"Church" Is Not A Palindrome, Part 1
Can I be honest with you for a second? Because I'm not sure I can. I've been thinking about writing about what I want to write in this post about for awhile now, and the more I think about you reading it, the more nervous I get. What will you think of me? Will you take it the wrong way? Will you judge me? Will you write me off? Will you brand me a pagan? Of course, I'm really not even that sure about who "you" are. So, since you can't answer me very well anyway, I'm just going to go ahead with this post and deal with the consequences. I mean, this is a blog, right? Not the inquisition. (Though I'm sure it could be.)
It can be really tough for me to go to church. In fact, (moment of confession and transparency here) lately (and I'll let you define "lately") I haven't gone at all. Why? Well, honestly, I don't really like it. There. I said it, and I'm still here. God hasn't struck me down... at least, not yet.
Let me expound on this.
First, there are a number of questions about what it means that I haven't been to church in a while. Does it mean that I don't worship, both individually and coporately? Does it mean that I don't sing hymns or praise songs? Does it mean that I don't pray or meditate or read Scripture or study the Bible with other believers? Does it mean that I don't listen to sermons or give of my money to the greater body of Christ? Does it mean that I don't fellowship with other Christ-followers? Does it mean that I don't celebrate communion? Does it mean that I don't tell others about Jesus? Does it mean that I don't participate actively in the mission of God around the world? Does it mean that I'm not being challenged by saints of greater maturity than my own or that I'm not investing in those who haven't been following the Way as long as I have? Does it mean that I'm not producing spiritual fruit in my life or excercising the gifts with which the Spirit has equipped me? Does it mean that I am not contributing the furthering of God's kingdom? Does it mean that I don't Sabbath? No. It doesn't mean any of those things. In fact, I would argue that I actively engage in all of these activities on just as much a regular basis as I would if I confined my participation in them to weekly church activities that I participated in withouth fail.
Then what does it mean? Well, I don't often go to a particular church building. I don't support the denomination of my local congregation. I don't contribue to my church's budget. I could go on, but you probably get the idea.
Now... so far it probably appears as if I'm going to make a case to validate my lack of church attendance. But I'm not. You see, if you asked me if I think I'm sinning by continuing to participate in the first list while withholding my participation from things that could go in my second list, I would say "yes." Even though I still regularly practice the spiritual and essential aspects of church and just conveniently avoid all the trappings of an institution, I still believe it's sin. I'm not proud of it. I'm no justifying it. I'm just telling you how it is. I hope that there is never a day where George Barna is right and that the "true" Christians are out on the golf course on Sunday mornings while dying congregations stare blankly ahead in their half-empty conference-center-style cathedrals. Firstly, because I sold my golf clubs in a garage sale to rasie money to go to Africa (plus, I suck at it anyway) and secondly, because I don't think that's what God desires.
What am I saying, then? I think God wants me (and you) to go to church. The little "c" kind. Some local congregation, whether it meets in a really nice building or in your neighbor's house.
So, why haven't I been going? Trust me. It would take way longer than you want to read to fully answer that one (most of you have checked out by now anyway and I'm only continuing to type for those of you reading simply for the sake of procrastinating from what you really need to be doing).
The simplest way for me to say it is this: I have had an impossible time trying to find a church that I "like." I realize all of the implications (most of them faulty) that are contained within that statement, but if you want to know the reason. There it is. It ain't pretty.
So, what is it that I have trouble liking? Any number of things. Some of them completely superficial. Like, the style (or lack thereof) of musical worship or that music is the only thing considered to be worship or how the pastor preaches or what he (or she) preaches about or how much money was spent on the building or the lack of "ugly" people in the congregation or... The reality is that if any of us sat down to make a list of all the surface-level things we don't like about certain churches, the list could go on endlessly.
However, the main thing that I have found missing around the 'Ham for me is a church with a theology that I identify with. I don't want to get into attacking particular churches or denominations here (I've done that plenty elsewhere), but I will say that I haven't found one whose beliefs I would say I line up with. And I don't know that that's completely unusual, especially when you get into parts of theology that are based much more on tradition than Biblical exegesis. However, I have a few non-negotiables that for most churches and denominations don't really go together. I would think that they would, but evidently they don't. I recognize I'm being a bit vague on this point, but if you know me, you can figure out what those things are, and if you don't know me, then you'll have to take my word that it is another thing that will take a long time to explain.
Yet, here I am, continuing to sin on the basis of these reasons. And not only that, but I also lack a true community of faith with whom I gather regularly and am never forced to encounter and overcome the differences, failings and trappings of our local churches.
This has all come up lately because of Story. I want to raise Story in a church. I want to be a part of a church that helps me to grow so that I'm a better father and spiritual leader for Story and Liza. I want to be obedient for my own spiritual well being but also as an example to Story, not to mention for the glory of God.
Yet this one thing for me (and I recognize that it's a pretty big thing, especially for someone who's supposedly a spiritual leader and went to seminary for goodness sake) contines to be a real hang-up, and I have no idea what to do about it.
I talk with enough people to know that I'm not alone in this, though I might be an extreme case because I just don't force myself to go. I gave up on that tactic a long time ago.
But I'm looking for the answer. God and I talk a lot about it. A lot. Believe me.
In fact, I'd say that me sitting here and writing this and putting it out there is part of the conversation.
How big a part? I guess that remains to be seen.
In the meantime... I don't know.
Maybe I need to go 'round again.
There are those people who ask me why I don't just start my own (church, that is). The answer to that question is for another post entirely.
All I can really tell you, I guess, is that I'm full of questions on this subject and not a lot of answers. But I am bound and determined to seek out those answers instead of just going with the flow. That doesn't make me righteous or holy or anything... not anymore than my grudging church attendance has in the past. But I hope that it will lead to a better outcome.
In the meantime, does anyone have some golf clubs I can borrow?