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A Letter to the Christian Who Hasn't Been to Church in a While
Trinity Baptist Church
2450 Alliance Road, Arcata, California
“I love Jesus, but I don’t do church.”
This is the beginning of a conversation that I have had countless times with people of all different ages, backgrounds and experiences. As well as: “I’m a Christian, but I don’t have to go to church in order to love Jesus.” It’s true. We definitely don’t have to do anything for God, nor is our salvation based on our works or church attendance.
But it’s also true that when we surrender our lives to Him, we naturally desire to learn more about Him, to be a part of the body of Christ and to be held accountable and pointed toward sanctification. We are called to live out an active faith. One of my favorite verses is 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new.“ When we truly repent, surrender and choose to follow Jesus, we are given a new heart, one that desires godliness and holiness. We are given the opportunity to make the daily choice to leave our past lives behind us and move forward toward the righteous life that He has set out for us. “If anyone claims to live in Christ, he must walk as He did.” 1 John 2:6.
I was saved at the age of 19 years old at Mars Hill Church with Pastor Mark Driscoll (a few years before his church fell apart.
When my husband and I were engaged and first married, we attended Mars Hill together. We both felt “burned by” and heavily disappointed in the church for many reasons, even far before it all came crashing down due to the pastor’s sin and other circumstances. We have watched people who claim to love Jesus hurt the people around them deeply. We have witnessed affairs, divorce, hypocrisy, greed and excessive pride. We have watched some of our closest friends walk away from the church for the reasons stated above and many more. We have seen deep hurt caused by the church and have watched faithful churchgoers turn bitter, angry or broken because of the way these events occurred.
I want to ensure you that I’m not sitting behind a computer screen, lacking empathy or compassion toward the hurt that many of you have likely felt. It’s all very real, and I have felt it too. And I am also not ignoring the fact that the church is full of sinful people nor that there is hard pain and baggage to come along with it. I am simply turning my eyes to Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith and my hope. I have made the choice to not allow the sinful, broken people of the church (those who look just like me) to be a stumbling block that keeps me away from my sinless, perfect and loving Heavenly Father who simply wants to draw us to Himself.
The church isn’t primarily a building or a set of programs or events. It’s a family. A broken family, yes. But a family all-the-more, seeking God to love more, serve more and share light in a super, super dark world. We see throughout the Bible that Christ Himself was part of the church. His apostles were as well. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25.
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.“ “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Ephesians. 4:11-12
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:9, “You were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I fully understand that the ‘American Church’ with massive buildings, coffee shops and rockstar worship leaders with too-tight-skinny-jeans may not be what Christ had in mind. And we must be wise and discerning when choosing a church to ensure that it is bible-believing and bible-teaching. But although some church buildings themselves may not be the same as the church in Jesus’ day, it is still made up of people who love the Lord (although imperfectly) and come together to hear His word. While the contextualization has changed, the mission remains the same – to glorify God and make disciples.
Though the way we do things now may look a little different than first century Rome, it’s the same mission and strategy that propels us forward; assembling for worship, connecting in community, training up disciples. I can almost hear some of your thoughts as I type this:
The worship is too cheesy.
The pastor isn’t available enough.
I have too much going on in my life.
My husband/wife doesn’t want to go so I don’t go.
People aren’t welcoming.
It’s an awkward experience.
It’s not the church that Jesus designed it to be.
Having kids makes it too hard to get there.
And, of course, the most popular:
Church is a corporate design created by man for the consumption of money; it is a place which promotes religion rather than faith and relationship.
I’ve heard it all. And, to be honest, many of these things I have thought myself. I’m not above the doubt or scrutiny, either. But, you guys, how will we fix what is broken in the church or help the people of the church if we refuse to be a part of it? If you evaluate your life today, are you choosing busyness or bitterness over worship? We can sit behind the scenes criticizing or we can live out an active faith – serving and getting involved – making real changes, loving on real people, living life alongside real pain.
The Enemy is strategic. He has come to steal, kill and destroy your faith, relationship with God and relationship with other believers. If we constantly choose sleeping in on Sundays and breakfast with our family over church, if we choose a night out drinking over genuine community, sharing real life with one another and holy living, then we aren’t making a difference in the church that we may or may not see so many problems with. We’re simply allowing the issues that we feel so strongly about to perpetuate as we carelessly look on.
I’ve witnessed church-hopping where people treat church like Goldilocks treated beds. People want that “just right” perfect church, but when they can’t find it, they simply walk away. All the Enemy had to do was distract them. To that I say: Choose a place and stick with it. You’ll never find perfect. We should not be looking at what we can get from the church, our hearts should be set on what we can give the church. And if you don’t want to be a part of the “big building church”, then there should be intentional and active pursuit of a home church. Not every home bible study will turn into 50,000 people, but it should be a consistent time filled with God’s word, worship and praise.
As a reminder, the Enemy has the power to use both good and bad things to keep you from God things – but only if you let him. He uses distraction, bitterness, hard-heartedness, pride, awkwardness and even feel good/treat yourself days to his advantage. C.S. Lewis said it perfectly: “The perfect church service would be the one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing than worshipping. It is mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.”
Sweet friends, God is the focus of the church. The service nor the people need to be perfect for you to hear His life-changing word. True life change happens in the church. We truly grow when we connect with every day people, pour into them and allow them to pour into us. The local church, led by Jesus, is the hope of the world and God’s means to disciple the nations and hasten his return. Matthew 16:18 says, “…On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
How can we despise or resent the church when Jesus not only said He was going to build it, but that He would use it to storm the gates of hell? That’s something I want to be a part of! Don’t you? It’s true that there are churches out there which have fallen into the trap of trying to accumulate numbers rather than turning hearts toward God. But this isn’t the healthy church that God intended for it to be. A bible-believing, bible-teaching church comes together as a reminder that we can only experience fruitful mission when we are fully abiding in and drawing strength from the true vine (John 15). His word is our daily bread. And in a world offering countless different perspectives, there is one place that people can find truth (John 8:26). The church is a lighthouse in an ethical and immoral fog (Matthew 5:14–16).
If you claim to know and love God, yet do not have a desire to be a part of His church, I lovingly implore you to evaluate your relationship with Him. Get in His word and read what He has to say about His calling for us. There are one hundred or more things that we could do that would hinder us from sharing life with God’s people. If you’re hesitant, I challenge you today to choose intentionally and join in worshiping God with a local church this weekend! I promise you that as many reasons as you might have not to go, there are even more reasons to trust God and pour your life and heart out for Him alongside His people.
[If you’re curious to learn more about what a healthy church looks like, I encourage you to check out this book: ‘What is A Healthy Church?’ It is a great resource to help you discover what the church can be and how to find a healthy one!]
This article originally appeared on sparrowsandlily.com. Used with permission.
Lindsey Maestas is a Christian, a wife to an incredible and loving husband and a stay-at-home-mommy to the happiest, most-energetic little boy, Sutton Rylee. She received her degree in Journalism and has had a passion for writing since she was a little girl. Lindsey began Sparrows + Lily to remind moms, wives, students, employees, dads, husbands and families that they’re never alone. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter or visit her blog at sparrowsandlily.com.