The Real Church

It's Sunday and I'm Not in Church

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 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.

youth group

Head on over here to read a fantastic article about a church doing youth group right. This is one of the most beautiful things that I've read in a really long time, and it gives me hope about the way that the church interacts with the LGBT community, specifically LGBT Christians. This read is well worth your time.

what would you do?

I just read an article this morning that I think would definitely stir the Christian pot. Take a look really quickly for yourself and try to think about what you would do, and I would encourage you to think about this especially in terms of this being a very close friend of yours. What would you do? Why or why not? Personally, I wouldn't give it a second thought (provided I was invited to this wedding obviously). I would be there for my friend in a heartbeat. While my beliefs on how gay marriage intermingles with faith are a little more complicated than that, I think that we need to go back to what Jesus said are the two greatest commandments which can be found in Matthew 22:36-40.

"'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

When it comes down to it, I think that these are the commandments that we need to be the most careful of obeying, and they have to do with love. For me, I would much rather err on the side of love than on the side of worrying that we're going to "unintentionally endorse sin" or something like that.

After all, Jesus was caught hanging around with sinners and outcasts all the time. He defended the woman caught in adultery from the Pharisees. He had dinner with tax collectors. He brought in His disciples from all walks of life, many that were ostracized because of their professions. He even spoke with and forgave one of the criminals who was on another cross beside Him as He was dying. Jesus didn't necessarily keep a "noble" crowd around Him, especially if you asked the Pharisees in His day. If we're supposed to be emulating the life of Christ, what does that imply for us?

Think about it this way, especially if your friend doesn't happen to be a Christian. How would you feel if one of your friends refused to attend your wedding because they believed it was sinful? I don't know about you, but I think that I would probably be more hurt and turned away from Christianity than anything else, and I don't think that's what we're called to do. Yes, the Gospel definitely offends, but I think that if we're making people feel unloved and pushed away because of the actions that we take, then I think that we should maybe reexamine them.

I'm not trying to say to go against your conscience on something like this, but I feel like if you have a gay friend who is already willing to and feels close enough to you to invite you to their wedding, then you should at least be willing to consider these things. I just think that, as Christians, we have been called to be a people of love, something that I feel like has been lost in the past few hundred years. I think that we have grown too concerned with presenting ourselves as a "holy people," being "in the world and not of it," "hating the sin, and loving the sinner" (a saying that I absolutely detest by the way), and a myriad of other "Christianese" things that we have forgotten what our true calling is.

We have been called to be a people of love and to make disciples of all nations, and I'd argue of all philosophies, sexualities, and everything else that is out there in the world. I think that we need to get back to our roots and start loving people again, and loving them exactly where they are in life. The church is supposed to be a place for broken people who realize they need Jesus, not a place where a righteous reputation is paramount and people feel judged and alone when they go through difficult trials. We need to remind ourselves constantly that the church is for and made up of broken people. It's why we became Christians to begin with, because God broke us and showed us that we are horribly broken and that we will never be good enough, but that doesn't matter, because He loved us too much.

So again, what would you do?

For me, I will always choose to err on the side of loving people.