"Why go to church?."October 16, 2009 by Mike Strawbridge
People go to church for one of two reasons:
A – Out of fear of what God will do to them if they don’t
B - Out of love and respect for God
While my personal reason for attending is B, my experience with other churchgoers has been that more of them seem to be there for A. Although they may not publicly admit it. Probably out of fear of what would happen.
This difference finally explains to me why, although I have a huge desire to learn more about God and how he does things, I seldom play well with other church people. We simply have a fundamental difference in how we approach the issue. Now that I understand this difference in motivation, I think I can better understand the actions of my fellow church members.
This difference also explains why most church marketing messages are so ineffective. They send a mixed message. Mixed messages are always diluted.
While to me, the teachings of Christ are all about love and caring, the majority of my fellow church members seem focused on the fear of dying and going to hell. Apparently the writers of the translation of the bible that translated the phrase about loving god as "Fear God" had this mind set.
Of course King James himself was much more interested in the power that translating the Bible in to English would give him (a fear based motivation) than he was in spreading the love of God throughout the world. Otherwise he would not have required the Scottish people to use the English Bible that they could not read. He would have allowed them to translate the Bible into Scottish if he really was motivated by love instead of power (or fear).
As I travel around the country, I like to read the message boards in front of churches and see what benefits they offer as to why I should come there. While I occasionally see one that is motivating, I see a lot more shoulds being addressed than wants or desires.
The shoulds are not particularly motivating to me. Having made a conscious decision to focus on love rather than fear in my life, I look for ways to help people and to find more love and acceptance for myself. I am motivated by a true desire to help others than fear of not doing what I "should."
After all, I can find plenty of guilt and shame in my life without going to church. I am looking for love and freedom from sin – like Jesus promised when he said; "I come not to condemn the world but to save it."
What continues to confuse me however is how people who are supposed to be aligned with the greatest teacher of love ever to walk the earth – Jesus, would have such a prevalence of fear. But I must continue to tell myself that it is just the writing on their internal walls that leads them to the path they have chosen.
Maybe this internal writing comes from the history of the church. For centuries, religious leaders have wielded great power. In many communities, they still do. However, power is a fear-based motivation. If you are afraid of something, then the ultimate way to over come this fear is to have power over it. This idea more fully explained in Steve Pavlina’s article series on Fear vs. Love motivation that inspired this article.
Throughout history, the church has been very powerful – even more powerful than kings and other political leaders – when it was totally focused on fear rather than spreading God’s love. I am sure that is why the powerful church leaders resisted allowing the common people to read he Bible. They knew that if the message of love was allowed to dilute their message of fear, then they would loose power.
Today the church seems to have lost some of its political power and appears to be attacked from all sides. Maybe this is a good thing, as it will force the church to reassess why it is here. Why would people want to be a part of the Church of Jesus?
Let’s look for example at a typical fund raising mission for a church. What motivations do they give for their members to give? Do they focus on what a great opportunity they have to spread love with their giving or do they try to convince people that they should give to avoid feeling guilty. Giving is commanded of God and you will be sent to Hell if you don’t give. Do they use the word "sacrifice" or "investment?"
Also, where is the primary reward for being a servant of God? Is it here and now as Jesus taught when he prayed "Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven?" Or are we supposed to delay gratification all our lives so that if we follow all the rules just right and have been lucky enough to align ourselves with the right teacher, we have a shot at some eternal reward after we are dead?
Just shoot me now and let me get on with that future reward! I am sure there will be some volunteers for that.
Actually I prefer to enjoy living in the grace and love of Jesus’ teaching right here right now. If there is an even better place to go after I die, I am looking forward to that as well. But for now, I prefer to live each day in the fullness of God’s blessing.
While I still have fears to face, I am finding more and more tools to work on these fears. Sadly, I have not found them through my church. The keys to living a life of love are very plainly stated in the Bible. The most powerful one is that of forgiveness.
Recently while experimenting with an energy healing method (EFT) on a problem I was having with a stiff neck, I was stunned that I got immediate relief from the stiffness by simply stating the phrase, "even though I have this stiff neck, I forgive myself and others who may have contributed to it." I did not have to continue with any of the procedure for that specific problem. The stiffness immediately went away the moment I stated my willingness to forgive.
Jesus taught this principle again in the Lord’s prayer; " Father forgive us as we forgive others." The swiftness with which my pain went away is a true testimony to the power of forgiveness. By the way, forgiveness is a love based action while the blame is a fear-based action.
So for me, teaching more of the love and power of following Jesus’ teaching is very motivating. I love to be reminded of the stories of healing and blessing that Jesus brought to earth.
However, I now understand that the people who come to church motivated by fear are not hearing the same message that I hear in the same words. They may hear a story of healing and see a way to gain power and control over others that they fear. Or simply to have power over their own fear of disease and sickness. The same goal is accomplished; just a different path is taken.
Now that I understand the motivations of my fellow church members, I think I can do a better job of showing them love. I accept that they are motivated by fear and I am no longer going to seek to change that. I will continue however to point out to them that they need to make a choice. As Pavlina states in his articles, switching back and forth between modes dilutes ones effectiveness.
By teaching love at one point and then switching to fear based teachings, you find yourself in a very weak state. No one respects an indecisive man. They may fear one who makes bad decisions and love a man who makes good decisions, but like John says of Jesus in The Revelation, the in decisive (or lukewarm) ones get spit out.
So pick a reason – to Love God or to Fear God. Both paths lead to the same end. But moving back and forth between paths uses up energy that could be spent more effectively.
Mike Strawbridge October 16, 2009
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