Today’s blog post is an entry in our latest Blog Carnival. Today’s theme is “Church” and so I decided to repost something that I wrote earlier this fall. I hope you enjoy it. Please also run over to my friend, Bridget Chumbley’s place to post your own entry and read all of the others!
I was twenty-two years old the first time I quit church. I had lived at home and been forced to attend my Dad’s church for more than nineteen years. At age twenty, I moved three hours away from them and began attending a different church. But at age twenty-two, I was seriously thinking about leaving church altogether.
What brings a lifelong churchgoing Christian to the point of wanting to leave The Church?
For me, it was betrayal and rejection.
Before I ever moved out of my parents’ house, I had already chosen a new church. Unlike the Methodist Church I had grown up in, this was a multi-ethnic, nondenominational church with contemporary worship and charismatic leaders. I moved to my new city, joined my new church, and dove headfirst into the ministry. I taught Sunday school, worked in the daycare, sang in the choir, danced on the dance team, and assisted with the youth ministry. I was in the inner circle and I was happy because I felt accepted and loved and important. I felt like I had a purpose.
Then, I made a horrendous mistake.
On two separate occasions, I witnessed my beloved church leaders behaving in ways that were extremely unChristlike. The first time, I went to the leadership and questioned what I had seen, only to be told that I should not question my leaders. The second time, the leaders didn’t wait for me to question them. Instead, they called me in and gave me two choices: ignore what I’ve seen or leave the church.
I walked away and never looked back.
For weeks after I left that church, I spent my Sunday mornings sitting on my bed with my open Bible in my lap. I prayed and told God that I would just stay home with Him on Sundays. Why did I need to go to church when my faith was really between me and God anyway?
If my faith is just between me and God, why don’t I just quit church altogether?
I had to face this question and lately, I find myself hearing this from church people all around me. I hear questions like: Why should I give to my church when it’s never appreciated? Why should I put up with self-righteous religious people? And loud music? And forty-eight sermons each year on tithing? And sitting on hard pews, in uncomfortable clothes, in a sanctuary that is always too dark and too cold?
Out of all of the Sunday school and Vacation Bible School classes that I attended as a child, one lesson stands out more vividly in my memory than all of the others.
“What is the church?” Mrs. Sasser asked us one crisp Sunday morning.
Little hands went up in the air, but eager voices began thrusting the answers at her before she got a chance to call on anyone.
Stained glass windows and pews? Sunday school classes? Songs?
Mrs. Sasser smiled and shook her head. “No. None of those. Anybody else?”
I decided to take a chance. “The preacher?”
“No. Not the preacher.”
We were out of ideas. She looked at our blank faces for a moment, then reached out with a gentle finger and poked the white cardigan sweater that covered my six-year-old chest.
“Sarah, you are the church.” She turned and pointed at each little person. “And you are the church. And you. And you. And you. And you. And me.” Her hand came to rest over her heart.
“Jesus lives in our hearts. And when we come together, we make up the church. It doesn’t matter where we are—as long as we’re together, with Jesus in our hearts—we are the church.”
That probably seems a bit simplistic to be applicable to our lives today. But I have to disagree. That is a timeless truth. We are the church.
I love this quote from Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin (which I snaked from my friend Scott’s blog):
On Sundays, God wants us to do more than sing songs together and have wonderful worship experiences. He wants to knit the fabric of our lives together. For many, church has become all about me—what I’m learning, what I’m seeking, what I’m desperate for, what I need, how I’ve been affected, what I can do. We see ourselves as isolated individuals all seeking personal encounters with God, wherever we can find them. Sadly, this reflects our individualistic, me-obsessed culture. Rather than seeing ourselves as part of a worship community, we become worship consumers. We want worship on demand, served up in our own way, at our own time, and with our own music.
When I am tempted to want to quit church, there are a few things that I can remember to help me.
First, I need to remember that church isn’t all about making me happy and fulfilled. I’m not just there to be blessed, I’m there to be a blessing, too. I need to be more than a selfish pew-sitter. That will probably mean that there are times that I have to make sacrifices (which by definition are not fun). But faith isn’t about feelings. Sometimes, it’s just about walking in obedience even when I don’t feel happy or fulfilled.
Second, I must remember that God never intended His sheep to wander alone. Instead, He gives us shepherds to guide and protect us and He gave us flocks to learn and grow with. If I am in a flock where the other sheep are biting and kicking me or where the shepherd is abusing or neglecting me, it doesn’t mean that I should stop being a sheep. It just means that I should ask God to lead me to a different flock.
James 1:5 says that if anyone isn’t sure what to do, they can ask God. He will give them their answers and won’t be angry with them for asking. So, when I am tempted to quit church, I need to stop following my thoughts and emotions. Instead, I have to ask God. He will never leave me in a situation where I’ll be abused and He will never send me in the wrong direction.