Fill in the blank: I stopped going to church because….. or I don’t go to church because…I’ll wait for it. Church (sigh) …yeah it can be a struggle box in many ways. But I’m not here to bash the church institution by any means. I grew up in the church building with church people. I’ve seen the highs and lows of what the church people and it’s organizing power can do. They can work wonders in facilitating a safe space for transformational spiritual growth. Consequently they can also do tremendous damage and wreak havoc in the lives of those who partake in the community. It really is a toss up. The church, which for all intents and purposes, we’ll define is a body of people whose goal is to assemble together in unity to worship God and love others. The gathering, which originally started in peoples homes during ancient biblical times, has evolved into people joining together at a neutral stand alone building where weekly organized (and some not so organized) services are held to facilitate this worshiping of God and fellowshipping with others. This stand alone building is unfortunately and confusingly often referred to as “church.” So we have a mixing of two elements being referred to as the same thing: the people and the building. Why is this relevant you say? Well, its important to delineate the two so as to understand it’s true function and purpose. Many of us do not refer to ourselves by the places we live in. We don’t refer to ourselves as “house” or “car”, yet we gather and occupy those spaces almost daily. So we must clarify what we are talking about when we say “church.” Are we referring to the people or the building? (Some of you out there I know are screaming – well both!) I can’t stand either one of them. I hate going to the building, seeing “those people” singing those boring songs for a long time and listening to that hollering person on stage. It’s just too much. And for what? I also don’t like how fake and hypocritical everyone is and how everyone is all up in my business. Yuck – no thanks!
Having been around the church body of believers for my entire life I will tell you I’ve just about seen and heard it all. Mmm well even as I say this, I still think to myself, well no maybe I haven’t, because as you know each day people never cease to amaze you with the things they come up with.
So, I can certainly relate to the struggle for people who find it difficult to participate with a local church congregation. For a season in my life, I was so jaded and fed up that even I stopped going because it had become so predictable, life-less and distasteful. I much rather have preferred to keep my faith in the little four corners of my space and ride out in the sunset with just me and the Lord. But as the years churned on my take on this isolated view of living out my faith begin to get challenged. I began to see the need for community and interconnectedness as a vital role and necessity in my life. I began to realize that while I disagree with the way a lot of church gatherings are organized and executed that I shouldn’t just lump them all together and give up on connecting with people who share the same faith. I also realized how much gathering with those people would sharpen and aid in my development and understanding of the faith. See as much as you think you don’t need people (in that way) you really do. We weren’t created to live isolated or independently. As much as we think “we’ve got it” we really don’t. As much as we think “we’re good” we’re not.
So despite my ongoing reservations with the organized gathering of the body of believers I still push myself to engage at some level of a local church body (in person that is) merely on the basis of engaging in community with as close to “like-minded” individuals as possible. I say as close to because, rarely will two people 100% completely agree on the theology and practice of their faith. That’s just a fact. You can get close and have a lot of agreements on things, but there will also be some underlying disagreements about some area of the faith. I think this has to be the first thing that people need to recognize about the church body of believers. The doctrine has never been agreed upon nor practiced in a monolithic way. You will never find the perfect group of church gatherers because there is not one. And if you are looking to them to display the faith perfectly and without contradiction you will sadly search on until the ends of eternity miss.
So choosing to isolate yourself from the community of believers because you don’t feel they are living up to your standard of rightness is not only self-righteously arrogant but it also lacks immensely in biblical revelation, knowledge and understanding of who we are as people, who God is and the relationship between the two. You cannot look to the people to determine your level of faithfulness. You have to separate the messengers from the message. Because the only true and perfect Message and Messenger is Jesus. Which is who the faith of Christianity seeks to exalt and follow after. Since none of us have reached this spiritual pinnacle it is safe to say that our churches will continue to be a struggle box until the fulfillment of time.
Again, I’m not here to condemn the church body for it’s lackluster failings nor am I here to condemn anyone whose listening who: either doesn’t go to church, stopped going to church, goes to church online, or attends church in person but has an attitude with the people that go there. Yep church woes come in all shapes in sizes. What I’m saying is a word of encouragement to continue to give people a bit more grace and understand the purpose of the gathering and the need for community (at some form or fashion). This subject matter is so complex, that I’m merely scratching the surface for the sake of being an encouragement to people who’ve never thought of the things I’ve mentioned. Hopefully to some degree it has helped you get the conversation started.
We don’t like the music or it’s too cold or the service is too long or it’s not long enough. The preacher is getting paid too much or the seats are uncomfortable.