A young man, Thad, with whom I spoke on a flight from Seattle to Spokane, asked me what I do for a living. When I told him I was a pastor, he was adamant and unapologetic about how he felt regarding the church.
“The church is obsolete in the 21st century! And besides, it’s inconvenient for me to go on Sundays.”
What he said is something I hear more and more nowadays. A growing number of people are done or fed up with the church. This seems especially common with people who were brought up with some sort of religious background.
I’ll admit, there are aspects of the church as an organization that are broken and even a bit obsolete. Thad, however, was reacting out of his personal experience and uninformed bias.
So, let me be clear about why the church still matters.
First, it’s important to understand what the church is not. The church is not a building. It’s not an hour on Sunday. It’s also not primarily an institution. The church often meets in a building for an hour or so on Sunday, and it is an organization of sorts. However, the church is, and always has been, far more than brick and mortar or a set of bylaws.
For the record, the church is God’s idea, and despite her present warts and wrinkles, she is the bride of Christ.
Here are some things that don’t matter:
- It doesn’t matter to me (or God) if you meet on Thursday night, in a home, or if your group operates without a 501c3 (tax exempt status).
- It doesn’t matter to me (or God) if you have a licensed pastor as your leader or not.
- It doesn’t matter to me (or God) if you have a church band or no instruments at all. You can sing hymns, worship with Gregorian chants or whistle while you worship. (Personally, I hope whistling comes into vogue soon.)
There’s all kinds of variety in the body of Christ, and that’s a good thing—a very good thing. And there is no cookie cutter approach regarding how we do church. Not now. Not ever.
However, some things do matter, and they matter a lot.
Here’s a short list of what matters (in no particular order because each one is important):
- It matters that you have a personal, regular and meaningful involvement in a community of faith. Whether it’s a community of 10 or thousands, you can’t do church or be the church of Jesus without a community of like-minded believers.
- It matters that you actively engage in a fellowship of believers that equips you for ministry (i.e., service) to others. If your church isn’t giving you lots of opportunities to give away the goodness of Jesus to others, then it’s not a healthy church. Jesus came to serve. Christ-followers must do the same.
- It matters that you participate in a body of believers in which you are challenged, corrected and encouraged by others and whose leaders use and teach the Word of God with accuracy. From the beginning, the church was (and still is) God’s tool to mold and shape us into the image of Christ.
- It matters that you are giving. A healthy church pools its financial resources to advance the kingdom of God, to care for the poor, to equip the saints and to provide for those who lead the church vocationally (where needed and appropriate). Whatever your expression and experience in the church, it must involve generous and sacrificial giving from you for the sake of others.
- It matters because a biblical church provides a place to experience the office and ministry gifts Jesus has given to His church. It is a place where teachers teach, leaders lead, prophets prophesy and evangelists evangelize.
- It matters because a church gathering provides an opportunity to show and tell your lost family and friends about the love and grace of God. Again, this can and should happen whether it’s a home church or a mega-church. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Are people finding Jesus in your church, or not?
Experiencing a Christ-centered, disciple-making, outreach-focused church as a meaningful and viable community of faith is not a choice you can opt out of if you are a believer.
Again, where you go and when you go, is not a big deal. Church, however, is.
Sadly, some people reject church because they’ve had a bad experience. I’m sorry. I know you’re probably in pain, but you don’t get to bail on the church because you’re wounded. Church involves humans, and humans are always far from perfect. Please find a way to deal with your hurt and re-engage.
Unfortunately, some (like Thad) have walked away from the church because they don’t want to be challenged spiritually. As he and I talked some more during our brief flight, it became clear that Thad didn’t want to be confronted by Christians in the church about his self-centered and hedonistic lifestyle. Too many have walked away from any form of the church—not because the church is broken—but because they are.
Others have drifted from the church because she became an inconvenient distraction. Their life is too full of sports activities, travel, family events and outings, or other temporary things. These people often say, “Oh, I love God, and I’m fine spiritually. You know you don’t have to be involved in a church to be a Christian.”
Uh…yes, you do.
You don’t have to go to a church that meets in a former K-Mart (like Eastpoint). You don’t have to go on Sunday. You don’t even have to go to a church that calls itself a church!
But a Christian is someone who follows Christ and lives like Him. And Jesus not only attended synagogue on the Sabbath, but He also lived in a community of faith with no fewer than 70 disciples.
Church is not an option.
I’ll admit, I’m biased because I love the church. Beautifully broken. Imperfect. Not yet all that we should be or could be. But still the Bride and Body of Christ.
We are one. We are connected. So, we need each other.
If you’re not convinced by my humble musings, or if you’d like to read another good post that is a response to Christians who are done with the church, click here. (It’s Carey Nieuwhof.)
This article originally appeared here.