Sick and tired of church? It happens for good reasons. And pathetic ones.
Though we Christians need to go to church, many of us don’t. And won’t.
And I get it. There’ve been times in my life when I didn’t wanna go to church either. So I found excuses not to, adopted them, and didn’t go.
- “I have a home church, and I’m too far from home to go.” I used this for a semester while I was in college: I didn’t care for any of the churches in the area, and figured I did have a church back home; I did go there when I was home. But I wasn’t home. So it was okay if I missed 10 weeks of church services.
- “I go to chapel every day, so that kinda counts.” This was my other excuse that semester. Me and a lot of other students.
- “I can do all this stuff on my own.” My excuse for a few weeks when I was really annoyed with the people of my church. ’Cause I totally could do this stuff on my own. Pray?—no problem. Sing worship songs?—easily done. Learn from fellow Christians?—I had their books. Study the bible?—sure. Take holy communion?—well, I could eat saltines and grape juice on my own, and call it communion, but the missing element is other Christians, so that made it tricky. As are all our other practices which require other Christians.
- “The people suck.” Yeah, sometimes they do.
- “I don’t have to attend every week. I have freedom in Christ, y’know.” Which is true, but it’s really easy for inconsistent attendance to turn into monthly attendance, twice-a-year attendance, or no attendance.
Thing is, if you really don’t wanna go to church, any excuse will do. And lots of Christians really don’t wanna go. Their excuses are tissue-thin, misguided, selfish, or ridiculous, but because they really don’t wanna go, the excuses work. You don’t need a rope to lead a horse when they’ll willingly follow you anyway.
Why do I still go?
Three reasons. Pretty basic.
- It’s Jesus’s church.
Mt 16.18The church was Jesus’s idea. We may not like the way Christians run the individual churches—and for very good reason, ’cause some Christians are horribly botching the job. But all that means is we shouldn’t go to those churches. We still need to go to some church, and they don’t all suck. Find one that doesn’t suck. Go to that one.
- “Love one another.”
Jn 13.34, 15.12Really hard to love one another when you avoid one another. Really hard to minister to fellow Christians, to lead fellow Christians, when you’re not plugged into any church. No it’s not impossible, but… well, go to the next reason.
- Go-it-alone Christianity is heresy. Like the creeds say, “I believe in the communion of saints.” Fellow Christians are a corrective. They keep us from getting too weird or heretic. You’ve seen how go-it-alone Christians get all warped: It’ll happen to you too. Always does. And when a go-it-alone Christian tries to instruct or help or minister to fellow Christians, it’s always in some cultish, fruitless manner—’cause they’re avoiding a proper Christian environment where they can practice the fruit of the Spirit on one another.
When my fellow Christians preach or write about the biblical or theological reasons for going to church, they tend to always come right back to those three reasons. They’re making it sound more complicated than it really is. Jesus’s church; love one another; communion of saints. There y’go.
The usual reason people skip church: People.
People. They’re the worst.
In my experience, there’s only one real reason why Christians just don’t wanna go to church. Why it’s a visceral rejection of church, rather than a well-thought-out explanation. It’s surprisingly simple to understand… and surprisingly difficult to solve. It’s that Christians are people, and people are awful.
’Cause we are. We’re sinners. Even the best Christians sin. Much as we try to be loving and kind, many times we’re unloving and unkind. And some of us, to be blunt, aren’t trying. They’ve relabeled their unkindness as tough love—“I’m just telling it like it is. I’m keeping it real.” No, they’re justifying their boorish behavior, and trying to pass it off as Christian.
Fr’instance. An unmarried couple visit the church. On the very morning the pastor decides to preach, with great fervency and conviction, against non-marital sex. This couple, who’s very happy with their sex life and see nothing wrong with it, aren’t convinced. (’Cause let’s be blunt: That pastor was more in the habit of preaching from his spleen than his bible.) They felt their sex life was none of his business, and won’t return. And the pastor isn’t happy about that—but feels entirely justified for his sermon driving ’em off, because he was “just telling it like it is.”
Another instance. A young man visits a church, hoping to meet new Christians. And for whatever reason, nobody interacts with him beyond superficial greetings. They say hi. Then they turn round and have longer, more meaningful conversations with their existing cliques. The man realizes they’re not all that welcoming, so he leaves, figuring he won’t be missed. He’s probably right.
And another. A woman attends a church, which encourages her to plug into their ministries: The women’s ministry, several bible studies, some church outreaches. She discovers something disconcerting: Every single function has hidden costs. You gotta buy books. You gotta get tickets for seminars and conferences and concerts. They go to lunch afterward—and not to cheap restaurants. Unless you have a middle-class income—and she doesn’t—you can’t afford this church’s lifestyle. She shares her prayer needs—stuff most of her fellow churchgoers could easily afford—and rather than offer help, the church folks say, “Y’know, you need a better job. We’ll pray for that.” She begins to resent all these folks who have no truly pressing needs, who can’t relate to her world. She gives up on them.
Yet another. A die-hard Republican visits a church. As part of the usual prayers, the vicar calls upon the congregation to pray for the President—who’s a Democrat. The Republican is outraged: He doesn’t wanna pray for this President; if anything, he wants to pray against him,
Or everybody in the church is wonderful, but one day you pressed the wrong button on this one woman, and she just tells you off. Reads you the riot act, says some hurtful things—and nobody rebukes her. Or they do, but their rebukes are pathetic; they let her get away with it. Well, how could you ever return to that church?
Or a very devout person discovers the pastor went to see a certain R-rated movie. And he’s horrified. How could pastors watch such filth? What kind of hypocrisy do we have in the church’s leadership? How could such a person teach his children? He won’t be back.
Y’see, experiences vary. All those scenarios I mentioned: I’ve experienced them. You can probably think of more. People are offended by all different things, all sorts of things. Doesn’t even have to be a huge thing. Little things, stuff we overlook, are the devil’s favorite things to burrow under people’s skin, and drive ’em away from fellow Christians. Little things which utterly escape our notice, but drive all sorts of people away. They’re outraged, and not coming back.
Yep, sometimes it’s their issue, and sometimes ours. Sometimes it’s their fault, and sometimes ours. We can only control our own actions, so we need to pay attention: Do we alienate others? How can we avoid this? Do we try to be kind to people?—kind enough so they recognize our good intentions, and are more likely to forgive us? Or do we figure being correct is more important than being like Jesus?
Vacation from church.
Every so often people ask me whether it’s okay to take a break from church—to stop going for a few weeks, and take a “vacation.”
Some Christians don’t ask; they just do it. Every August, certain families vanish from my church. Some of ’em are visiting family, traveling, or spending their weekends camping or hunting. And some of ’em, as we can see by their Facebook pages, are simply staying home for a few weeks. They come back in September. They just wanted some time off.
I get it. ’Cause much as we might love our families, or job, or activities, sometimes we need a break. Nothing wrong with taking a sabbatical.
I used to consider it a sign of a deeper problem. Churches are supposed to be our support system—and if you need a break from your support system, maybe there’s something wrong with it. Y’know, like a person saying, “I’m really tired of food; think I’ll take a month and not eat any.” We shouldn’t want to do without church. Right?
And ideally, church should be that kind of awesome, where we don’t want a vacation from it. But the reality is people are hard. Jesus took breaks from ministry. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take a break from church from time to time. (Especially if you go to one of those churches which have programs for every night of the week. It’s so easy to burn out at one of those churches.)
So long that you come back. There are those Christians who are so done with their church, and after two Sunday mornings of sleeping in like a pagan, they never wanna return. I get that. But like I said above: Jesus’s church; love one another; communion of saints. We need church. Go back.
(Unless spending time off made you discover your church is seriously dysfunctional. Then go find another church.)