A year without Church

I have not attended a church service in over 14 months.

Now depending on your worldview, my statement above produces something within your thinking. Given that I have spent the majority of my life in weekly attendance to church, I can assure you that your assumptions about me are also the assumptions I’ve held about others. Things like:

  • He must be backsliding.
  • He is one of those disgruntled, angry rebellious types.
  • There is some sort of spiritual deficiency.
  • He’s deceived, in sin, lost or on the road to apostasy.
  • He must be going to the wrong church.

I’ve never really fit into the cultural church mold. But believe me I have tried. I went to seminary. I was employed by several churches as a pastor on staff. I’ve served as youth pastor, associate pastor, executive pastor, deacon, and elder. I’ve taught countless studies, preached many sermons, and gorged at many potlucks. I was a church planter, an urban missionary, on mission, missional. I was evangelical, spirit led, and spent years in community groups. I’ve done it all. I’ve seen it all. I was completely embedded in the church and without a doubt that made me weird to the rest of the world.

Every good thinker has very critical questions that are asked about the church. However most of them are not welcome.  If a church says it is there to reach the city, to save the lost, or to free people from their bondage, then it is fair to ask: “Where is this “reached” city that live in such complete freedom?” From my vantage point within the church I rarely saw people living free, I rarely saw a genuine convert, and the city certainly didn’t care if we were there.

And so you can see how this type of questioning creates a rub for those who want to keep things as they are, those who want to keep it on life support.  But what if you really believe that there is a better way?

  • What if you believe the REAL CHURCH is not about “going”, but about “Being?”
  • What if you believe the REAL CHURCH actually has transformative power?
  • What if you believe the REAL CHURCH is diverse and encompasses people of all tribes, tongues, nations, and world views?
  • What if you believe the REAL CHURCH cannot be quarantined into a statement of beliefs, a particular theology, or religious construct?

If you believed such things, then passing on the Sunday show is not based in rebellion, but integrity.

This past year I have learned so much and not once has God left me without biblical instruction, leadership, opportunities to serve and give, causes for celebration and worship, nor have I lost the slightest bit of community. In fact all areas have actually enlarged and are more intentional and sincere.

In fact, one of the biggest surprises was that there has been no deficiency in my life or the lives of my wife and kids.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the Sunday show isn’t helpful to some people. I know there are many sincere people for whom the Sunday experience brings them to a proximity with God they don’t get elsewhere. For me and my family, that was not the case. I had the same experience with Cub Scouts. I’m sure it really helps some kids get things they can’t get at home, but my experience was that I could teach my child way better than the scout leader or children’s church.

So why do people go?  Is it guilt? Is it a cultural expectation? Is it habit? Is it the economic, institutional or social power? Certainly.

Is it the teaching?–You can get that online anywhere?

Is it the fellowship?-You have next door neighbors and people in your community that you are asked to serve, what’s wrong with them?

The worship?-Is worship really only possible on a Sunday morning?

There is no biblical mandate for attendance.  So, ultimately the only reason people go is because deep down in their heart they feel better about themselves if they go to church. They believe God favors them if they go.  And if we believe that, then we cannot escape the rise of pride in our heart at the “DISTINCTION” between those who go and those who don’t.  It’s the whole  Star-Bellied Sneetch thing.

Going can make a person judgmental.  But the same can be said for those who don’t attend.

  • Do the successful really need more sermons delivered over a jumbo-tron?
  • Do the homeless just need to sing some songs about Jesus in order for life to be ok?
  • Do the lonely just need a good bible study?
  • Does the broken family need a community of people to know about their problems?

You see, I think deep down we all know that when anything happens in a church setting that benefits another person, it is because another person truly cared and acted selflessly.  It is only when we give ourselves to others that any magic could happen.  It is the only time the successful ever finds help, the homeless gets a room, the lonely find friendship, the broken find hope.

Guess what. That happens all the time outside of Sunday morning. It is a function of the REAL CHURCH.

Deep down we all know that the Sunday show is just a scaffolding that holds up people and tries to connect people to serve one another.  Perhaps the church is a crutch, and for those who insist it is not I would challenge you to a year without it propping you up. Then you will see the genuine state of your spiritual health, not the inoculated state.

If we live is such a way that we take our broken and yet triumphant humanity and tell our story to inspire others in the world, then we ARE the Church.  Wether you know it or not, and regardless of how you tell your story, you are telling the story of the cross. It is your living story that others are changed by–it is the only thing that has ever changed anything. It is God in human form, our Imageo Dei, that people connect to.

This is why I don’t go to a Sunday show called church. I believe it highjacks me from giving my life away from and being the body of Christ to the world who needs me. I do not lack anything from my shepherd, “I shall not want.”

The next time someone says they don’t go to church. Maybe it’s because they have already become it. Ultimately the only people who really care about church attendance are those that attend.