Summary: Here we are, it’s Sunday morning, and I’ve accepted your invitation to your church. OK, what now? What’s a church service all about? Am I going to regret this or be glad I came?
That’s one important thing the church does. We assemble “together.” We gather. The very first Christian church, in Jerusalem, gathered daily! (Acts 2:46) That’s not likely in our fast-paced 21st century. But central to being part of Jesus’ church is getting together with fellow believers.
But what should we expect when we get here? That’s often the first thing on the mind of someone visiting your church for the first time. Our Scripture above names three things that should be part of every local church gathering.
Praise, worship (“a hymn”) — The Bible’s Book of Revelation is filled with amazing scenes of gathered singers in heaven, sometimes numbering in the millions, praising God heartily. In fact, Handel’s famous Hallelujah Chorus seems to have been inspired by the heavenly worship scene in Revelation 19. One popularly held story is that King George II, attending “Messiah’s” London premiere, was so moved by the Hallelujah Chorus that he stood up. So of course all the king’s subjects present had to stand up. That story of King George II’s standing is believed by some to be the reason that many in audiences today stand during the Chorus.
It’s the church’s great joy and holy privilege to participate right here on earth in the worship of God that goes on continually in heaven. One might even say that the church’s worship now on earth prepares you for heaven! Come to the church service expecting to meet with God in a heart-moving time of praise and worship.
“A word of instruction” (NIV) … “a doctrine” (KJV) — This is the preaching and teaching of God’s Word from the Bible. My life was favorably and permanently changed by Holy Spirit-anointed pulpit ministries, beginning in 1971. The pastors and Bible teachers in the local churches I have been part of for the past 45 years have helped me build my life on the eternal foundation of the Word of God Almighty. So come to church expecting to have an edifying encounter with God in His Word, preached and taught from the Bible.
Supernatural gifts of the Spirit (“a revelation ... tongue ... interpretation”) — the gifts of the Holy Spirit (listed primarily in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 and Romans 12:6-8) strengthen the church (vs. 26). A word of knowledge can speak to the very heart of your personal need. A divine healing can alter your life dramatically. Come expecting God to speak to you, to heal you if needed, to guide you and more by His Holy Spirit.
“If two agree...two or three come together” — come expecting others to join with you, to “agree” with you, in praying for your need, and Jesus promised that “it will be done.” There is great spiritual power at work when even a few believers in the Lord agree together in prayer for a prayer request. The church is a great place to meet men and women of faith who will pray with you for your need.
Also come to church to join with other believers expecting Jesus to honor the gathered church with His Presence. He Himself promised, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Although we may not see the Lord visibly, He is most certainly there among us when we gather as a local church. But isn’t He also with us when we are alone? Certainly. But in emphasizing His presence when people gather in His name, Jesus was clearly indicating a special corporate experience of His presence among the assembled believers.
As Israel of old did, the church will come together to pray (Acts 1:14; 4:23-24; 12:5,12). There can be prayer during and at the close of the church service, also preservice prayer preparing for and leading up to the service.
The Jewish worshipers had assembled to pray while the priest Zechariah was burning incense to the Lord in the temple. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah by the temple’s altar of incense—the altar that Bible scholars associate with prayer and praise (see Psalm 141:2 and Revelation 8:3f). Come to church to participate in prayer, and expect God to respond supernaturally.
As the early church met together at the temple and in their homes, people were being saved daily. Come together as a church expecting to see souls saved. I recall services at our church in Anchorage in the early to mid-1970s. The Charismatic Movement was in full swing. We were experiencing God in His Word, in worship, and in a great manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit. People were pouring into the church, and many were being saved, virtually in every service, sometimes in groups. During the 1970s the church jumped from 200 in attendance to 400, to 800, eventually to 1,400. Our new church-based Bible School started with 25 students in 1972. A year later there were 50, then 100 the next year, then 300 students the following two years.
My point? Those gathered in the local church experience divinely-given spiritual manifestations—including the Word, worship, and spiritual gifts. And the result was a powerful soul-saving momentum. But can’t people be saved/born again outside the church service? Of course; I was personally. But the historical reality is that significant percentages of people who come to the Lord for salvation do so in the context of some type of gathering of believers such as church services or evangelistic meetings.
The church service—with its heartfelt praise, with the anointed preaching of God’s Word, and with the supernatural gifts of the Spirit—can crack the hardest heart! Invite your friends to church. Expect God to touch their hearts.
One word of caution. Remember, the church is not perfect. Don’t stay away because it’s not perfect. The Bible says that even in churches there will be divisions, displays of carnal human nature, disappointments, even obvious sins. Remember the apostle Peter denying Jesus just before the Lord's crucifixion! Thankfully, Peter repented and went on to have a fruitful ministry for the Lord.
Jesus saw all of that sinfulness in us. But it didn’t cause Him to turn away from us. No, but rather He came to us in our lost, sinful condition and loved us enough to die for hopeless sinners. If Jesus had waited until we had “cleaned up our act,” we would still be waiting…and still be unsaved!
Come to church expecting less than perfection. See the Church for what it is—imperfect people being loved and cared for and blessed by a perfect Savior. He doesn’t abandon us during our times of spiritual immaturity and periodic displays of carnality. He patiently works with His churches and their people to bring us to maturity (Ephesians 4:13-16) and to growth in holiness.
Remember, Jesus warned that in the end times “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12-13, NIV). Allow me to venture a personal opinion here, which I think has merit. Cutting back on church attendance can put a person on the fast track to his or her love growing cold.
Rather than pulling away from church, come expecting to find others who will love you, who will spur you on. Come expecting to be encouraged and to reciprocate by encouraging and spurring others on. Train yourself—and rearrange your schedule—to gather together “all the more as you see the Day approaching.” If we are living in the closing years before Christ's Second Coming (and many Bible scholars believe this), we need to take heed to Jesus’ warning that we “keep our lamps burning” (Luke 12:35). In gathering together as a church, we experience Christ’s presence in many edifying ways: in worship, in His Word, in the gifts of His Spirit, and in the mutual love and encouragement of fellow believers.
If you’re already in a good, Bible-based church, give yourself devotedly to what the Lord is doing there. If you’re not currently in a church, ask the Lord’s wisdom and direction for His church choice for you. He will guide you, and you will be blessed and glad you chose to join the Church that Jesus loved enough to die for.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.