"Why doesn't their family go to church?" My six-year-old son asked. He was thinking of his friend from school. I did not, and do not, want to say critical things about people. I am pastor. Church is dead center in our family's life. Since we adopted Henry just shy of his 2nd birthday, he has practically lived at church. Church is extremely important.
I am a pastor who believes what he preaches. I may not be the greatest, and I commit my share of sins. Repentance is something I must make a regular practice. However, one of my sins is not ‘going through the motions.’ Church is important for our family and I think it should be for every family because church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). If someone is not part of a Christian community, they’re cut off from the body.
I don’t conceive of church as institution or church as an extracurricular activity. Church is the body of Christ. Church is Sunday morning. Church is the members playing a golf outing to raise money for missions. Church is friends from a Sunday school class going out to eat after Sunday worship. Church is the members of a Bible study group huddled in prayer in the emergency room waiting area because one of their members had a heart attack. Church is the sewing group making bags we will donate to our friends we visit at the orphanage in Africa. Church is the Ethiopians who care for those orphans daily welcoming their American brothers and sisters when they come to visit. Church is all of this and if you are a Christ-follower, you don’t pick and choose. He calls, you obey, and you have far more joy and gladness than you would from your own choices.
You don’t skip weekly Sunday worship, but then go on the mission trip to Ethiopia because going to Africa is cool but Sunday worship is boring. You give yourself to all of it because you’re part of the body of Christ. You are a needed part. We all are (read 1 Corinthians 12).
When someone does not have church community as part of their lives, they’re missing something. I say that without apology. My friends who don’t participate in church might disagree. They may be quite content sleeping in, playing golf, going to the beach, or doing whatever they do on weekends; whatever they do that edges out any space for joining together with the family of God. They have decided life is better without God; at least, without the Christian practice of worshiping and fellowshipping with God.
I know that some claim to follow Jesus while not having any need for church. Such religious practice as individual churchless Christianity is completely foreign to the Bible. The stories of the Bible happen with the context of organized, religious activity (synagogue, temple, house churches). People say, “I love Jesus, but I hate organized religion.” Jesus says in response, “You do not know me and could not know me because you are not seeking me in the place I established my presence before I ascended to the Father.”
I know. I know. Crusades. Spanish Inquisition. Fred Phelps and Terry Jones. I know Christians have done awful things in history. I can hear the unchurched person reciting the list and point to it as his reason for having no interest in church. All I can say is Jesus works through humans and humans, even those filled with the Holy Spirit are still under the curse of the Fall. Even Christ-followers sin. We just need to read the book of Acts or any of Paul’s letters for examples.
That is why grace is so crucial. The pastor must lead out of humility, acknowledging his or her own brokenness. The pastor should not make the pulpit a personal confessional every week. But humble leadership that honestly sees a desperate need for God is the only path that works for the pastor and for the church. Christianity only works when we trust God with everything.
That is why I was so filled with joy at the turn the conversation took. “Why don’t they go to church?” He asked on Sunday morning as we drove out of our driveway. We talked and I sputtered through my answer about how people believe different things. Then with the wisdom God give children he said, “Maybe they don’t trust God.” That’s it. That’s hitting the nail on the head.
We cannot be disciples of Jesus until we trust God completely. And Christians, you have friends who don’t participate in the faith. They’ll say, “Well, I have not found the right church.” They’ll say, “I have such a busy life. Sundays are my only family time.” They’ll say, “Oh, the church is full of hypocrites.” They’ll say 100 other things. But it boils down to trusting God. If you want your unchurched friends to meet Jesus and learn what life is like when it is lived in Him, and with His Holy Spirit in us, then in your own life, trust Him with everything. It’s somewhere to start.