Wednesday, April 18, 2012

To Church or Not to Church

I was reading this post over at American Jesus in which the author comments about the phenomenon of a high attendance on Easter Sunday that then instantly plummets. He discusses the idea that many people are trying to "pull a fast one over on Jesus" by showing up on Easter but then not making church a priority the rest of the year.

This was something that struck me as a spotty church attender. I think the last time I attended church here was last summer, maybe fall. It's nothing against the church here. I think they do great things and I really enjoy one of the pastors. I still listen to some of his sermons on line. It was just a sense that I didn't feel like I really belonged. I got tired of the people we know there questioning our absence whenever we would come. "We haven't seen you at church for awhile, where have you been?" I know their intentions are good but it's exhausting to feel obligation to go and sit in a room every Sunday. It's supposed to be meaningful but what if it's not?

This year was the first Easter Sunday I didn’t go to church. My husband and I woke up, looked at each other and said, we haven’t been going regularly any other Sunday, it doesn’t feel honest or sincere to go this Sunday so we won’t.

Frankly, our friends and family have made us regret that decision because we’ve gotten so much grief for not attending church on Easter Sunday. No one seemed to be that bothered that we hadn’t gone for the previous 3 months of Sundays but that we didn’t go on Easter Sunday was horrible. Next year we will probably go to church whether we’re attending or not just to avoid the post-Easter fallout. I imagine there are a lot of people like us out there who go on Christmas and Easter to make family members happy, not to try to pull a fast one over on Jesus.

Church and church attendance and the idea that I need that community is something I’m struggling with in my life right now. I have an amazing, supportive, wonderful group of friends, believers and nonbelievers, that challenge and inspire me. Do I need church as well? I spent Easter Sunday praying and thinking over the Great Commission and talking about it with my brother. Would I have gotten more out of my spiritual life that day if I had gone to church?

In my past experience I have found that the church swallows me up and takes over my life to the point that I don’t feel like I am helping a single person in my life who is not a Christian. I’m also anxious about avoiding the propaganda of the Christian culture that often gets presented hand in hand with the gospel. I am wary of trusting a pastor, a fallible human, to tell me something true.

Every Sunday you go to church and you sing some songs and you hear a man (or woman) tell you what they found significant that week. They were struck by a verse or a book they read and now here is your challenge for the week: we should read a Psalm a day, pray for an hour, read this book, make a goal in your spiritual life, find a non-Christian to pray for, ask someone to come with us next Sunday. Every week there's something and it's really easy for me to just try to do my Christian homework each week and let that be my spiritual life. I can hang with the other Christians and we can talk about our struggles sharing our faith or being a submissive wife or having daily quiet times. We'll pray for each other and smile and go about our day. And we'll have real friendships with each other. But what about everyone else?

Maybe this is a personal problem but when I was in college and deeply involved in my church, that was my life. I was a Bible study leader and I had church activities 5-6 days a week. I didn't have other friends. I didn't do other things. I don't really want to regret that because I loved my friends and I loved my time in college. But I think I was very restricted in my understanding of the world around me and of the people I was trying to "save." I don't want to be like that anymore.

I tried to go to church more casually. Attend but not be involved so much. Not be a volunteer or a leader, just go on Sundays. But somehow that feels meaningless to me. And I can't shake that feeling. Sometimes I go and I feel moved and inspired, but most of the time I feel like I'm just fulfilling an obligation. Until I figure out a way to reconcile this I’m not going to go to church out of sense of duty or for that “checklist” of Christianity.

In that post there was the statement, “So, if you don’t want to be a very real part of that community now, you won’t want to be a part of that very real community in heaven for eternity." Do I need to go to church to be a real part of a community? Are only churches real communities? I'm not sure.

1 comment:

  1. Oh boy, THIS conversation. It's amazing to me the reactions I have to questions like "Do you attend church?" It's a salt-in-wound question and my first instinct is to brush it aside, shut it down in some over-harsh way that I don't really mean, but I am tired of having to answer.

    I compare other things that want more of my time than I am comfortable giving to "church", mostly because of the time I felt I needed to devote to church in college. I am not a roller derby girl because it's three hours of practice 3x a week. I stopped volunteering at my local radio station because I was overwhelmed at having to review 10 cds a week.

    Where two or more are gathered, that is where Christ is. I talk to you and reason through emotions and events and I believe that verse. I trust you more than I trust most pastors. I think we go to "church" more than once a week, because I always leave a conversation with you inspired and wanting to move life forward.