Really don’t wanna go to church.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 January

There’s a guy whose blog I’ve been following for years. In the past three years he’s been really amping up his message to everybody to quit their churches. Stop going, he says. Just stop; stay home. You’ll be a lot happier.

And I get it. There’ve been times in my life where I didn’t wanna go to church either. I didn’t try to drag people away from church along with me, like this guy; I figured if you like church, you do you, but for me, nah.

For the usual excuses.

I HAVE ANOTHER CHURCH. I moved about 100 miles away from home for college, and for a semester I used the excuse, “I already have a church.” I didn’t care for any of the local churches I had visited. And whenever I went home, I did go to church, with my family. But when I was at school I figured it was okay… if I missed 10 weeks of church services.

CHAPEL COUNTS. Plus my school had daily chapel services. So they became my other excuse that semester. Me and a lot of other students.

DON’T GOTTA GO EVERY WEEK. When I wasn’t in church leadership, I found it was really easy to skip a Sunday morning here and there. Sometimes skip a lot of mornings. There are some Christians who only attend a service once a month… and of course there are those twice-a-year Christians who only attend Easter and Christmas services. If that; nowadays they can watch services on YouTube.

“I have freedom in Christ, y’know,” was my usual excuse for inconsistent attendance. And I do… but in context that passage is about freedom of conscience, Ro 14 not the freedom to be irresponsible.

I CAN DO THIS ON MY OWN. Years before, when I wasn’t at school, this was my excuse for a few weeks while I was really annoyed with the people of my church. ’Cause I totally can do this stuff on my own.

  • Pray?—no problem.
  • Sing worship songs?—easily done.
  • Learn from fellow Christians?—I have their books; I have the internet; I got content.
  • Study the bible?—sure.
  • Tithing? Well yes, I could donate money to myself for “religious” expenses; or I could give that money to charity. Or I could spend all of it at a Peets one afternoon while I sat there reading some Christian book; wouldn’t that totally count?
  • Take holy communion? I could eat saltines and grape juice on my own, and call it communion. But the vital element in communion is, y’know, actual communion—with fellow Christians. So that makes it tricky.

As are all our other rituals which require the participation of other Christians. Plus evangelism: Once you lead someone to Jesus, where do you take ’em so they can be taught Christianity and mentored? Well I could do it myself… but that’d mean I’m starting a church, right?

There are plenty more excuses. Some of them get pretty complex, and as a result they kinda merit whole articles, because it takes a little time to take these excuses apart. But for many a Christian, any excuse will do.

People suck.

Probably the biggest, most common excuse is that people suck. That’s the excuse of this blogger I mentioned up top: People suck. When he goes to church, he finds himself surrounded by a bunch of Christianists who are more interested in perpetuating their politics than in growing God’s kingdom; who are too busy judging their neighbors to love them; who are too fixated on money to really worship Jesus; whose leadership is more into self-promotion than kingdom promotion.

Plus there’s been this pandemic recently. And while Christians really oughta be at the forefront of ministering to the sick, because that’s one of the marks of Jesus’s true followers, Mk 16.18 we instead see way too many American Evangelicals at the forefront of denying there’s any problem at all, and treating healthcare workers and government ministers as if they’re only here to hurt instead of help. (’Cause that narrative fits hand in glove with their politics. Not the gospel.) In so doing, these churches reveal they really don’t know Jesus’s teachings as well as they claim, so all the more reason we should get out of there.

It’s a surprisingly simple problem: Christians are people, and people are awful.

’Cause 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, Psalm 109 style. What kind of liberal church is this? He won’t be back.

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?

The church is its people, and when the people of a church clearly aren’t following Jesus any, don’t go to that church! Instead find another one.

Now that’s not the tack my church-rejecting blogger has taken. He figures there’s no point in finding another one. He’s staying home. And we oughta stay home. And just follow Jesus on our own, all alone, like Christian hermits. Don’t bother to find iron to sharpen iron; Pr 27.17 let the Holy Spirit do all the sharpening.

Thing is, as I’ve said more than once, how do we know the Holy Spirit is telling us anything? Confirmation. Which requires other people. Namely the other people of our church.

There’s a reason the ancient Christians put “the communion of saints” in the Apostles Creed and their other creeds: Going it alone doesn’t work. It turns us heretic. Yeah, it may take a few weeks or months before we really get off track, but getting off track is inevitable. For the very same reason these go-it-alone Christians figure they left those other churches: Because people suck. And they’re people. They aren’t some magical exception to the “people suck” rule: We all suck. It’s why we need Jesus! And the support of other people who are likewise recognize we need Jesus, and are making the effort to follow him.

Why I still go to church.

There are three reasons to go to church. Maybe not the church you’re in; maybe you do need to leave it. But you oughta be in some church, and here’s why I go.

IT’S JESUS’S CHURCH. Mt 16.18 The church was Jesus’s idea. We may not like the way Christians run individual churches, and for very good reason. Some Christians are horribly botching the job. But all this means is we oughtn’t go to these 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, 15.12 Really hard to love one another when you intentionally avoid one another. Really hard to minister to fellow Christians, to lead fellow Christians, when you reject all of the organizations they’ve joined. 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.” If you don’t believe in the communion of saints, you’re heretic. Period.

Fellow Christians are a corrective. They’re meant to keep us on the right path. Yeah, they can get cultish and political, and use peer pressure to steer people wrong instead of right, and like I said, leave those churches. But this behavior is hardly true of all churches.

And you’ve seen how go-it-alone Christians regularly get all warped. It’ll happen to you too. Always does. Always. Notice every time a go-it-alone Christian tries to instruct or help or minister to fellow Christians: It’s always in some bizarre, fruitless manner—’cause they’re avoiding a proper Christian environment where they can practice the fruit of the Spirit with 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.

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.)