Leaving Church?

Last week, Donald Miller (a fairly well-known Christian author and speaker) wrote a blog post, as well as a follow-up post which announced that he really doesn't go to church that often...and in fact, he kind of has no intention to change that.

I only became aware of it via a very good response from Geoff Surratt (which I happened upon via a friend sharing it on Facebook). Believe me, people, I don't have a ton of time to read through a gagillion blogs that are written by seemingly wise people...so, I like to read a lot of the stuff that has already been vetted by those I know. I'm lazy.

Anyhow, I was incredibly taken aback by Miller's reasoning and it got me thinking.

I'm not gonna lie...finding a church home is hard and BEING in a church home is hard.

The hubs and I have had our struggles. We've lived in five different states...and it's never been easy to find community. It took us a year after we had been married to find the church that we know consider our "home" church. Did I mention that we had lived in that city separately for 5 years prior to getting married (and had been attending other churches). We lived in Maine for three months and never even tried to find a church. We lived in Portland, OR for two years and started regularly attending a church the first Sunday we were there. We moved to Alabama and spent nine months visiting churches, but never finding the "right fit." We arrived in Wyoming....

Here we have visited several churches on several occasions and even spent a month or two commuting an hour and a half (round-trip) to find a church that we even TRUSTED theologically.  Realizing that such a long commute was really silly and not community focused, we were lucky enough to happen upon our current church...a year after we moved here, but we never gave up on church.

The church we attend is not what we would envision as our "perfect church," but through all of these processes, we have been taught several truths about church and its purposes. Church is not about OUR needs...seriously. We attend a church that has one other young couple; everyone else is enjoying the twilight of life. We sing hymns lead by an organ player who has no sense of time. The fellowship hall looks like a historical site. Seriously.

BUT we have never stopped wanting to be part of a local church.

Here are a few things we have learned:

1) Starbucks can be bought prior to church. I love coffee stations in the foyer of a church. It's a kind of hospitality that resonates with me. Our churches in Athens and PDX did coffee/tea stations and it was nice and homey. However, it's not necessary...and if the focus is on the coffee and not the service, then your focus is wrong. Coffee is hospitality, not a substitute for the Word of God.

2) Smoke machines are unacceptable. If you walk in the door and feel like you are going to a rock concert instead of entering the presence of God - Problem. I think worship (music) is the first impression of most services. The hubs and I would have to confess that we are "snobs." We have played on the worship teams of all the churches we have regularly attended. We pay attention to things like sound and song choice. (Note: Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen is in no way an acceptable worship song). If you walk in to smoke &mirrors and leave with a migraine, someone is looking to be in the spotlight...not in the presence of God.

3) If the church is trying to bring people in with anything other than the gospel, run away (Monty Python Voice). If your church offers a ton of SWAG to visitors or sends out fliers that offer the chance to win an ATV. - what are they really trying to sell? The gospel is enough. No fly-paper antics needed.

4) Beware the fancy church. If your church has just expanded, that is good. Church expansion is wonderful. But look at church finances. When they send out finance reports and have money meetings, pay attention to the bottom line. How much is your church spending on making things pretty and how much do they give away? In all honesty, we American Christians think churches need to be snazzy and all sorts of decked out, but other Christians in the world are DYING of hunger and disease. The two million dollar sound system or even the $300 comfy chair in the vestibule could have made a tangible difference to someone's LIFE.

Our Athens church has a  3-line-budget: pastor's salary, "running" the church, and giving. Giving was nearly 50% of the budget. Knowing that our tithe was serving the orphan, the widow, and the missionary was worth not having a brand new sound system or the flashiest set up.

5) The word of God doesn't need help. The word of God is powerful. So, if you find yourself watching twenty minute clips of Bill Cosby's stand-up routine OR the entirety of Kansas's "Dust in the Wind" music video on a big screen, something has gone terribly awry. If the teacher begins throwing candy from the stage, duck. If the scripture verse comes fives minutes before the close and is more of a footnote than the actual MEAT of the sermon, walk out. Theologically sound teaching is a must and should take precedent over number of programs, services, coffee selection, childcare, etc.

It would be great if church were about meeting MY needs. But, it's not. Church is for shared worship, fellowship, community, family, outreach to those in need, and teaching. It's not about programs, childcare, "good" worship music, flashy PowerPoints, or well-decorated surroundings.

If you enter a church and you are "auditioning" ANYTHING but the theological soundness of the teaching and the church's role in community, you're church shopping. Church shopping focuses on you (the individual consumer) and what the church can do for you. But being believers in Christ, the church body has always been other-serving...and not so much self-serving.

Church is about being around other believers...warts and all. Church is about being God's hands and feet to those in the community who are in spiritual and physical need. Church is not about you...it's about HIM.

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