Recently, Donald Miller lit a firestorm in the blogosphere when he said he has stopped going to church. Many people were outraged and others were relieved. Those who were outraged expressed concern that this is not biblical (I agree) not to mention the fact that, at least partially, the target audience of Miller’s books is churchgoers. Those who expressed relief at Miller’s confession pointed to their own negative experiences in the local church and the liberation they felt now that a “Christian leader” has said it was ok not to attend church.
As a local church pastor, let me openly and loudly declare that there are problems with the local church. I am saddened at the “Disneyfication” of the church. I am disgusted that the church looks very much like the world when we should be “salt and light.” I am troubled that false gospels run rampant throughout our “churches” and especially on “Christian” TV.
With all the problems with the church I can understand, for a brief moment, how someone could stop going. But, it is only for a brief moment because I am reminded quickly that Jesus loved the church. He loved the church so deeply that he gave his life for the church. The Bible knows nothing of a follower of Jesus Christ disconnected from the local church.
The early church was not perfect…far from it! Paul wrote scathing letters to the churches in Corinth and Galatia. If anyone could have thrown his hands up and walked away from the church it would have been Paul. But he did not walk away. He stayed. He prayed. He encouraged. He loved.
I think the language of “going to church” has caused a disconnect from what it means to BE the church. We go to restaurants. We go to concerts. We go shopping. And all of these places tell us that they are there to meet our needs and serve us. But, as followers of Jesus Christ, we ARE the church. So here is my encouragement to you, my faithful reader – stop “going” to church and BE the church.
1. “Going to church” makes you a consumer. Many people who attend church expect Burger King’s slogan, “Have it your way,” to apply in the church. They want their preferences met and when they are not, they head down the road to the next church to get what they want. This is what Donald Miller is saying – no local church in his community offers him what he wants. The problem with this mindset is that we are never encouraged to be involved in the church for what we can get out of it. We are to be involved in the local church to serve others and use our gifts to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4). Will we receive benefits? Yes, but that should never be our end goal!
**Being the church makes you an owner instead of a consumer.
2. “Going to church” makes you a critic. When you do nothing more than “go” to church, it is easy to criticize what you don’t like. You may say things like: “The sermon was too long, “The song was too loud,” “I don’t like the color of the carpet,” “The coffee is burnt.” When you have bought in to the vision of the church as an owner you have a different perspective. You will pray for your pastor recognizing the immense responsibility that comes with proclaiming God’s Word each week. You will rejoice that people who were once far from God now worship Him. You will recognize that a businessman whose life was radically transformed by Jesus donated the carpet to the church. You will praise God that someone is willing to wake up early enough to make sure hot coffee is available on Sunday mornings. You will struggle to have the perspective of an encourager when all you do is “go” to church.
**Being the church makes you an encourager instead of a critic.
3. “Going to church” makes you complacent. Here is what ends up happening when all you do is “go” to church: You sit, you soak, and you sour. In the book of Acts, the early believers were far from complacent churchgoers. They served, they loved, they gave, they sang, they praised, they prayed and they suffered. They did not have air conditioned sanctuaries and building funds. They had torturers and prison chains. Following Christ was not popular; in fact it was extremely costly. Being actively involved in the local church should pushes us away from complacency and into costly discipleship.
**Being the church stretches you instead of allowing you to become complacent.
Still not convinced? Consider Paul’s words comparing the relationship between husbands and wives with Jesus’ relationship with the church. Think about how his church is described. Contemplate how precious the church must be if Jesus laid down his life for it:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, ESV)