"Oh crap, here we go," I think to myself every time someone asks the inevitable question: "So where do you go to church?" And what gets me is that they assume that I am going to a church somewhere.
I feel like I need a t-shirt that says, "YES, I AM A FOLLOWER OF JESUS. NO, I DON'T GO TO CHURCH. LEAVE ME IN PEACE!"
Thing is, I've been thinking about writing this blog post for a while. I've been playing around with different ways to approach this subject. And finally I decided that I wouldn't ever get it out there if I never started. So here I am. Starting.
I know there are a lot of blogs out there on the subject of church and the fact that there seem to be quite a few people (Christians) leaving them. A lot of talk is focused on why Millennials are leaving, which is true and accurate, but there are also people of all ages who depart after being members of a certain congregation for years. I've read blogs that tell personal stories and experiences. Some could have been my own.
Not too long ago I went back to the church I left, the one that I had grown up in, from the time I was about 6 or 7 to when I left at 18. I went back for a special event to see a friend of mine perform. That was the only reason I went. I wanted to be there to support my friend.
On the drive there, as we were getting closer, I started getting physically nervous. I started to get that weird feeling in the pit of my stomach, kind of like when you're on the way to the doctor. Sort of jittery and queasy. On average I wouldn't consider myself a very anxious person. But this was causing me some anxiety. Now, when I left this church about 4 years ago, it was not under ideal circumstances. There was a lot of hurt involved between my family and some other people and it did not get resolved.
So, needless to say, I had no desire to go back there. But I went.
I didn't plan to stay the entire time, but after the pastor spoke his piece before the intermission, I was even more ready to get the hell out of there.
See, they had apparently begun a new young adults ministry and this event was to showcase some of the gifts and talents of their own young adults. So that is what the pastor was sharing during his brief talk before the intermission. He quoted some statistic about how 3 out of 5 young people wind up leaving the church, and that if you don't believe in attending church then you're taking a huge chunk out of the bible. So basically you're Christianity, your very faith in Jesus, isn't as valid if you aren't going to church. Hmm...
I understand that it's normal for pastors to want to see their congregation grow. They want people to come to their church and get to know God. I get that. I realize that they probably have good intentions. Their hearts are probably in it. But the attitude they have towards people on the outside of their Christian walls, literally outside those four church walls, is not, in most cases, an attitude of love. They might mean it to be, but it's not. It is an attitude of condemnation and judgement. It is an attitude that instills fear in people, both Christian and otherwise, because those who hear it get the wrong idea of who God is. When our example of God is seen through those who proclaim him and preach a skewed gospel with a judgmental attitude, we don't get the true image of who God actually is. Far from it.
I finally got sick of church. I got to the point where I recognized the smiles and greetings for what they were - fake, not genuine, just meant to be polite without any real concern. People would say, "Hey! How you doing?" And just keep walking by. So many times I never replied. They never stopped.
I got tired of the cliques, both in the youth group and in the adult congregation. I got fed up with pastors playing favorites. Those who had the fattest checkbooks got the best positions and the best treatment. New members didn't stick around because they weren't made to feel truly welcome or made a part of the group, because, let's face it, they didn't belong there. There was already a set amount of people. A set way of doing things. We had our organization, our regulations, our rules. Gotta support the pastor. Gotta serve, serve, serve. All the time. All day, every day. Don't rock the boat, don't ask the tough questions, don't let anyone know you're struggling with anything you shouldn't be struggling with. Don't be a real human being - you've got to be a perfect robot who fits in with the expected criteria.
I mean, why would anyone want to leave a place like that?
This brings me to ask a rather startling question: Is Jesus in the church? I don't mean the Church (notice the capital "C"). I mean organized religion. Denominations. Congregations. A specific group of people who typically gather on Sunday mornings and follow a specific set of standard regulations. Is Jesus there?
Is Jesus in their monotonous opening prayer that sounds, oddly enough, just like it did last week? Is Jesus in the practiced-to-perfection standard worship service? Is Jesus in the sermon that the pastor preaches that makes people feel guilty and less-than instead of feeling encouraged and hopeful? Is Jesus in the faked community of hurting and wounded people who are too ashamed to admit that they're hurting and wounded?
Don't misunderstand. I'm not implying that those church-goers don't ever
experience God's presence or that God can't possibly be there. What I'm
questioning is whether those people are truly finding the Life they're
searching for in the church.
One thing worth noting here is that the church, and the Church, are two very different things. Capital "C" Church is defined as the body of Christ. The bride of Christ. All the followers of Jesus Christ. The church, lower case "c," is defined as organized religion. A building. A denomination. A place where people with similar beliefs gather and take part in a set of regulations. People mess up when they use the two synonymously.
I think it is important to have relationship and community with others of similar beliefs and who share the same faith in Jesus. Community is so important. Sadly, it has been my experience that it's one of the main things lacking in the majority of modern day churches. And I think the false sense of that in most churches is because there's no room to be honest with those around you because of the fear of judgment and condemnation. And there is judgment and condemnation because we haven't concerned ourselves with truly loving others. We're more focused on what we're doing, the fact that we need to serve to be looked at as important to God, or to please God. We think we need to win his love and approval. And in that, we lose sight of those around us.
There is so much that could be said on this topic that I just don't have room for in this post. It pains me to see some of the ways in which God's people are condemning those around them, and even each other. Unfortunately, I am at a loss as to how to change anything. Churches have been established for hundreds of years and I don't know if I'll ever see one that I really feel at home in and can see Jesus clearly. Until then, I'm going to continue not going.
Thanks for reading!