Theology student David MacPherson reflects on a recent episode of The Diary of a CEO, where Nir Eyal discussed the benefits of church and a worshipping community
When tuning in to the popular podcast, The Diary of a CEO, to learn how to form good habits and improve concentration, I did not expect to be directed to the benefits of attending church or a place of worship. The guest, Nir Eyal, describes himself as secular and a sceptic, yet he argues for the positive significance of religion in our lives. He describes the benefits of church as “amazing” and concludes that those who do not attend a place of worship “give up a lot”.
It was an unexpected but positively intriguing proposition from Eyal. The intrigue lay in the unexpected source of encouragement to attend church. Nir Eyal is a behavioural design expert who has co-founded two technology companies, lectured in marketing at Stanford Business School and is the author of two bestselling books regarding forming good habits and how to avoid distraction. His comments on this podcast led me to explore his thoughts and why he is advocating attending church.
Nir Eyal’s surprising endorsement for church attendance regards the significance of community. It is the local and personal approach that church offers that Eyal focuses on. He describes it as a place that is constant; it is on every week regardless of what else is going on in the world. It is a time where the local community meet to listen, to be listened to, to care and to be cared for.
The environment is conducive for peace, patience and connection, contrasting the fast, distant, impersonal world we live in. The Church provides time and space for a personal, caring approach with the local community where relationships can healthily grow in intimacy.
This is something that has been lost since the industrial revolution, according to Eyal. Despite the benefits of an advancement in industry and technology, it brought a breakdown of real, personal community. The Church can provide the intimate, caring community that has been lost since the industrial revolution. Community and belonging are also fostered through the significant life events that occur at church.
Significant life events
From the beginning of life, the major milestones in between and the end of life on Earth, all these moments are celebrated within the Church. In a baptism or christening, a baby is welcomed into the church family. It marks a significant time for the church family and for the human family, welcoming another member, to be nurtured and brought up in the Church.
Another life-changing event, marriage, commonly takes place in the Church. A loving couple commit their lives to each other through the covenant of marriage. This is a biblical ceremony in front of God and the couple’s family and friends.
The end of life is marked by a funeral, celebrating the life of the deceased and, in the life of a Christian, the eternal after-life where pain and suffering ceases. These significant events remain powerful memories for each of us.
In the podcast Eyal describes “rituals that mark the year” as one of the benefits of Church. The consistent, annual events that are celebrated in the Church mark important occasions in the Christian calendar. These annual and significant life events that are celebrated in the Church can lead us to ponder something bigger than ourselves.
Church is a place where meaning is sought; the individual and collective group are encouraged to ponder the eternal. Topics like creation, meaning, morality and God are investigated and, hopefully, made engaging for the attendees. Eyal describes these practices, “prayer, meditation, reflection and a higher purpose” as benefits of the Church.
Jordan Peterson, in his bestselling book, 12 Rules for Life, explains the importance of meaning over expedience. This is the delaying of the easy, quick option, which may appear satisfying in the moment for the more prudent, meaningful option, which often takes more time.
Church is a place where time, discipline, prayer, listening, love for one another and other habits are nurtured for a higher purpose. This provides an eternally significant life in the face of the quick, easy, unsatisfying opposition within the world.
John Piper promotes this theme in his book, bluntly titled, Don’t Waste Your Life. In this, he strives to warn the reader to seek the things of eternal significance, the things of meaning. Piper and Peterson, however divisive the latter may be, propose a lifestyle contrary to what the world pushes and one that holds benefits beyond the immediate.
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Aside from the benefits proposed by secular professionals like clinical psychologists and behavioural design experts on the importance of Church, there are teachings and commandments from another source, the Bible. The book of Acts and Hebrews encourages meeting together regularly, breaking bread together, loving one another and providing encouragement, fellowship, and prayer. This regular form of meeting and meditation is what Eyal is claiming the modern world, himself included, are missing out on.
The Bible holds Jesus as the head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22-23). Through his love, sacrifice and resurrection, the Church was born. Christians meet together to praise and honour the one who instituted the Church and seek to follow his loving, transformational life and teaching. This form of sacrificial love, perfectly fulfilled by Christ, provides the platform for all to meet regularly together to seek God, love God and love one another.
Perhaps, on the evidence above, there is more to church than uncomfortable pews, stilted sermons and a feeling of irrelevancy. With clinical psychologists and behavioural design experts pointing to what has been lost in society by not attending church, coupled with the unique benefits the Church provides for individuals and the community alike, church attendance requires more than a passing thought.
The natural aspects, like community and fellowship, are just the beginning. These benefits in the current world are integral but are only a shadow of the light that awaits those who fully commit to knowing and following the saviour, Jesus Christ.
David Macpherson is a theology student at the Highland Theological College. He is based in Glasgow, Scotland, and is part of a small church in the east end of the city. He is particularly interested in how the Christian faith impacts our life today. He is keen to chat and listen to all things relating to the faith.