I, for one, have struggled with church. Often, it seems like some superstitious event that really doesn’t connect with me. Let’s go sing some songs, not because we feel like it, but because that’s what we do. Let’s listen to a spiritual pep talk. Let’s have superficial conversations about the weather. Honestly, it seems like that at sometimes. I, as an individual, often have an easier time connecting with God in the mountains, at a rave, hitchhiking, even on my bedroom floor than at church. Church, however, was never meant to be the core of spirituality; union with God is. For me,that union is best expressed and experienced in different contexts. Here is the deal: church is not about me. It is not about my tastes in music, ambiance, or art. It is not about my personality or my temperament. It is about coming TOGETHER to support one another, worship God TOGETHER, and cooperate to make a difference in this world. The church is a family not an event, getting coffee with believers and encouraging each other is a better example of church than many Sunday events.
Let me show how my individualism got in the way at church with a quick story. I was attending this tent revival meeting last summer. I really like the idea of being proactive in engaging the community. Yet, the vibe was totally wrong for me. It was a bunch of shouting Pentecostals playing cheesy rock music. I was cringing and shaking my head inwardly, yet fighting the impulse. I found myself rebutting the program inwardly, yet trying to value it. I had thoughts like “this is so corny and traditional, this will never reach youth with this music. Why do they have to shout and pressure others to shout incessantly, yeah sometimes I like to get wild if the time is right, but I’m not going to do it just to conform. What’s with this lady droning on this hour long monologue, yes God is faithful, but I don’t want to hear your life story right now”. I left the meeting thinking it was cheesy and outdated yet I appreciated “what they were trying to do”. On the way home I picked up a hitchhiker. We talked about the revival meeting and the young man begins to share how it was impacting him. ARE YOU SERIOUS? It was lame! He also shares how he is struggling with substance abuse (I seem to run into a lot of people that are, interesting because I am majoring in chemical dependency counseling). I share some stuff with him and ask if I can pray with him. I pray for him and he starts crying. God was touching him big time!
So why is this significant? The very church event I was criticizing and dreading was used by God. The ironic thing is that I was used by God together with the event. Here I am at this revival meeting, a culture that I cannot relate to, something that is contrary to my personality, temperament, and disposition and God makes us work together! It is not about me, it was about the young man struggling with addiction that night. My criticisms of their “outdated spirituality” was really just me being an individualistic narcissist. Are you getting the picture? This church event was certainly not the essence of my spiritual life, yet we worked as a team. It was important. Church is important. There are many other times that I have been sitting in church and God has spoken to me through the pastor. There are times that God has spoken through me to others. I’m not always wild about going to church, yet I need it, others need me; we need each other. When I was 18 years old living in Phoenix, I probably would’ve spiraled into heavy drug use, serious sexual problems, and overall spiritual collapse (it was a vulnerable time) if I didn’t have my church.
So maybe God has never spoken to you specifically in church, maybe you have never helped others, maybe it has never done anything for you other than put you to sleep; what now? God has a design for the church: a family, a team, a community. If it is not fulfilling that design, does that mean we should throw it out? Do we walk out on our families when they “don’t do anything for us”? What about the government? Should we embrace anarchy because of some of the failures of our government (if you answered yes, take a look at Somalia and the histories of other anarchist states)? Certainly we should find a church that is a good match for ourselves, or good as possible, but we can’t expect perfection. The church will fail you and let you down, it is “a hospital for sinners not a museum for saints” but it is what we have to work with and God is doing amazing things in and through His church these days.
Let me share another experience to demonstrate how the church both failed me and saved me.I mentioned how the church in Phoenix pretty much saved my life, yet I didn’t mention how the first church I went to didn’t do jack for me (not that it’s JUST about me). Yeah, I got greeted with the typical formalities. The soundman even let me check out the audio setup. Yet I went there for a month and was crumbling on the inside, no one was there for me. At the other church I went to I was engaged. The first night I was asked if I was saved like three times, that may have been a bit over the top, but let me finish. People at the church talked to me. They gave me rides, they took me out to eat. They involved me in church activities like community outreach, not just sat me down in some pew. I had some great friends there, for which I am infinitely grateful for. It was a family. We played ball together; I even got to help out with sound at an outreach to Flagstaff. The funny thing is, that church was not really my style either. Everyone there dressed up and shouted. That church did not do enough social outreach (mercy ministries, feeding the poor, etc) and taught that tattoos were wrong. Yeah, I got rubbed the wrong way there several times, but I guarantee that God used that church to keep me from spiritually deteriorating.
So whether you’re a Christian burnt out on church or a spiritually oriented person very turned off by the concept of church, I hope you have seen that the church IS meaningful and important to spirituality, but it surely is not the essence of spirituality.
***FOR MORE EXAMPLES OF THE CHURCH IN ACTION, FIND MY POSTING ON MY YWAM CIRCUIT RIDER EXPERIENCE, IT WAS RAD!!!!!***