Dear Wondering in Alaska,
I keep getting these hits on my blog from a wondering soul Google searching the words “do you have to go to church jezamama”. And since none of what I post really addresses the bottom line issues of whether or not I believe folks should go to church it felt like a hint that perhaps I should share where I’ve ended up.
- After five years of homeless Sundays do I think people – YOU should go to church?
- Do I think we (meaning my family) should head on out on a Sunday morning and go to church?
Let’s start with that first question: Do I think YOU should go to church? Yes. No. It’s between you and God, really. It isn’t my business and despite what those concerned church folk will tell you – it isn’t their business either.
Yes, I do believe that people need a gathering of Christians around them. It’s important to take communion together, to share in life together, to read the Word, pray, and worship with other Believers. It is important that we learn to celebrate life with others. None of us are islands out here in this big wide world so YES you should find some type of church.
You shouldn’t be alone. Try hard to NOT be alone. God created us for relationship and it is not good for an individual, couple, or family to live in isolation. However just because you go to church does not mean that you are living a life of genuine fellowship. You can go to church and be living in isolation too.
Church does not need to be an actual building, particular denomination, inside the box as we think of going to church. The early church did not have actual cathedrals and chapels, pews or hymnals exactly as we know it now. The church in its infancy met in homes once they were pushed out of the synagogues. So yes if you can – you can gather together in your home or backyard or park or bar for all it matters with a group of believers and do church. Plenty of people are doing that across this globe in mud huts and thatched roof schools, and whatever they can find. Sit together and learn, find people to love, pray, encourage, and enjoy those who worship/follow Jesus. Find the Church… however that looks.
The God Box. Priesthood. Authority Guilt Trips.
God is not confined to one specific type of doing church. No one program is right. No single church business model is the Biblical Ideal. No group of people is doing church 100% right.
We are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
I believe in the authority given to all believers – a royal priesthood. That isn’t mutually exclusive to the church elder or pastor or leader – that authority is an inheritance given by God to all His Children. So when folks start berating me about being in sin and not living under authority – I just remember who is my KING and God and Supreme Authority.
When you understand the authority you have as a believer in Jesus Christ and the free access you have to God because He says so… misguided authority guilt-trips do not hold weight. The authority issue is a hot button topic for many churched folk and a wrong understanding of authority structures and a believer’s place before God has led many a church, family, and/or individual right into the middle of spiritually abusive situations.
OUR CHURCH DOES IT RIGHT
There isn’t specifically a place with the address: That church on the corner, 123 main street, Your Town, USA – that is 100% God approved and doctrinally correct and doing everything RIGHT.
You will find places where the Holy Spirit is present & alive among the people, and you will encounter places where Jesus has been crucified (again) to the building. You will find life and love vs. cold and dead. You will find folks doing a lot of God stuff and loving others, but not really KNOWING God. There are whole denominations where the Holy Spirit exited stage right ages ago, but the people still insist on doing what they call, “church.”
Look for a resurrection place – one where the members are alive or at least they are longing to be alive even if they are not sure what that is exactly. The only way you are going to be able to recognize an alive church is if YOU are in fact alive.
I am so Confused. What Should I Look For?
I love a recent interview with author and pastor Eugene Peterson who is in his 80s. When asked what he would “say to younger Christians who are itchy for a deeper and more authentic discipleship?” Peterson answered:
“Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, ‘The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.’ Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.”
I think this is the best advice I’ve heard. Find a small church – not that popular megachurch everyone is raving about or that hip one with the free coffee and donut/snack bar, but the simple one that has been there for ages and GO. Quit driving past that itty bitty church just to get to that fabulous church where you don’t see the same people every week it is so dang big. Pull in to that little one with the quirky sign that drives you nuts AND plan to stay for a while not because of the show (this isn’t a rock concert) or the programs or because the pastor is hip and young, but because of the people.
Invest in the people first.
What is the Church? What is the body of Christ? It is PEOPLE.
If you are looking for a place to fit and serve and build community then fall in the love with a group of people, close to where you live your life…. all that other stuff will come with time.
You BIG Hypocrite. What About YOUR Family?
How does this fit into my own family? Will we be going back to church anytime soon?
- We’ve tried. We left a pretty good church close to where we lived and moved an hour away from practical and work to be near a specific church where we loved the pastor and his family – it was comfortable and exciting, but within a year it all went really bad. So we have taken the last few years to be still and seek God’s face/will/heart about where and what HE wants for us. It is the best thing we could have done for us. This is about seeking God’s heart – not what all those wise grownups think we should be doing with our time, family, calling, and gifts. We were really tired of the show and the fake and the hiding and the lies.
- We feel God has something specific in mind for our family, a place where we fit – so we are waiting for him to answer the where, when, why and How no matter how much time that takes or what it looks like from the outside. We do not care how uncomfortable our choice makes you feel – this is about our family, our marriage, our children before God. This is about our obedience and that isn’t anyone’s business.
- Church attendance is not indicative of spiritual maturity…. to assume that someone is mature simply because they have gone all of their life is naïve. Some of the most shallow Christians you will ever meet, the biggest gossips, and the most untrustworthy – still stuck in the elementary years of their faith – have been going to the same church for decades. There are a lot of Christian Good girls and boys out there who have no clue who God really is or who they are before Him. You can go to church, hold the titles, serve all in the name of Jesus, but not KNOW God. I desperately want to KNOW and be known by God.
The truth is that it is not easy. We lost all of our friends when we left the church. All of the reasons we moved to this little townhouse with the muddy, postage stamp-sized backyard – they all revolved around a specific pastor, his family, and his church. So when things fractured we were left to fend for ourselves. I’m not blaming anyone that is simply the fact. So we wait. We wait for God to show us exactly where he wants us to be next. We pray to find the place He has prepared. I try to be patient. I whine. I’ve thrown a few hissy fits. We trust God’s faithfulness even when people are not so faithful. But most importantly we are learning to rely on HIS timing… even when it looks a certain way from the outside. In the end our lives should be about HIS glory and honor. My reputation and name, saving face means very little when it comes to seeking after God’s purposes.
But I know and stand in this promise, “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.” Romans 8:28
and “I would have despaired unless I believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13
Find a Place. Choose Loyalty. Protect your Kids.
It is true that a good number of Christians would stumble and settle for being lukewarm in their faith or forsake it all together if they did not have a church. Church is the only thing that holds their faith together so you should probably go. But you should also be asking yourself if you would continue to seek after God, to live by faith, and to love others if you didn’t have a church to go to every week?
“Don’t just stay with the same old gang because it’s the same old gang.” (John Eldredge)
Are you a Sunday morning cultural Christian who has learned to play the game or are you a Jesus Lover – because there is a HUGE difference between going to church just to go to church vs. desperately loving Jesus. What are your motives? Because WHY you go matters.
- If a specific church building is the only way you know and have to interact with other believers
- If it is the only place you can find support
- If it is the only means for serving and loving other believers and growing in your faith
Then by all means settle into a place and plan to stay. Loyalty is important.
Be FOR your pastor. Be FOR your pastor’s wife. Be FOR their family. Support the leadership. Make a commitment to NOT spread gossip or angry words against other members, but to go directly to the source when you are offended. Do not let bitterness or resentment reign. Encourage. Refrain from treating the prayer room or the prayer chain as the gossip network. Commit to pray for your church, church members, and the leadership by name.
Invest in the people – no matter what type of structure or lack of structure.
When it comes to children and childcare workers – know who you are leaving your kids with or keep them with you. Be completely aware, volunteer, pay attention to what your children are saying and if a kid is freaking out consistently about certain grownups understand why.
Parents need to have OPEN eyes especially in church.
Do NOT Forsake Gathering…
What about that verse church folk quote? You mean…
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
Do you know how many times I’ve had this one single verse used to accuse me? or Guilt Trip us into correct behavior? Good grief it gets old.
I am in no way discrediting or invalidating this one passage of scripture, but why are we using it only? Why are we so uncomfortable when people choose a different way that does not follow the status quo? What are church folk so afraid is going to happen?
If you can’t find at this time a place to gather with other believers in truth and love then take a break if you need to – seek God. Get facedown. Pray like crazy and ask HIM where He wants you to be. If you are concerned about someone who does not go – pray for them. Don’t freak out. For many people church is not a place of love, good deeds, or encouragement. Trying to fix that for them with one verse is not helpful. It’s pious and rude.
Whatever you choose…Cling to God and He will show you where you need to be.
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3