Summary: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25)
I’ve always felt a little guilty over church. I felt guilty when I didn’t attend; felt guilty when I did attend; felt guilty if I didn’t become a member; felt guilty after I became a member; felt guilty when I stayed at a certain church; and felt guilty when I left that church. Then the cycle would begin all over again.
What is wrong with me? Can’t I just be satisfied with church like other Christians? Isn’t it our duty to go to church; to join the church? Doesn’t the Bible tell us that we must go to church if we are truly Christians?
I’ve had pastors tell me that my salvation was in jeopardy if I didn’t attend church regularly (in my last episode, the pastor was referring to Sunday night and Wednesday services, seeing as I was already there to get yelled at on Sunday morning).
If the Bible and the pastor tell me that attending church is an integral part of my Christianity, that my Christianity isn’t really Christianity at all without regular church attendance, then why do I feel so lousy when I do attend church? Do I possess some basic fault, which apparently doesn’t exist in other Christians, to make me feel this way?
I haven’t developed this aversion to church overnight. And, to be fair, when I do go to church, I enjoy a good bit of it. Of course, I do my best to avoid any church that I may not enjoy a good bit of.
I’m conflicted and here’s the conflict.
I’m a born-again Christian. I write on born-again Christian topics – like telling other born-again Christians how to behave. I publish books by born-again Christian authors who write about how born-again Christians ought to behave. I ought to have come to terms with this whole church thing a long time ago … but I haven’t.
And since I just turned fifty, I figure its time to deal with any basic incongruities still hanging around in my life.
Does this mean I’m going to take my place in the pew, keep my mouth shut and join the ecclesiastically satisfied masses?
Does it mean I’m all of a sudden going to start feeling good about going church, Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesdays?
(By the way. If you feel great about church and have no idea what I’m talking about, consider yourself blessed and take a few weeks off. There are a lot of your brothers and sisters in Christ out there, in church and out of church, who are miserable about the whole situation and want an honest answer - just like me.)
I don’t necessarily buy what a lot of church leaders are telling me about how I should feel about church. On the other hand, as Dad would say, “you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Church, whether you like it or not, is a big part of the Christian life and if you call yourself a Christian and want Him to believe it, you’d better deal with church.
A little personal history.
My father was in full-time ministry since before I was born. I was raised in the church and Dad represented the leadership of the church. As a pastor and a minister, I considered my dad head and shoulders above his peers. Some of that admiration may have been prejudiced by the fact he was my dad, but looking back on his life from my current perspective I’ll stick with my story. He really was head and shoulders above a lot of his peers.
The point is that my problem with church doesn’t stem from some latent hostility toward my father as an authority figure. I liked and admired the guy when I was a kid and I admire and empathize with him more now that I’ve had the opportunity to walk a few more miles in his moccasins.
And I don’t believe my general dissatisfaction with church comes my from lack of trying. Dad was saved, educated and ordained a Baptist. His search for a more complete relationship with God, led him into baptism of the Holy Spirit (more “Pentecost” than “Pentecostalism”). Where he went, we followed. As a result, I have experienced a wide swath of churches, denominations and doctrines; most of them spending more time and effort assailing each other than winning the world.
Again, my point is that I don’t believe the answer to my dissatisfaction with church is that I just haven’t tried the “right one.”
I don’t want to be too hard on churches though. The world’s a better place with churches than without them. The problem, I believe, is in what we think church is, the definition it has become, as opposed to what God’s desire for what the church ought to be.