I don’t always go on vacation, but when I do I go to church. I know not every ministry family does, but I think it’s a good idea. I think it’s a good idea, in part, because every person who attends the church I pastor faces every Sunday the choice I face only a handful of times a year: Should I go to church today? When they face this question, I want them to decide affirmatively. So, here are the reasons why, when I’m faced with the choice, I go to church.
1. I have children.
In the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20), Jesus said that some seed fell among the thorns. The seed, evidently, takes root and grows among the thorns, but the thorns choke the plant. The result is not that the plant dies, but that the plant is unfruitful (v. 19). Jesus labels the thorns as the worries of life, the desires for other things, and the deceitfulness of wealth. I began reflecting on this parable: What worries, desires, and deceptions are in my life that may keep the word unfruitful for my children? Enter the church-vacation quandary. What, implicitly, do my children learn about worship when its corporate expression in my life becomes optional? What do they learn about church that it decreases in importance when I have no accountability? On the other hand, what do they learn about church, worship, and God when the practice of corporate worship remains part of our family’s rhythm when no one is watching? I go to church while on vacation because I have children.
2. I build idols.
John Calvin described the human heart as an idol making factory. The biblical narrative read aloud, the experience of Christian faith sung, the Word of God proclaimed, and the bread broken is a wonderful collection of chisels, axes, and hammers to tear down these idols. Even on vacation, I don’t trust myself to take a week off idol-building, so I don’t let myself take a week off idol-breaking, either.
I need to start my week with worship of the true God and idol-breaking. It’s a theological misnomer to call Sunday the weekend; it’s the first day of the week. If I miss Sunday, then the rest of the week, theologically, is out of rhythm. While I have been known to take in a Saturday night worship service while on vacation, busting the idols just before the week starts, it is the corporate worship setting that gives me this unique false-god-destroying opportunity. I go to church on vacation because I build idols.
3. I’m a Wesleyan.
John Wesley was right to establish a variety of communities for spiritual formation. We often think of the Bands and the Classes as the warmest spiritual incubators, but Wesley also had Societies. Societies were larger groups of women and men, often comprised of Bands. Corporate worship was so important to Wesley that the Societies met during the week so that people could also attend local churches on the first day of the week. Wesley wanted his fellow Methodists in church as Anglicans, after all. Corporate worship with a larger group provides something that my close friendships and my small group simply do not. I go to church while on vacation because I’m a Wesleyan.
4. I’m a human being.
The human heart is an idol making factory because human beings are worshipers. At the heart of being human is, well, the heart. As James K.A. Smith says, “Human beings are lovers.” We love. We need to love. We are created in love and to love. And the highest, deepest expression of love-giving is worship. Human beings are lovers and so human beings are worshipers. I once heard Old Testament scholar Dr. David Thompson share a story where one of his children did not want to go to church. To the ancient, classic question, “Do I have to go to church?”, Dr Thompson replied, “No, you don’t have to go to church. But you have to worship. Or else you’ll die.”
Those are stark words. And they’re true. When human beings stop worshiping, they die. For some it is a slow death; for others, it is fast. Have you ever known someone who retired and, almost inexplicably, died? Even false gods will keep people alive. Human beings, once we stop worshiping, die. Just like I don’t trust myself not to build idols, neither do I trust myself to worship rightly on my own. When I’m on vacation, I don’t need to go to church, but I do need to worship. The church community makes it that much more likely that I will, indeed, worship and worship rightly. Flip the observation around: If I need a break from church, perhaps there is something life-taking happening for me. And if church is life-taking, then it’s not a complete worship of the true, Triune God. If I need a break from church, then something is wrong. I go to church while on vacation because I’m a human being.
5. Jesus of Nazareth is raised from the dead.
Jesus of Nazareth is raised from the dead. We remember and celebrate the resurrection every Sunday. If he had just been raised a week ago, I’d probably show up in church. Does it really matter that it was almost 2000 years ago? Theologically, no—it doesn’t. Does it really matter that I’m in a different rhythm or city? Nope. Resurrection > Vacation. This one is really beyond my choice, though. If Jesus is raised from the dead, then I’m not in church mainly because I choose to be there. I’m in church because the resurrected one has chosen me.