, he doesn’t just say that you should consider praying as you walk into church, he also proves its value. He does this first by asking and answering a pair of foundational questions: What is this thing we call ‘church’? and Why am I walking into church? Church is God’s gathering of God’s people and we walk into this gathering week after week because we need mutual encouragement and exhortation. Each one of us has a role to play in church and each one of us is a necessary part of the gathering. We do not go first to be served by others, but to serve. “Church is not about me. It’s not about the experience I have or what I get out of it. Church is a classic opportunity to love my brothers and sisters who are there, by seeking to build them up in Christ.”
With the questions answered, Payne goes on to offer counsel on how to approach church and how to make the most of the experience both during and after the worship service.
This is a short and simple book—less than 70 pages long—but one that could make a profound difference in the life and worship of your church. I would like to see it make that difference in the life of my church. If I and the other members at Grace Fellowship Church would read, understand, and implement the basic teaching of this book, I believe we would think very differently about how we walk into church and I believe we would do it a lot better. What Payne describes here is exactly what I long for my church to be.
Note: Westminster Books has the book on sale this week. When purchased in quantities of 5 or more, it will cost just $3 per copy.