Sundays are a really hard day for many people. Particularly people who have been hurt by the “church.” It’s a day where Christians gather for corporate worship and community. It is supposed to be a day of celebration. Yet, for many it is a day of shame, guilt, anger, self-protection, and anger.
Not long ago there were many people who were writing about their stories of leaving church. They simply stopped going. Some of these folks are high profile Christians. Sunday gatherings were vapid and empty, the community was shallow, and it all “felt inauthentic.”
So, they simply stopped.
Church, they said, could be experienced anywhere. In nature, alone, in a coffee shop, or the pub.
What these people wrote resonated with me in a significant way. I thought, “I could easily walk away. There is more authenticity at the ball field than in the ‘church’ on any given Sunday.”
I stand by that thought.
The ease with which I could walk away and never again enter into a building with the word “church” on the shingle could be unmatched, by anybody, anywhere. I’m not even kidding.
Over the last 18 months I have become so disgusted with much of my spiritual family. It horrifies me to watch a man who sexually assaulted a teenage girl to receive a standing ovation in his church. I am astounded by those who “go to church” that were willing to set aside their integrity for “a seat at the table.” The arguments and conversations that I have been witness to have left me in shock at how many people place their agendas over their commitment to Jesus.
Even though I would love to walk away I won’t.
Quite simply, I can’t.
Why? How? What? This is the typical phrase I hear talking with friends outside of the church who simply cannot understand why I won’t leave.
If “church” was simply a worship gathering I would be long gone. But “church” is not a worship gathering. “Church” is not a building. “Church” is not an experience. “Church” is not something you do or go to.
“Church” is a people. “Church” is a who. They are a people who have become my family. You see, God the Father adopted me. He adopted me into his family and made me his son. I didn’t do anything to deserve to be adopted into this family. I was part of another family. The family of “self.” In a very real sense I was living an existence of exile. I lived for me, even though I was a good person, my life was selfish. I was moral. But, that morality was driven by self and not by anything more.
My family of origin is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. On both my Mom’s side and my Dad’s side there is messiness. We are a people of big personalities and desires. We drive hard in all we do whether that is work or play. This results, unsurprisingly, in lots of success, fun, and brokenness. Some of our family stories will make your eyes water with laughter and sadness.
It turns out that this new family that I’m a part of is similar. It’s called, “Church.” The “called out ones” and from the beginning it has been a mess of a people. Just give Genesis a quick read, particular the stories about Abraham and his son and grandsons. Oh my…
Just like I would never walk away from my family of origin, I can’t walk away from this family either. I will fight for them both.
I have to.
You see “Church” is often referred to in the Bible as the “body of Christ.”
This new family of mine is more than some sort of social gathering. It is to be the ongoing embodiment of Jesus in the world. If this is the case then, I have to fight for it. I have to fight for it because, in some sense, it is where Jesus is.
To fight for this family, this church, means that I must speak into it and challenge it when it begins to go wrong. As someone who has been called as a pastor, it means that I have to lead the change that needs to happen. It also means that I must celebrate it when it does right! It means that I embrace with joy when it is beautiful.
Over the last 18 months or so the failures of the last thirty years have been exposed. We have traded discipleship for showmanship. The church has offered its soul on the altar of power. We are reaping what we have sown.
The choice before me, before us, is this: Stay and fight or walk away. I understand people walking away. But, this is my family. I can’t. So, I will stay and fight. I will challenge the structures and institutions that are broken. Where modern day Pharisees show up, I will call them to account. Where sin seeks to devour and destroy, I will preach grace and live mercy and embody truth.
Why Church? It’s my family. But more than that, it’s where Jesus is. So, that’s where I want to be too. It’s just that Church needs to look more like the table at Matthew’s house (check out Matthew 9:9–13) than a sanctuary (or the synagogue of Jesus’ day). But, like Jesus I need to be present in both, because in both are where my family is and in both the gospel needs to be proclaimed.