In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers”, he presents a concept that has been discussed at length in books, magazines, TV, and radio since its publication. Mr. Gladwell’s research showed that those obtaining mastery in their field had spent roughly 10,000 hours in preparation. In other words, a guitarist who has practiced for 10,000 hours or a speaker who had devoted 10,000 hours to honing his craft would be at the top of their game. Contrast this with a recent survey from the American Bible Society that found 41% of church-going people did not open their Bible a single time during the past week, and another 40% opened it only once or twice. The survey did not detail how many hours were spent in the Word by those opening it once or twice, but I think we can infer it was not many.
Most of us, save for the most morbid, don’t sit around thinking of how short life truly is. I submit that there is value in contemplating this very thing. If we maintain our health and are genetically blessed, we have at most 90-100 years on this spinning ball of dirt. In the United States, the average lifespan for a man is 75.6 years, and a woman is 80.8. For all of the advances in Western medicine, that still leaves Americans curiously low at number 36 on the list of lifespan by Country (Wikipedia). In the grand scheme of things, 75-80 years is not a lot of time. Take away from this the fact that our first handful of years is not especially productive, and we wind up with less than 70 years to make a difference in our world.
Our modern churches look very different from the early church in the New Testament. This is particularly true in the West. In America, our landscapes are dotted with mega-churches on sprawling plots of land where thousands of people gather to worship freely each week. Contrast this with the house churches in Asia where believers gather in small spaces under cover of the night in fear of torture and imprisonment if caught. The Asian churches much more closely resemble the early New Testament churches in virtually every way. With that in mind, does that make attending the safe, luxurious churches in America wrong for the follower of Jesus?
Following Jesus in an authentic Biblical way brings us face to face with some of the toughest questions in life. When we choose to abandon what Christianity has come to represent and instead follow Jesus with all of our heart at any cost, we will find ourselves walking a very lonely path. It is far easier to say a simple prayer and attend church an hour each week than it is to forsake everything you have and pursue Christ with relentless passion. Being a follower of Jesus will rarely gain you popularity, wealth or respect. Jesus warned us that we will be despised by our own families, persecuted and even killed (Matthew 10:16-26; Matthew 24:9). For those of us in the West, these can seem to be extreme and foreign concepts. Meanwhile, every day in countries around the world, people are ripped from their homes, tortured and put into prisons with squalid living conditions for the rest of their lives. These people understand what it means to give everything for Jesus.
There are several reasons that we as followers of Christ attend church. The Bible tells us that we should get together with fellow believers so we can encourage each other (Hebrews 10:24-25). Associating with others who follow Christ also helps keep us accountable in both our actions and words. Worshipping as a group of like minded people brings a dynamic that is different from when we worship alone. All of these reasons are good, scriptural and necessarily refreshing as we seek to walk the path Christ has set before us. However, I don’t think it’s enough to simply fellowship with other believers and enjoy a time of worship. I believe we need to be learning more about God during the time we spend together. Yet today there seems to be an emphasis on shallow teaching and a focus on those gathered rather than those on the outside who desperately need the gospel of Jesus.