According to Chris Rock, it requires much more faith to not go to church than it does to go. We believe that God needs our help. That’s sacrilegious according to Chris. That’s not faith.
You go to Church because you don’t trust God, he says.
Could he be right? That the reason most of us attend Church is because we don’t really trust God. That we need to show Him that we’re serious about all this stuff?
Like many from a similar Northern Irish Middle Class background as me, Church was pretty much a central part of my life. Like Spurs getting knocked out of the semi final of a cup or rainy Summers, it was inevitable that we would go to Sunday School on a Sunday morning. Then sit through the service a little later, then go to some form of church extracurricular activity in the middle of the week.
I assumed the same was true for everyone.
A few weeks ago I posted on Facebook asking people to respond with reasons why they go or why they don’t go to Church.
I received several responses, all of which I can certainly resonate with on some level. Or at least could have, at one stage.
First some of the reasons why people did go to church.
Some folk mentioned going for the Community and hearing the Gospel and being transformed by hearing the Bible preached along with other imperfect people. Some mentioned the need for structure for their family. There were ideas around the sharing of communion.
Yet, there seemed to be far more reasons provided for why people didn’t go to Church.
Things like the contradictions in teachings and hatred they’d personally experienced. Some felt they weren’t able to be completely honest with how they think or feel without being judged. Others found truth outside of the Church that was just as transforming for them, if not more. Some didn’t like how churches spend so much time and effort (and money) on putting on a show. Others didn’t feel comfortable. Some had even been removed from their Church.
Not an exhaustive set of reasons why people go or don’t go to Church by any means but I would challenge anyone who has been or still goes to Church to deny they can relate to at least one of those reasons.
And me? I go to Church.
Honestly, a massive part of why I still go to Church is because I was brought up to go. Even though, my beliefs have changed and my ideas around God and Jesus have continued to evolve, the grounding in Church and the weekly attendance that was encouraged (alright then, sometimes forced) on my Sister and I has been the basis of why I still go. I know this is not the experience of everyone who was brought up in the church, but it is mine.
But am I going because I truly have faith or is Chris Rock right? Do I go because truly, I’m sacrilegious?
A big reason why many people go to Church is to hear the Sermon. The ancient art form that has been used as a sleeping tool for millions of people around the world and on the rare occasions to encourage and teach.
A common question when anyone leaves a Church service is to ask, How did the Preacher do? The onus being on whether the preacher preached straight from “God’s word” (Which is a whole blog, book, never ending conversation etc. for another time). But as I remember Rob Bell once say, maybe a better question is “How did you do?” How did you interact with the text during the week when your kid was screaming for no apparent reason or your boss was killing you at work.
As a kid, I longed for the prayer after the Sermon because it was finally an opportunity for me to prayerfully and thoughtfully interact with what I had heard. Just kidding, most of the time I was so bloody bored I couldn’t wait to rest my eyes.
Like for so many, the content of the Sermon has been important to me at times but honestly, I can read ideas and ways of reading the Bible that many Pastors may not be able to get into for various reasons from the Pulpit, through other means. Podcasts, books, blogs. Art and teaching by some of our deepest “theologians” can come from places that we don’t expect.
Most of the Churches I’ve belonged to hold very different theologies than I do. I probably couldn’t be further theologically from some of the churches I’ve belonged to but I’ve still gone. Even if the Sermon doesn’t impact me. Why you may ask?
I’ll get to that.
Another reason why people choose and stick with a church is to align with the churches beliefs on certain issues. These can vary from things that seem very insignificant like whether you should dress nicely or whether you can wear what makes you feel comfortable. To more “serious” beliefs such as does this Church allow women to preach, do they use the King James Bible or the Heretical The Message? Do they permit the beauty and sanctity of all monogamous relationships, even between people of the same sex?
We even, whisper it, had a woman preach a few weeks ago. So far, the roof hasn’t caved in.
I’ve only really belonged to three churches in my life. My home church where I grew up, the church that Brittany and I became a part of when we first got married and the Church we call Home, now that we’ve moved to the US.
Of all of the churches I’ve been part, I have truly loved being part of them. But of course, all churches have their flaws.
I view my experience with church as being a part of a journey. The church I began my life in taught me about God and faith and the Bible. It gave me a grounding that I believe has been necessary for me to continue in those times that Church is the last thing I was interested in.
The next church I belonged to, taught me about community. It taught me that it’s ok to be open with people.
But the church where I belong now is where I’ve felt most at home since a kid. I remember one Sunday going on my own because Brittany was ill. Now, I like people and being around people but often I feel weird if I’m in a social setting alone without a metaphorical safety blanket. That’s usually Brittany or a close friend who I trust. So one Sunday when I paused and realised that I wasn’t feeling anxiety about being alone at Church, it kind of caught me off guard.
It was the first time in many years where I had felt truly at peace in church. I didn’t feel I had to act a certain way or dress a certain way or think a certain way. I wasn’t disappointing someone, at least in my mind. I was just welcome and it didn’t feel forced, it just felt, well normal.
The Church I belong to now is a pretty diverse church, with many different skin colours, theologies and beliefs represented. This is why I think I feel most at home here, because there is no one way to fit in.
Because everyone stands out in one way or another from others in the church, we all blend in.
There is commonality in the diverseness.
And that is why I’m there. It’s why I keep coming back. It’s why it feels like Home.
Maybe you need to belong to a Church with a very specific rigid doctrine or Theology. That is ok. But for myself and many people that I have shared these experiences with personally, they want something more. They want to be able to be fine without needing to change or “fit in”.
I believe this is what will save the Church. Diverseness and the openness to those who look, act or believe differently than you do. To really mean it when we say our grounding is in Jesus and not in the beliefs you think we should have about Jesus.
It’s ok of course to belong to a church with a pretty set list of beliefs that you need to conform to. I just wonder though, the important we place on this, is what leads to many who weren’t brought up in that experience or tradition from hearing some pretty good news.
My church right now has certain core beliefs of course; many of which I may not agree with. In fact, for the most part I don’t know exactly what my church believes about certain things. Is that a bad thing? Well maybe if that’s important to you. I just know that I’ve heard various thoughts and ideas shared and not seen anyone thrown out. It’s almost like Jesus is bigger than the sum part of what we all believe. Go figure.
For me and many my age, this is what we look for and need in Church. For those of us who are in various stages of deconstructing and reconstructing our faith, we need to know it’s ok that we doubt or question. Especially allowing those things to breathe without any need or pressure for us to finally “come around”. To be accepted for believing differently than you do.
One friend when he shared some of the reasons why he didn’t go to church, shared many of the reasons that my other friends mentioned or similar reasons.
But for reasons why he did go to church, the first thing on his list was because he loved Jesus.
Now, this is a strange concept to many and I include myself in this list. It always felt, like something that I needed to do, in order to have that love reciprocated. Like what Chris is saying.
But of course, that’s not really being accepted as we are.
But I get it. I get that Jesus is this highly controversial figure who many have claimed to be exactly like them, rather than asking what would it look like if we acted more like Jesus.
If I am being truly honest, this has been one of my major gripes with the church. When a particular church claims their beliefs and their beliefs alone line up with Jesus, then obviously those out side of those beliefs are not going to be made to feel welcome.
Even if we say that they are, on some strange sub conscious level we resist those who are different to us and since churches are groups and group dynamic can be shaped by the need to protect the group, it makes sense that we want to keep some people at bay.
So the diverseness that I think will save the church is not just in things like beliefs or doctrine but in how we see Jesus as an extremely unique figure who was both comfortable debating theology in the Temple as he was spending time with those that the religious rule makers in the Temple had closed the door on.
Maybe the reason why many feel a wall go up when someone mentions Church, is not because of Jesus, but because of the people that represent Him. This is not of course, a unique new idea but it is one that is only now striking me, perhaps because my Church upbringing caused me to be so close that I couldn’t really see it.
If the Gospel is truly good news, then it is good news for everyone. This means that the story of Jesus can and must encompass all human experience. Which means that Jesus can not be limited to Western Christian ideas or what your Church believes.
We spend so much time afraid of Eastern ideas and religions, that we forget that if you call yourself a Christian you’re following an Eastern religion.
Jesus spent much of his time outside of the Church walls which means that we can experience Jesus in places that he shouldn’t. And I don’t just mean in pubs or in “secular” places. Whatever the hell those are.
I mean in ideas and philosophies that may feel strange and dangerous.
Because if we understand anything about Jesus, He was very definitely strange and dangerous. Something that could easily describe many churches.
So considering this need for the church to look outside it’s wall, not solely to bring people in, but because there are things outside the church we can and should learn from. As long as we remain humble enough to want to learn. For me then, the period where I didn’t go to church was necessary for me to find my way back to it.
Maybe some of us need to leave Church in order to understand Jesus better and have a richer experience of church. Maybe we don’t go back to church the way we know it. Maybe we find it somewhere that we wouldn’t typically call church.
Heck, maybe Chris Rock is on to something.