This post may be shocking or worrisome for many, but I'm about to embark on an experiment for six months, partly driven by what I feel like is a calling right now and partly driven by the fact that my circumstances have lent themselves to this experiment. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, my experiment is going to be a hiatus from church attendance until I return from studying abroad in Spain in December. A little explanation is needed I suppose. Currently, I am taking 10 credits over a period of two months at the University of North Dakota with a program called Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). I'll be here until August 7 or 8, have about a week and a half off before returning to Bethel for Welcome Week for 10 days, and then leave for Spain on August 29. Considering that I'm already going to be away from any familiar churches for basically 6 months, I thought that this would be the perfect time to conduct this experiment. And in reality, I'm only starting this experiment two months earlier than I would have anyway, because at least from what our study abroad orientations have told us, Spain is a fairly secular country and I was going to have to work and be intentional about my faith there anyway. So I decided why not begin this trial while I was still at home in the States in a more or less comfortable environment?
But to stop sounding so technical, no, I'm not done with Christianity. Far from it actually. And, no, I don't hate the church either. That's not why I'm taking a break. Rather, I really want to take an extended period of time to figure out what church really means, in the truest sense of the word (think 1st century Christianity when people gathered in each others' homes over meals rather than as an institution). I want to dig deeper into what it really means to be in Christian community, and I want to examine and reflect on some of the reasons that a lot of millennials have left the church.
Finally, I want to make sure that my faith truly is a relationship and not just a weekly task or something to check off my to-do list, because that's something that I often feel like Christians do, simply because the institution of the church makes that easy to do. It honestly scares me to think that there are people calling themselves Christians who think that if they show up to church every week, memorize their Bible verses, and throw something in the offering plate that they're doing everything they're supposed to do. That's frighteningly easy. I want to be madly in love with Jesus. I want to really need Him every day. Honestly, if I felt sick every day that I didn't spend some time with Him, that would be a better alternative than just mindlessly forgetting. That's what I want my faith to be like. I want to want to be with Him all the time, every waking hour of life.
Thus, I think that perhaps by eliminating the one fixed (or maybe not so fixed depending on your schedule) religious aspect of your week, you are forced to think more about what you're really doing as a Christian and how much you're really seeking after God. Do you want to read your Bible if the pastor isn't telling you to flip to a specific passage? Do you want to pray if the pastor isn't telling you to bow your head? Do you want to sing worship songs even if there isn't anyone leading worship in front of you?
In the same vein, how well do you know the people at your church? I don't know about a lot of people, but I personally hate showing up to church every week, sitting in the same (or almost the same spot), seeing the same people, going through the service, and leaving without knowing a single thing about those people! That's the complete opposite of what church is supposed to look like! After all, as Bob Goff wrote over and over in his book, love does, so if we're not doing anything, are we really loving each other the way the church is supposed to? And I know that many people will respond to this by saying that I should get out of my comfort zone and get to know those people. I've decided that I'm really going to try doing that when I get back to church, but the fact of the matter is that whole attitude has been baked into the American church culture for far too long. The church is the people, not the building. You can have church without being in a church.
I know that it probably just sounds like I'm slamming the American church right now, but that's not what I'm trying to do. Honestly, I'm just an external processor and it helps me figure out what I need to do when I'm able to just lay it all out, even if that means spewing out all my complaints so I know what I need to fix and what I need to reflect back onto myself.
So, this is the journey/experiment I'll be embarking on over the next 6 months. It should be pretty interesting. Let me know what you think about it here on this post and as I begin posting my reflections about this experiment.