I’m a Christian and I’m not a big fan of church.
There I said it.
Now I know what you may be thinking. Here comes another Christian blog where the writer says something kind of shocking but when you read the article it turns out they were being clever or were kind of lying to you.
But no, I don’t really like church. I don’t really like worship music, I don’t want to recite the Lord’s prayer one more time in my life, and most Pastors say the same things you’ve heard a million times. Well at least I think they do; I’m usually about to fall asleep by the time most sermons come around.
I want to like church, I really do but I don’t.
I haven’t given up on church. I have my frustrations but I’m not willing to let those stand in the way of being part of church, it’s just right now my idea of church has changed drastically than it was a few years ago.
Growing up, I loved my church. I still do even though I live in another country and haven’t attended my home church for years. I have so many happy memories of growing up in church. My mum still goes there and her family there is made up of some of the most Godly and loving people I know.
So my suspicion of church doesn’t come from there.
Going off to uni and having the freedom to do what I wanted, I took full advantage of not going to church and I loved it. And actually think it was good for me. It allowed me to spend some time out of that culture, to not be shaped by cliches and if it wasn’t for that period of time I was churchless I’m not sure I would be a Christian today.
By the end of my time at uni I was beginning to delve into my faith again for the first time really in years. People like Rob Bell and Don Miller were hugely influential for me and I started to see that there was a different type of Christianity that I had never heard of or experienced before.
Fast forward a few years and now married and trying to figure out this church stuff with Brittany we were led to Village church in Belfast. Without a doubt, this was the richest experience I have ever had of church in my life.
And this brings me where I am today. Detroit. 2015. Without a church. At least not a church building with sermons or a kids program or cool teaching series. But I have church. I have people who I spend time with talking about important things that matter.
You see, when I’ve belonged to a church the temptation has always been there to slip into the background. To make it out every Sunday and tick it off. But is that church? Is that all that church is for to hear one person give their interpretation of an ancient book every week.
“He brought the word.” “He really preached this morning.” That’s great. But I’m just going to go home now and look at porn.
When you’re told every week that Christianity is about every moment of every day not just one hour each Sunday, yet that hour on Sunday has little effect on you the rest of the week it’s hard to see the point of church.
Now, I know this is on me. I’m not shifting the blame of my life onto others. If I’m a dick to my best friend during the week that’s not the fault of the Pastor just because he didn’t preach a sermon called “Don’t be a dick to your best friend, asshole”.
But increasingly I wondered what influence belief, or faith, or church had on my behavior. I developed a porn addiction, I didn’t become more generous to the poor and I started to question everything I believed. All while being part of a church in one way or another.
And herein lies my problem. My problem is not you, it’s me. Church and faith became about what I can get out of it. Did I enjoy the sermon? Did the worship music fit my taste? It became about the brand, the name, reputation. Not just of the church but of myself.
I wasn’t really worried about whether I was addicted to porn. I was worried what people would think. I wasn’t really worried about challenged or moved by the sermon or worship. I was worried about being entertained and having my own beliefs validated.
And all those things distanced me from others because I didn’t care about them as much as myself. This too feels like a dangerous place to be because I am so aware of how important it is to take care of yourself, to love yourself, to not be afraid to be yourself. But that wasn’t my particular problem here (although it still is argggh). My particular problem was being selfish to the extent that I didn’t care about others as much as what I got out of church.
This is why the question “Where do you worship” is much less of an important question than “who do you worship with?”
I’ve had the privilege of working with xxxchurch for the past number of years. Part of that is sitting with a group of guys who over the past 3 years have gone from strangers to people I consider family. These guys listen to each other share their experiences of struggling with addiction. Honest, often brutal conversations about life sucking and being hard and we don’t always have the answers for each other. And in amongst those difficult conversations are glimmers of joy that continually shine.
That to me is church. It’s removing the barriers that exist to being honest with each other when all we’re used to is nice graphics and a worship band who are “rockin” for Jesus.
A few years ago when Brittany’s best friend died in the States, friends from our community in Belfast got together and helped pay for both our flights back to Detroit, the very next morning.
There wasn’t one sermon preached or one badly covered Hillsong United song sung to, yet there was no doubt that we had experienced church.
Feeling loved, loving others, generosity, being allowed to be angry or doubt, not giving up on someone, not trying to control, not having to have all your community believe in a set of doctrine to be part of that community.
These are things that make up a church, not how good it looks.
And honestly, I’m not sure that you always need a church building or a structure to experience that. Sure it can help facilitate it and I will always love going to church and experiencing liturgy and being around other people.
But I’m just not sure we’ve understood church correctly if we feel we need to be part of a “proper” church to experience church.
I’m not saying I will never be part of a church ever again. I’m saying that maybe I need this time outside a church to truly learn what church is.
And that may be the one thing that really challenges me more than any sermon I could hear.