Confession time. My family has not been to church in a very, very long time. Well, not in the, "What church do you go to?" church sense. We've organized 24hr worship with some of the most precious people on earth for the past four years, and that's been amazing, and we attend a Wednesday worship night led by Don Potter as often as we can, but we haven't been in an actual church, like, on an actual Sunday, in a very long time. We've had church at home, complete with all the bells and whistles -- announcements done by my 7 year old, welcome and opening prayer done by my 9 year old, worship led by Josh and accompanied by the Trask circus, books of the Bible memorization song by YouTube, lesson plans done by the Internet, tending to toddlers done by the nursery staff (all of us), and crying time led by me...which leads to corporate crying...over things like orphans, or Jesus dying, or almost nothing. I'm an emotional person. I cry. I lead with tears. The little girl sheep follow. And our Senior Pastor, my husband, looks at us like he's lost complete control of his flock, but he's smiling. We sit pathetic and sobbing, huddled on the couch in our jammies, because Jesus has come, and He's awesome, and we've been wrecked. A sure sign that this Sunday will be a good day. Or whatever day we happen to gather on.
So, why am I mortified when someone asks me, "What church do you go to?" Partly because we live in the South so naturally going to church is the right thing to do, and partly because I know (to my horror) that one of my kids will blurt out, "We don't go to church," which is sometimes subsequently followed by a pointed, "We need to go to church, Mom." I'm always like, "Take me now, Jesus. These kids are total sell-outs." (Hush, child.) And then I try to explain, but it's hard. How do you say, "Yep. We don't go to church on Sunday. We stay home. We do other things in place of Sunday morning church. We aren't backslidden. We love Jesus. We are good Christian people."
Are you buying it? It's such a hard sell.
We are conflicted, and you're probably confused. Let me explain. We used to live for church. There was a time when we were so lovesick with programs and meetings and messages that fed our souls and spirits that we became addicted to them, and regarded the people bringing the messages like real life celebrities. Shame. We lived for a good, fiery message that pulled us out of ourselves and threw us into the heart of God, and we still do. These messages are life giving and important, but they aren't what keeps our worlds in orbit anymore. Jesus does.
Over time something has happened at our house. The person we considered our mentor (our former Pastor) became human (he always was) and had personal problems in his life to overcome. And things shifted. He moved away. We were sad, but we pressed on, still staying as amped up about church as ever, granted a little broken-hearted, but still focused. Still church meeting go-getters! And then life happened. Babies came, and then more babies came, and over time church changed for us. Church became real life. Church was in everything - diapers, sleep deprivation, bleeding hearts over the miracle of our children, sharing food with others - just ordinary real life stuff. Jesus was everywhere, and so He still is. We just simply changed. Josh stopped leading worship for a paycheck and started leading only if he felt like the Lord wanted him to do it. We prayed about everything. Where to go to church. When to go to church. Was church benefitting our entire family? IF we should go to church. IF we should continue to teach kid's church. And then, everything about being at church stopped. And I'm not sure exactly when it stopped. I only know that church still meets on Sundays and we aren't there. And it turns out, we aren't the only ones.
According to a recent message by Jen Hatmaker,
* 3 out of 10 people in their 30's go to church in a 6-month period.
* 4 out of 10 people in their 40's go to church.
* 5 out of 10 people in their 50's go to church.
And the numbers for people in their 20's are so dismal that there aren't any good stats to quantify it.
She also talked about how 90% of church growth is either biological, meaning new births, or transfer growth (people going from one church to another).
And then she struck a chord with me, and pointed out something that bothered me on a subconscious level, that came shooting to the surface when she said it. What about the world? Why is it an "us" and "them" paradigm? Why do we spend so much time blessing the blessed and ministering to the saved? What about the rest of the world? What about winning new believers? Where are they? She talked about how churches often respond to this problem by upping their game, adding cool coffee shops, more home groups, better phrasing, etc. -- new tactics all focused on getting people to the church campus. The idea being that if we can get them to church, we can win them. There's a lot of focus on the church building and her offerings, and seemingly very little focus on winning people to Jesus. It resonated with me. It made me sad because it's true. So true. But, guess what? Hope is not lost! It's not too late change things. Relationships with non-believers in whatever space they're in, without judging or preaching? Just loving? Making time to be in the world, to love the world? Yes.
You'll have to pop over to http://m.soundcloud.com/bud-harlan/living-a-better-story-jen to hear her entire message. It's worth it.
For us, not being in church has meant changing the way we meet with Jesus. We haven't stopped meeting, we only meet with Him in different ways now, at different times, still very much a part of the church of God. We've just backed away from Sunday mornings and the unending church commitments and duties that we used to be tied to, almost to the point of suffocation. For some people Sunday mornings are essential, and for those people I say, yes! Be where you fit. Definitely. For the record, I am Pro-Church. It's just different for us. Was it the message being brought in the church that turned us off? Sure, occasionally. But honestly I can't definitively put my finger on any one thing in particular except that I think that we (the church) have gotten way off-track from the original intent of coming together for a singleminded purpose, and for whatever reason, it's just not working for us in the traditional sense anymore, and that's the case for a lot of others as well. Much of church has become white noise to the world, which has led to "us" and "them" teams, and it makes my stomach turn. We all collectively come from one place. There is but one Creator and He loves every one of us equally, without question.
So, to answer my daughter who says, "We need to go to church Mom," I say: We do go to church. Everyday. It doesn't just have to be on Sundays under the umbrella of a certain church name. But, and this is a big BUT(!) -- we can only say that we go to church (or, rather that we are the church) if we keep doing the stuff Jesus encouraged us to do (which we have some time for now that we aren't volunteering for every program under the sun), and those things are this --
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.
I'll end with this. Just the other day I posted about a little boy, Matthew Robert Pierce, battling cancer on my Facebook page and asked my praying friends to pray for his healing. (This boy is precious! Please pray.) My step-sister Melissa posted a comment that almost made me cry. She wrote, "You know I'm not really the praying type, but this sweet boy has inspired me to try to learn how. I've spent countless days talking to car ceilings, shower walls, and awkwardly clasped hands asking for Matthew's miracle."
This, friends, is church. A sweet helpless boy fighting for his life has captured the hearts of thousands of people who, not knowing what else to do, are trying to touch the heart of God in order to save his sweet little life. I bet Matthew wins more people to Jesus than any church program ever will. The Bible says, a child shall lead them. And also, love hopes all things. It really is time to love everyone. No more "us" and "them." Only "us."
I love this quote--
"Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late – and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work." (A.W. Tozer)
And finally, we are open to getting back to the business of Sundays in the future. This is just where we are currently. Our focus at the moment is to keep on keepin' on, find an Awanas type kids church setting for our girls, and get going on a new Bible Study with our friends. One with a structure like this: Meet every Tuesday (1st and 2nd Tuesday - Bible Study; 3rd Tuesday - Bible Study group serves community in some way as a group; 4th Tuesday - everyone stays home to do something to serve your own neighborhood).
Please know that the goal is to know the Savior. Period. This blog is just a snapshot in time for us. Please, please, be where you fit. Do what you can. And definitely be love to the world. That's all for now.