A couple weeks ago, my wife and I went out to eat on a date. On a whim, we decided to go see a movie as well. Just like that. No preparation, we just decided and went. The lack of preparation had absolutely no bearing on how much we enjoyed the movie. After all, we just wanted to be entertained.
Unfortunately, we can often approach the Sunday meeting in a similar way.
How do you prepare to gather with your church family? Is your preparation limited to the frenetic collecting of your children, snacks, and diapers? Do you spend your time trying to convince yourself that going is better than sleeping in? Or maybe you don’t even think to prepare, because it’s just another routine that you’ve developed?
How we prepare for our Sunday gatherings is directly related to how much we benefit from our time together.
Two Common Mistakes
Here are two common errors we can make.
At times, we can prepare as spectators. We come mainly to watch, not participate. It’s like how I prepare to go see a sporting event. Besides making sure I’m not wearing the opposing teams colors, I don’t prepare much. I anticipate it, but my general attitude in going to a sporting event is, “Entertain me! Move me! Show me something amazing!” Or if you’re a loyal fan of a lousy team like I am, “Make me suffer!”
We can have the same attitude as we come to our Sunday gatherings. We come with the expectation, spoken or assumed, that everyone else needs to make sure we have a good time. I need my kids to be taken care of. I need people to seek me out. I need the music to sound a certain way. I need the preacher to stop speaking on time so that I can get on with my life. As for Jesus? Hopefully he shows up by his Spirit so I can have a spiritual, emotional experience that carries me through my week. We come as spectators, expecting to be served.
For some of us, we prepare for our Sunday gathering as workers. This is what I typically face as a vocational pastor. But it’s not limited to being a pastor. You might serve in your church as a children’s ministry worker, usher, setup team person, greeter, or hospitality person. We prepare much like we prepare for work (and for some, it really is work). We make a list of all the things we need to do. We make sure we leave on time. Our mind is filled with logistics and details. We remind ourselves how important our role is.
Preparing to meet with our church becomes an assessment of what we need to do rather than an excitement for how God might meet us. Maybe our gatherings even become a place where we derive our significance and self worth because of all the ways we serve, rather than a privileged opportunity to be with our family. Ever been there? I have.
So how should we prepare?
Prepare to Receive
Every time we gather as a church, God will speak to us as his word is preached, sung, read, and studied. Hearing from God is a weighty and glorious thing. Just read Exodus 19–20. To see God for who he is, to be overwhelmed by his greatness and holiness, to experience his presence, to see his boundless love and mercy, to encounter what should make our hearts tremble. Through Jesus, we can boldly come and receive (Hebrews 10:19–22), but confidence does not equal casualness. Prepare by asking God to help you receive his revelation with gratefulness and humility.
Prepare to Respond
When God reveals himself to us, things happen. Experiencing God leads us to respond (Isaiah 6:8). Rather than being a spectator or a passive participant, our hearts are moved to worship because we have once again seen the beauty, greatness, holiness, mercy, and love of our God. We sing to him, confess our sins, receive his word preached, take communion, and give our finances, all in grateful response to seeing who God is and what he has done for us in Jesus.
Prepare for this Sunday by asking that God would help you rightly respond to him.
Prepare to Edify Others
Our worship doesn’t stop when the singing ends, or the preacher says, “Amen.” It continues as we greet, encourage, serve, pray for, exhort, and care for one another. God chooses to use people to edify his body (1 Corinthians 14:26). You and me. Isn’t that amazing?
Do you come to church expecting that God will use you? It might be as you serve practically, it might be as you take two minutes to pray for a friend, or greet a new person, or encourage a child. You have a part to play. This Sunday, prepare for gathering with your church family by asking God how he might use you to edify his church.
So how do you prepare to go to church? This Sunday, come ready to encounter God and respond to him in glad and grateful worship with your heart and life.