I have always had this fantasy of preaching my first sermon in a new community by striding to the pulpit, looking people in the eye, and asking “What are you doing here?” It’s a question that bears thinking about, one that deserves attention. When I was growing up, of course, church attendance was de rigueur for meaningful participation in the community: if you wanted to sell Buicks, you needed to attend church somewhere, and where you attended church had at least some influence on whom you would be selling Buicks to.
Nowadays not so much. As the United States becomes increasingly religiously diverse, a window for complete non-participation in religious life has opened up. You can now sell all the Buicks you want and now go to church anywhere. So why do people come?
In the gospel lesson for this week, Jesus questions the motivations of those who have come across the lake in search of him. In 2009, Neal D. Presa led readers of Homily Service into an exploration of the motivations of those who come to Christ’s Table.
Why do you come? That is a question worth raising. It checks motives at the door In invites introspection. It confirms and reaffirms promises made. It calls forth repentance if one’s continual coming is not about faith, discipleship, and loving obedience. For those of us serving in a parish context, that is a worthwhile question to ask our congregation members. What is the real reason Mr. Jones worships on Sunday? What is the true motive for Mrs. Smith wanting to be on the governing board every year and seeking to be the chairperson of all the committees?
For the many years I have been a member and now a pastor of a congregation, I know all too well the good, the bad, and the ugly reasons of why people in church do things.
...Why do you come? That is a question that we who are in ministry - parish and teaching - need to continually ask ourselves. Check, recheck, and triple-check. Why do we come to the study, sit in front of the computer, read books, write sermons, submit academic papers for publication, preside at funerals, do visitations, conduct premarital counseling, offer the invocation at civic events? Why do we come?
Now that religious observance is no longer a prerequisite for participation in American economic, social and cultural life, what do you think are the main....oh let’s say three motivations for church attendance?
Neal D. Presa. Homily Service 42:3, 103.
Neal D. Presa, pastor of Middlesex Presbyterian Church in Middlesex, New Jersey was elected moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Saturday evening, June 30th, 2012.