I’m sure many of you will recognize these feelings. I received this email over the weekend:
We’re at a point in our lives where we are so tired of “doing church”
My wife and I were “raised in the Church”—in fact, my Dad used to be a pastor. it provided a good “structure” for us and we’re fortunate for that, but I think one eventually gets to a point in life where you ask yourself “what’s it all for”? What is Church about? Who/What is really the “church”? I can’t help but think so much of westernized culture completely misses the point of “gathering of yourselves’ and has turned it into a self-engrandizing , consumerist venture that is fueled largely by ignorance of who and what is “church”.
Why do so many churches have the same formula? Who was the ‘genius’ who one day decided “Oh, if we do church in this format: Greets, songs, message and prayer” that will empower the Saints to do what God has commissioned them to do? God never said “They’ll know you’re Christians by your Church attendance, or how many songs you sing, or how many “great sermons” the same guy preaches. He said “They’ll know you’re Christians by your love for one another”. It’s that love for your fellow-man that seems to be so grossly missing in today’s “church”. The church at large is focused on the “do’s and don’ts” and not focused on loving each other – again, that can largely be chocked up to a culture that perpetuates greed and selfish-ambition.
Sorry to be long-winded and “get on a soap box” – but as you can see, this is a big issue to me and some of our dearest friends. Any advice on how to find a good body of believers?
Here’s how I responded:
The best way I know to find a good body of believers, believe it or not, is to stop looking. I sense your frustration with ‘church’ as we’ve come to know it, but I think as long as our focus is on ‘the church’ we’ll miss who Jesus wants to connect us to and how he wants us to live. Without sounding trite, I think we’re to be focused on HIM—growing in our relationship to him and letting him show us how to love people he as put around us in our neighborhood, at work, and wherever else we live in the world. Out of those growing relationships he’ll connect us to people we can share him with and others with whom we can walk together in the journey of faith.
I know that isn’t very concrete, and it does take a significant time. It is not as easy as looking up a group in the Yellow Pages and joining in, though if that works for you, fine! But more times than not ‘groups’ have other priorities above simply loving Jesus and loving each other and get into some of the same traps you outlined in your letter.
If you have dear friends, just learn how to love each other together and share your spiritual journeys of living in Christ. Don’t force it into the artificial nature of a ‘meeting’ but simply let it thrive in your relationships and how you get together. The church is not something we build, it is simply a way of living alongside each other that makes Jesus known…
As I’m coming to see it, it is simply the incredible connection between friends and friends of friends who are allowing Jesus to have first place in their lives.
I also received this email this weekend:
We agree that “friends and friends of friends” meeting relationally, and not just to have ‘a meeting’—seems so normal and natural, and FUN! As I told you when you were here, whenever any of the out-of-boxers (around here) tried to get together, somebody always had an agenda and it invariably turned WEIRD!!! Although we were initially excited at the prospect of getting together for fellowship, how it turned out sickened us, and we weren’t the only ones. I think the Lord allowed it to be like that to make the distinction clear: everyone at these meetings had made the decision to forsake religion, yet were once again getting entangled in it! Just because we were outside of ‘the building’ didn’t mean that religion wasn’t still running rampant in our hearts.
(I have a friend who) has been endlessly frustrated in that she has tried countless times to get believers organized and into fellowship together, but couldn’t understand why it never seemed to work. She’s beginning to see that to have friends simply meet for fellowship, potluck or to have fun together is an enticing, if somewhat unorthodox concept. I think the Lord takes us through various stages of detoxing us from religious activity.
I love when people discover that fellowship is not rocket science. For people growing in their relationship to Jesus, sharing that together is the most natural thing in the world. When we’re trying to produce the ‘church’ by our own ingenuity and effort we will find our pursuits as exhausting as they are futile.
When we live focused on Jesus, however, and simply loving others as he has loved us, we will find his church taking shape all around us.
It’s about Jesus! Always has been. Always will be!