Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Todd Hunter's recent book, Giving Church another Chance: Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices, (InterVarsity Press, 2010).
The time you spend at church should draw you closer to God. So when church is boring and frustrating for you, or when you drag yourself there out of sense of duty rather than desire, it may be tempting to give up on church and pursue God on your own. Doing so will cause you to miss a wealth of spiritual practices God has designed to help you grow, however. Rather than giving up on church, find new meaning in its spiritual practices to connect with God in fresh ways. Then you can do more than just attend church - you can be a vital part of the church wherever you go.
Here's how you can give church another chance:
View church not as an end, but as a means to an end. God intends for the church to be much more than just a place you visit on weekends to check in with Him. Church is meant to be like an embassy that helps empower you to grow closer to Christ and serve as one of His ambassadors in the world. So church should impact you far beyond each weekly worship service; it should be a training ground for you to mature in your faith and a launching pad for you to jump into every other part of your life, following where God leads you and putting your faith into practice.
Give the quiet prelude another chance. The quiet time before each worship service begins at your church is an opportunity to connect to God in the silence that can help you focus well on His voice. But you can take the listening skills you develop during the quiet prelude and carry them over into the rest of your life, paying close attention to the divine appointments that God brings your way in a variety of situations. Make time regularly to tune out distractions and tune into God's voice speaking to you.
Give singing the doxology another chance. Many generations of people have been singing the doxology in church to praise God. But you can do much more to praise God than simply repeating the words of this classic sung prayer. Let the doxology motivate you to live in a way that glorifies God, as a way of thanking Him for His greatness and reflecting His character to the world.
Give Scripture reading another chance. When you hear Scripture read in church, let it remind you that the Bible is a story that God wants you to embody in your life outside of church. Be open to learning whatever God would like to teach you through your church's Scripture readings. Pray for the Holy Spirit to use the words of Scripture to speak to your soul in fresh ways and empower you to put them into practice. Every day, do your best to live in God's story.
Give hearing sermons another chance. Listening to the sermons at your church can become exciting when you remember that the messages are much more than just a set of principles. Sermons can help you think of new ways of how you can interact with God. When your hear a sermon, ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand how it relates to you personally and how God is calling you to respond to it after you leave church for the day.
Give following liturgy another chance. Every church - even those without a formal liturgy - follows a prescribed order for public worship. Recognize that worship can happen anywhere and anytime, however. Worship isn't just something that you do during a structured worship service at your church. Worship, at its core, is serving God by growing to become more like Christ in order to be one of His ambassadors in the world. So let your church's order of worship remind you that your worship has a much greater purpose than just glorifying God in church; God calls you to glorify Him in the world, as you go about your everyday routines.
Give offerings another chance. Dropping a donation into your church's offering plate is about much more than just the money. It's about opening up your heart to say "yes" to God when He calls you to do something, and growing into a more generous and loving person who trusts God more deeply. It's also about learning how to live simply and be content with what you have, willing to make the sacrifices God leads you to make and discovering the joy that only come from being spiritually rich.
Give taking Communion another chance. Through Communion, you demonstrate your unity with God and your fellow believers through Christ. And as you receive God's grace by taking Communion, you're empowered to walk out of your church's building and demonstrate solidarity with God's fallen world by serving people in need.
Give receiving the benediction another chance. When your pastor or someone else gives you a benediction (a formal blessing) at the end of one of your church's worship services, remember that it's more than a pious wish for you to have a good day or week. A benediction isn't just for you; it's meant for you to pass it along to others. Let the blessing you've received motivate you to bless people in need by serving them however and whenever God leads you to do so.
Adapted from Giving Church another Chance: Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices, copyright 2010 by Todd Hunter. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Bishop Todd D. Hunter (D.Min., George Fox University) leads Churches for the Sake of Others, a church-planting initiative of the Anglican Mission in the Americas. He is also a teacher, writer and consultant for his ministry, Society for Kingdom Living, which helps pastors and lay leaders reach a generation that has been disenfranchised from the church. Formerly national director at Vineyard Churches USA and then at Alpha USA, Hunter serves on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of Alpha as well as on a number of other ministry boards, including RENOVARÉ and Soul Survivor. To find out more, visit his website: www.toddhunter.org.
Original publication date: April 14, 2010