Go To Church Anyway. Especially When It’s hard.
Church. It’s too early, too long, too loud; the leaders try too hard, and ask too much. The members are messy and mean and miserable. Plus, who can even concentrate if there’s a game on?
If you’re looking for an excuse not to go, it isn’t hard to find one. Or five.
Church attendance and membership is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. I was 14 the first time that members in the local church hurt me. You know what they say – the first cut is the deepest; and this one was a doozy. Long story short, the church counseled my mother to divorce my father and then helped her to move out and take my brother and I with her. The church – this beacon of love and forgiveness, the symbolic bride of Christ, was sowing seeds of doubts and discord in my family. Instead of being a place of healing, the church became a heartache. Instead of a sacred place of unity, the church became the graveyard of my parents’ marriage.
Needless to say, I wanted nothing to do with the church or anything it stood for. But it didn’t stay that way for long. Fast forward ten years, through the grace and sovereignty of God, my husband and I find ourselves invested in a fragile church plant on the east side of Seattle. We wrestle with half-hearted church goers, members who don’t contribute, and the ever elusive balance between staying relevant and preaching the truth, however uncomfortable it might be.
So… why do I still believe in the power of the local and collective church? And why on earth would I advocate for regular church attendance by everyone who claims Christ as their savior?
I almost wrote this article from the perspective of, “hidden benefits of going to church,” but I couldn’t help but feel like that would just be feeding into the problem. I even had a list of statistics found in a recent study about how regular church attendance boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure, and how those who go to church at least once a week have higher education prospects and a longer life expectancy.
But church isn’t about you. Or me. Thank God.
What is the church?
Let’s get the definition down before moving forward. When I refer to the church, I mean
A gathering of believers (Hebrews 10:25) for the purposes of:
- Reading and teaching of scripture (Acts 2:42, Acts 5:42, Col. 3:13)
- Breaking of bread (Acts 2:42, 1 Cor. 11:23-26)
- Community prayer (Acts 2:42, 2 Cor. 1:11)
- Fellowship (1 Thes. 5:11, Gal. 6:2, 1 Peter 3:8)
Why can’t I do it on my own?
First of all, the literal interpretation of “church” in the New Testament is “an assembly of called out ones.” So you really can’t “do church” alone. Secondly, on a more practical level, shared experiences are much more impactful and longer lasting than those experiences we have alone. Not that you can’t experience God in your own personal study, in fact I believe that God absolutely speaks to us in that quiet space. But you won’t get the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11) or all of what God intended His relationship with us to be unless we are sharing others’ burdens, and celebrating the victories together. It’s going to hurt, because we are a broken people. But God uses disappointment and frustrating circumstances to bring our sin to light and chip away the parts of us still clinging to the old self, (Eph. 4:17-32). As a body of believers, everyone is (or should be) striving towards unity and pointing each other back to Christ.
That doesn’t sound like my church.
Are you past the romance stage where every sermon was relevant, and every song brought you to tears? Keep pushing. Everyone has dry spells. The idea of leaving the church should hurt, and if it doesn’t, if in fact it feels more like a relief, maybe you aren’t contributing as much as you should be. Try serving in a different area, or finding a small group to participate in. Better yet, instead of complaining about how your church doesn’t have anything that caters to cat owners who enjoy watching Doctor Who and also love talking about eschatology, start something of your own! Taking ownership of your faith and your local church is a huge indicator of spiritual maturity and a marker of growth.
We go to church because that’s what Jesus did, (Luke 14:6) and it’s the example and structure we are given for growth throughout the New Testament, (Eph. 4:11-13, 2 Tim. 4:2, Acts 9:31-32). My pastor always tells us that “we are as spiritual as we want to be,” meaning that this Christian life is one of discipline. If we passively consume the sermon on Sunday morning, and search only for the verses that comfort us, we can’t be all that shocked to find out our faith is shallow and easily shaken. If, however, we choose to devote ourselves to a church body, despite the conflicts and imperfections, and confront the texts that aren’t easy to comprehend, we will find that our faith is firmly rooted in truth and love.