A lot of words have been written and read of late on the subject of church attendance. I didn’t expect to weigh in as I’m still on a blogging hiatus until my book, “Freeing Me: Overcoming a Religious Culture of Control” is released, hopefully in late Spring. After reading the vision behind today’s synchroblog, I was inspired to add my voice to the conversation.
Recently, Donald Miller stirred things up with what really was a coming out story, a vulnerable declaration of honesty about his particular experiences and perspectives on church attendance. This opened the door for any blogger worth his or her web hosting dollars to weigh in.
And so they should have. That’s what we do, as writers. Observe and report. Opine. Editorialize. Converse.
I was content letting the whole thing play out while I focused on the last five to ten thousand words that will detail my story as a former pastor, embroiled in a culture of spiritual abuse, manipulation and control. But then I started reading things like:
“…holding out hope that someday church can be a place you can come home to.”
“This is my heart for you - that one day you’ll find your way back to a good church, a place where you will be able to worship in community and feel loved by other people.”
“…not going to church is the same as not being a Christian. We are not to “forsake the assembling.”
There are a lot of assumptions being thrown about here, and that last one really irks me. Why would someone assume that just because we are choosing not to spend Sunday morning in a ritualistic, liturgical “rhythm” (though I do often miss this), that we are not experiencing community with other Jesus followers throughout the rest of our daily lives?
Hoping that a church will someday be a place to come home to assumes that we are homeless; hoping that we find our way back to a good church assumes we are lost. Hoping we find a place to be able to worship in community and feel loved by other people assumes we don’t currently dwell in loving community.
Please remember, my brothers and sisters who chose to “go to” church, some of us once did as you do. Whatever it was that drove us or led us to leave, we find ourselves “out here” while you are “in there.” There is a line that separates us, and I wish it didn’t.
I know that my personal experiences were the result of attending one or two more cultish churches. I know that I can’t throw out the “baby with the bathwater.” I know that there are “many good churches out there” and that I “should just go find one.”
Every word quoted in the above paragraph is taken from comments I’ve received at my blog or Facebook page. These are the nice ones. I have no use for the ones accusing me of causing people to stumble or informing me that it would be better if I were dead.
A while ago, I put the following “feeler” out on my Facebook page. Two hundred and seventy four likes confirmed my suspicion; those of us on the outside are only being further alienated.
Even if we hadn’t been hurt, abused or manipulated, it’s presumptuous and possibly offensive to call us back into the place where the abuse occurred. It’s nice you hope we find a church home, but you’re kind of assuming we haven’t. Communion can be celebrated and Church experienced in vibrancy outside of the four walls. The majority of my relationships with Jesus’ followers involve those who don’t “attend.”
I’m not advocating for going it alone. Jesus definitely called us into community, which is relational, not institutional (although it can be). While the majority of Jesus’ followers may find everything they need inside a church, that number is dropping for a reason; people are embracing the freedom of experiencing a life of faith and relationship in many different forms.
If you still “attend church,” please remember this about those of us who do not: We may not be part of your church, but you are part of ours.
Together, we’re all part of the body of Jesus’ followers, collectively called the Church. Whether some of us gather at a specific times, in a specific place, choosing to do things in a specific way; others may choose to gather at random intervals, in varying locations, preferring to things a little more spur-of-the-moment. Yet, we are all part of the same family.
We are all brothers and sisters. I guess siblings will squabble, but they also hug; they also protect, they also defend, they also love.
I love you, my family, regardless of what your plans are this Sunday at 10:00 am.
If you find yourself seated on a wooden bench, listening to the hallowed music of an organ while the light of heaven streams in through stained glass windows; I rejoice for you! What a beautiful place!
If you find yourself in a school gymnasium, playing exuberantly and dancing ecstatically, pressing into the greatness of God on a sound system you set up early in the morning and will be taking down after the service; enjoy every moment. I miss the feeling of getting lost in intoxicating worship.
If you find yourself at home or in a coffee shop, eating breakfast with your family or close friends, looking into each other’s eyes, honouring the stories of the week that was and making plans to connect and commune throughout the week to come; embrace every moment.
If you find yourself alone, know that you are not. Phone a friend, knock on my door or darken the door of that place you said you would never return to.
We are family.
We are the Church.
This post is part of the April 2014 Synchroblog: Bridging the Divide.
Here’s the list of other bloggers contributing posts related to healing the divides this month:
- The Virtual Abbess – Abi and April’s Synchroblog – Bridging the Divides
- Caris Adel - Emotional Pacifism: Laying Down My Weapons
- Ty Grigg – Speak Truth
- Jon Huckins – Gay Marriage, World Vision, and a Unified Church?
- Mark Votava – Faith Presence in the Parish
- Mary at Lifeinthedport – let us meet in the borderlands
- Michael Donahoe – Healing Divisions in the Body of Christ
- Jeremy Myers – Unity vs. Uniformity in the Church
- Juliet at Still Learning – A Catholics Love Letter to Evangelical Women
- Dago at Scripture Insights – Jesus the Divider
- Glenn Hager – The Lowest Common Denominator
- Sarah Quezada - Standing on Church Bridges
- Doug Webster – Truth Is Not a Process, Belief Is
- Michelle Van Loon – Bridging the Divide
- Happy at Simple Felicity – are we there yet?
- Travis Klassen – The Church: Coming, Going, or Being
- Bec Cranford - Biblical Interpretation and Inerrancy: Moving beyond myopia to a grander vision of unity
- Teresa Pasquale – Bridging the Divide: Translating Between Dialects, Culture Contexts, and Heart Stirring
- Miguel Labrador – I might be willing to reconsider church hierarchies, if…
- Paul Meier – Healing the Divides Begins Within
- Liz Dyer – You Can’t Get There From Here
- K.W. Leslie – Humility
- Kathy Escobar – 10 ways we can build bridges instead of bomb them
- Loveday Anyim – The “non-Gospelized Rituals” of Pentacostalism
- Caedmon Michael – Bridging the Divides
- Carly Gelsinger – “Church Shopping” at the Wrong “Mall”: A Story of Easter Sundays
- Mallory Pickering – A Splintered People
- Pastor Edwin Fedex – Tearing Down Fences and Building Sidewalks
- Jen Baros – Bridging the Divides: How to Heal
- Burning Religion – The Impossible Space Between Us
- Bronwyn Lea – When My Children Squabble
Photo: Steven Michael