I don’t even know how long it’s been since I haven’t been getting fulfilled spiritually at church. It’s been quite some time. Even though these feelings have been a long time in coming, I have kept going partly out of habit, partly because I had responsibilities there, partly because I think it’s good for my kids to be with their friends and have routine, partly because I don’t know where else I’d go, partly because I didn’t understand my own feelings. It seemed silly to walk away when I couldn’t clearly articulate why I wanted to. Why was I going week after week, and wanting to come home and just cry?
Finally, after who knows how long of feeling this way, I decided that I really needed to try to figure it out. I didn’t feel like I could go on any longer, showing up at church but not being fulfilled in any way by it and feeling worse about it each week. I was sick of faking it. Not that I was really faking it–I wasn’t trying to act all cheerful or anything. I just knew that I was going through the motions.
Anyhow, as I was helping one of my kids get ready for the day and trying to puzzle through my feelings, it hit me. The idea that church takes place in a specific building at a certain time each week does not meet the needs of those who really need Jesus. Who did Jesus come to minister to? The poor, the disabled, the downtrodden, the sinners, those who knew of their own brokenness and sin, people who were at the end of their rope and had nowhere else to turn. Who is the least able to get to (or has the least motivation or energy to) get to a church building on Sunday morning? Those very people who would welcome the Gospel message the most–the hopeless and helpless.
I’d like you to understand very clearly what I mean when I talk about those who are unable to get to a church building on Sunday. For instance, If I’m depressed, I don’t have the inner drive to leave the house, much less get to church to hear an uplifting message and seek out fellowship. If my marriage is falling apart, I won’t go to church because I know that I’ll be judged if I talk about divorce. If my child is an emotional wreck due to being sexually assaulted, I won’t go to church because my child is out of control and people will judge me based on his/her behavior. If I’m homeless and without a vehicle, I won’t go to church because I don’t have the means to get there, and people will judge me based on my appearance. If I’m struggling with an addiction which creates chaos in my life (be it drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling), I won’t go to church because I feel ashamed and people will judge me when I stumble and fall. If I don’t have any extra money, I can’t stand going to church where they’re always asking for money to help with different projects. (Why can’t they see the financial needs that I have?) Do you see how our church building/institution model fails these folks? Church needs to come to them and it needs to address the very real issues in their lives.
From what I can tell, most churches are full of people who are mostly spiritually complacent. (Notice I’m not saying all. It’s dangerous to speak in absolutes.) They are happy to show up on Sunday and look like they have it all together, give a bit of service or money out of their extra reserve, and go home to a sedate lunch. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am–church is over! Glad we got through another sermon, got a break from the kids for an hour, and I only had to talk to one person I didn’t like. It’s not the stinkin’ hurting people who are showing up to keep church institutions running! Many of the people who do show up on Sunday mornings are comfortable enough in life that they have no real need of Jesus, other believers, or the Holy Spirit working in their lives everyday. This is quite evident when you look at how miserably we are failing those who need Jesus–those who have arrived at a place in life where they have nothing left. Where is church the rest of the week for the people whose needs don’t go away because of a nice sermon or a meaningless “Hi, how are you today?”
When I say church needs to come to the needy, I’m not talking about a congregation full of strangers descending on a needy community or individual. I mean individual members of the Body of Christ (individual believers) who will show up to personally enter into relationship with and minister to Christian brothers and sisters who have real needs, as fits their circumstances. This might include cooking a meal for someone who is sick, providing respite care for a family who has foster children, patiently listening to your friend when she feels like divorce is the only answer for her marriage, checking on your friend who is depressed and sending her encouraging notes, offering to babysit for a stay-at-home mom who rarely gets alone time, helping a friend with a major medical expense, visiting someone who can’t leave their home, sharing a meal together, or praying with someone who is feeling down.
The reason I’ve been so uncomfortable lately is that I am currently one of the needy people. I’ve had to deal with some stressful and distinctly unpleasant things recently, on top of my day-to-day life, which can be quite stressful and demanding. Nobody has been bringing church to me and it hurts. I know each Sunday that all I’m doing when I show up at the church building is investing in an institution. What’s worse, this institution demands things of me that I don’t feel capable of giving. Why should I be the babysitter so often, so that others can sit in this institutional setting and feel like they are getting fulfilled? These are the same people who don’t give a rat’s butt that I’m stressed out, have to plan my kids’ schoolwork, have just spent a couple of days doing respite care for a child in foster care, and am still dealing with the emotional baggage of my child being victimized by somebody. Why am I being asked to do this for people who don’t care about me and aren’t willing to enter into real relationship with me and my family? I can’t come up with a good answer.
This is why I’m listening to God’s voice when He tells me in my heart that Church is about people. It’s about relationships. It’s about love. It’s about consideration for others’ needs. It’s about sharing the load. It’s about mutual accountability. It’s about honesty and openness. It’s about wanting what is best for others. It’s about following the leading of the Holy Spirit. It’s about recognizing and loving my Savior. It’s about a relationship with God. And it’s about wanting others to have a relationship with God that will completely change their life. It’s about loving God and others with such a full God-powered love that it dazzles even the unbelievers. That is what I want and am yearning for.
Church has nothing to do with a building, bylaws, service times, volunteer schedules, committees, budgets, advertising, gimmicks, fake relationships, guilting people into service, etc. I am taking a leap of faith and rejecting the familiar trappings of church which have provided me some measure of comfort in the past. It’s comfortable to know what to expect and to feel good because you have contributed to keep the institution going. But when you’re the needy one and the institution fails you, it’s time to move on to a different model of Church.
I’m choosing to start investing my limited time, energy and other resources in the Church which I can easily recognize in my life–my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of them are a part of the church institution that I attended, but more of them attend elsewhere or no institution at all. If I spent my time worshiping, doing Bible study, fellowshipping, serving, and praying with those people, I don’t know what the consequences would be. I suspect they may be explosive and rock my world. I suspect they will be unlike anything I’ve seen before in my Christian faith.
This is a juncture that I’ve come to, not because I wanted to, but because my church failed me (as it did before when we were having marital problems, which is a story for another day). A church that cannot recognize, or cope with hurting and needy people is not a church that I can commit to or even consider as the living Body of Christ. I had to go in search of the real Body of Christ because it hurt too much to be apart from the other members of the body.
I’m not saying that I’ll never attend a church service again, but I will not cling to a church institution. It’s freeing to feel like I can follow God wherever He leads me and obey Him in whatever He asks me to do. I’m going to make a list now of the people in my local Body of Believers–the ones in whom I can recognize God’s Spirit alive, well, and at work. I’ve got some loving to do and I look forward to receiving some love myself.