Don’t Go To Church?

Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)

I know I said I was trying to get away from ending titles with question marks, but perhaps it says something about where I am in life at the moment. Maybe as I begin the trek toward middle age (or, am I already there?) I am beginning to realize I have more questions than answers. Perhaps in truth, there really are fewer answers than we sometimes think there are.

This past week a couple things made me consider again why it is that we (the Campbells) “don’t go to church.” I have to put it in quotes because I just think that our phrasing leads us into bad thinking on the nature of the Church and corporate gatherings under the banner of “the church.” In scripture, the church is the people who belong to Jesus. It’s not a time, place, service, building, etc. It’s a people. So, by default, you can’t “go” to “church”. But, for the sake of this post, I will use the phrase “go to church” to mean attend a Sunday morning “worship” service.

A friend asked “what’s the deal with that?” regarding our not going to church, and as I was contemplating a response, I considered once again why don’t we go to church? There’s no harm in it – even if I think it’s not right and pointless… it wouldn’t kill us, would it? Couldn’t we get something good out of it? You’d think. But as I remembered recent times of attending such gatherings, I felt myself squirm a bit even as I simply recalled the events, thoughts, and emotions of the day.

Then I asked myself, “Why? Why does it bother me so much?” The only response I could come up with was that I have grown beyond that. That seems so arrogant, even as I type it, but it also seems to completely fit my understanding of the relationship that I have with my Father.

Allow me to explain.

Both Jen and I have come to a place where we really don’t like compartmentalizing life. We want to be who we are all the time. That applies to how we “educate” our children… there is not a specific time of “education”, but rather an environment of learning as you live everyday life. We teach as we go. And we go as we teach. The kids learn as they do, and ask to learn more.

It seems to be much the same with our relationship with God. Previously, our “spiritual life” could be a bit more easily identified as any times we were doing “God things”, like going to church, or other “church-related” activities, or reading our Bible, praying, singing, etc. Over the past couple years, we have tried to understand our relationship with Jesus as a very much more everyday thing. Everything we do involves him. There is no place we go to meet with him, since he is always with us. There is no time (necessarily) that is his, as he is always with us. All of life is accompanied by a friend whose level of intimacy with us can not be matched by any other person.

It just feels very odd then when we go to a place to “meet with” God… to “worship” him… and even at that place, there are times within the bigger time that we more “intentionally” meet with him. Add to that the bowing, and the standing, and even the slightly different language and tone of voice at times… all makes for a very strange experience.

I have learned to live every moment with God – the good and the bad – and have learned that his love penetrates all of that, and goes with me and before me. And it’s not just me… he loves everyone he has ever made just as much. I believe that his love for us actually draws us together. He wants us all to do life together, and so, just like he “brought [Eve] to the man” in Genesis chapter two… he brings his people together still. We don’t have to force it to happen.

The formality of our worship services – especially the way we address God, with whom I feel I have a very close, everyday relationship – just makes me feel very strange. It could certainly just be me. And I really don’t mean to imply what it seems I implied above, that all who attend such things do not have quite as good a relationship with their Father as I do. Not at all. I am just saying that for me, that is one of the big reasons it’s hard to attend those weekly (or more) gatherings.

And, I think I am pretty consistent in that area in that I really don’t like formality of any kind. I much prefer to just be who I am, and that you be who you are. Ceremonies of almost any kind are definitely not my cup of tea. πŸ™‚

I’m not sure that I am right about this, and would love any feedback. Please don’t be offended by what I have posted here. Your thoughts are welcome.

For now, though… that is (at least partly) why we “don’t go to church.”

13 Comments

  1. Well, this is a tough one….I do go to church. I do not feel that i have a different relationship with my father God then I do any other part of the week. So in much that you said I do agree. I do, however, believe that there is benefit in gathering in a larger group than is otherwise possible. Not for my relationship with Christ, necessarily, but maybe for people who are just discovering Christ. I think that it helps those that are seeking to see people with a good relationship with God. I do believe that it accomomplishes another task that Christ has asked us to do…teach others. By attending a worship service we emulate to others our relationship. We meet new people that we may be able to help in their journey. And when I have had a rough time connecting with God, which I believe that we all have from time to time, going to a worship service helps to get me back to what is important. Just hearing all of the voices singing in adoration pulls at my heart and helps to lift me up closer to He that understands me. The “church” building I view as a helping place. By going there I am trying to help others see Him, I am trying to help others know Him thru me. Of course I try to do this wherever I go, but by not going to “church” I have just taken one possible avenue of such things away. Well that is my two cents…..

    Reply

  2. I just read this article that seems slightly related… thought I would link to it here.

    Amy, those are all very valid points. What I am learning is to let God navigate me through those. To allow him to connect me with the people or even groups of people (though I do much prefer smaller settings where you can really share more deeply the stuff you are thinking through…) rather than attending a service once a week where I sit and listen to what someone has prepared. Again, that is not bad… I just know from experience that the most meaningful times for me have come in a less programmed, less formal, more everyday setting.

    Again, I am certainly understanding that it could just be my personality that leans toward that, but I really believe all of the benefits you credit to the weekly corporate gathering we call “church” actually happen more, and “better” (more lasting? more real?) outside of that setting. From my experience.

    Do you feel like (if you read the comments…) πŸ™‚ that you are better able to “help others see… know him through you” in that setting, or in your everyday conversations with neighbors, friends, family, your kids, etc? (Or is it just a “six of one…” kinda thing?)

    And, again… there are many reasons we don’t attend weekly meetings (some detailed above) but I have found much more meaningful connections with people take place not at those meetings, but in homes with friends, or even on the phone, or other means of communicating. There are certainly many “avenues”. And, we can’t do them all πŸ™‚

    I do agree with much of what you said, I suppose I just see it happening in a “better” way outside of the Sunday morning (or other time) “show”.

    Reply

  3. I don’t disagree with the relational part of what you are saying, however I do think that cutting off an avenue that you may be uncomfortable with is kind of like cutting off your nose despite your face. I personally believe that all avenues of the great commision are worth investigating. Now that being said, I am not one to say that this way is the only right way as you well know. So there is defnately no judgement here.

    And to answer your question, I believe that meeting new people on Sunday morning has been a great spring board for us to start relationships with others. It is not the only one, but it is one that we use.

    There have been times when I have not been comfortable going to church, you know that as well. And some of the reasons’ are exactly what you have stated. I have also felt many times that the things that I am uncomfortable with, with God’s help, I have worked thru and become stronger in my relationship to God because of them. In other words I do not depend on the “church” on sunday mornings for my growth. I use the church to help grow others…..

    Have a good day. I love a great discussion and it has been way to long!!!

    Reply

  4. Thanks for posting this response Greg. I was interested to hear how you had come to this place. I certainly agree with you that the “building” of the church and the formality of the service is not necessary for a close relationship with God, but there is an undeniable benefit to being in common worship and community with larger groups of people than just those in your immediate circle. You can get all sorts of nourishment from your friends / family / neighbors / people you run into, but what steps do you take to ensure that circle is always expanding? The church (ideally) facilitates that.

    To me the biggest problem though is the danger of becoming self-referential in your faith. Everything we do would seem great if only measured by our own standards. Church isn’t the only avenue for getting correction, but sitting under a pastor I respect and being in broad community with people I’m different from has often been helpful in checking the inevitable “levelling” I do to Christianity to suit my own predilictions / beliefs / comfort level / etc.

    What say ye?

    Reply

  5. Amy, I would disagree with you that “going to church” would be a good way to fulfill the “great commission” (and that’s a whole “nother” blog anyhoo…) πŸ™‚ It seems to me that the intended “target” of the GC is people who don’t know Jesus… who wouldn’t voluntarily “go to church”… but again.. that’s for another blog…

    AHP… I believe we think similarly, but I think the difference may just be in the way we get to the same place. I do love to “worship” and be in community with people… but that doesn’t mean sitting through a show with them. It can mean that, but I prefer really connecting… dialogue… etc. That doesn’t happen very well on Sunday mornings. (Though it can happen after or before or something… it’s just rushed.)

    What I think I’m hearing is that a big difference is that I believe any “benefit” of the Sunday morning gathering can be “obtained” and perhaps be even more rewarding outside of that place. Jesus leads his church, and that means that he puts people in the right places to “worship” and have “community” together at the right times. That certainly can be a Sunday morning gathering, but as I am saying… it happens even more (and maybe better) in other places.

    I’m not saying that such gatherings/meetings should be abolished or are harmful. I’m saying we have found more of all the things you say we are missing by not attending such meetings with any regularity. And that’s a frustrating part to me… people think we are leaving something behind when in fact we are not at all. We only have more time to actually connect with people.

    And as for the wider circle… I really believe it comes down to what I said above… that God makes that happen. God is the one who widens our circle. God connects us with the people – whether great friends, acquaintances, or even just a connection for a certain moment at a certain place – that he wants to connect us with. Again, that can certainly happen through what we call “churches”, but not being at those does not mean it is not happening.

    (The bold was for emphasis…) πŸ™‚

    As for the uneasiness… not sure why, but it is very real. And actually, that’s why I posted this in the first place. It really does go back to where I have come in the past decade or so of knowing Jesus. He is very real, he is my closest friend, I know he loves me completely… and so… to sort of separate myself from him and treat him in a more formal way… does make me feel strange.

    Again… probably more for another blog. πŸ™‚

    Reply

  6. Handz Camz,

    I agree that there are ways to get all the stuff you get in church outside the church, but you still miss the corporate ritual of the “gathering of believers” (I know it only takes 2 and we gather and all that), but something is lost when you don’t belong to a broad worshipping body.

    Also, I have to bring you back to my real concern. How does staying within your circle (unless God leads you out of it) keep your faith from becoming self-referential? People are prone to seek their metaphorical “level” in whatever they do (which is why we tend to slack off just enough at work), and through ritual and outward disciplines we help keep ourselves focused. That’s why I continue to “date” my wife of 10 years, and sign up for 5k races to motivate me to train harder.

    Reply

  7. Bops, πŸ™‚

    I guess I think our circle always changes. I mean, in some ways it stays the same, and in other ways it changes. And I do believe that God leads that. Doesn’t it work that way for you? Whether it’s a move to a new job, a new city, or perhaps your friends moving away, etc… doesn’t life always change? The people we hang out with these days are not the same people we spent the most time with even two years ago, and definitely not 5 years ago.

    I do see what you are saying, but I think you are evidence that while part of us may fall into routine or “safety” … another part of us does not want that. Some part of us always wants to grow, to be better, to do better… which is why you date, which is why you run. Which is why I am always reading, thinking, pondering, conversing, watching, listening… with God and with others. I may not agree with even most people that I speak to or things that I read/hear… but they continue to shape me, and God shapes me through them.

    And I submit once again… all of this happens – individually or in a small or large group – even outside of the sunday morning gatherings of believers.

    This does not mean those gatherings should be abandoned by all, but the things you are suggesting that I am missing – that we are missing – we are not missing. God continues to provide those in different ways. To us, they are even better ways. For us. πŸ™‚

    Actually, if you really want more… this is what my book was all about. πŸ™‚

    Reply

  8. By the way…. wasn’t just trying to sell more books. πŸ™‚ There’s a free PDF download at the link one comment above πŸ™‚

    Of course anyone is welcome buy any of my books anytime they’d like! πŸ™‚

    Reply

  9. I love buying your books man.

    I hear what you’re saying about getting inputs from other areas besides church, and I agree that my world shifts without me having to do anything all the time.

    I actually agree with you more than my comments let on. I’ve struggled with the idea of church for about the past 7 years. We’ve had a great place to go most of that time, but I’ve felt myself “falling out of love” with the idea of an organized service. I’ve come to a place though that I think going to church is a spiritual discipline that serves our personal relationships with God even when we don’t think it is. I’m not sure that means we have to go without fail, but I do think it means that God uses the artifices we’ve covered “church” in to serve us. That might mean in 100 years church will be a gathering on the Internet. If it does, I think God will be using that as a place to reach people in a way they don’t get when they are “free agents”.

    Not a sermon, just a thought. (sorry Lon).

    BTW – Predictably, I teared-up with that song Cinderella.

    Reply

  10. Yeah, that’s interesting. All of this started again when you asked why we weren’t “going to church” (I mean… if you read my blog regularly, you know that I have been wrestling with what is authentic, real life with God for the past probably 4 or 5 years at least? No… probably since I first really met him.)

    In reality, we don’t even think about it that much. We are enjoying life as God has given it to us… loving our kids, our family, our friends, and helping out where we can with them and any other chances God gives us.

    But your question made me wonder again why don’t we go? It couldn’t hurt, right? And… maybe that’s true. But what we have found is that it does. For the reasons listed above as well as some that could seem pretty silly. (Mornings do NOT work for the Campbell family for one… then, we really like doing life together, as a unit. “Churches” are very into age segregation and such… again, just not our cup of tea…)

    So, there are many reasons… but the reasons why I still even consider it an option at all have pretty much been detailed here. It’s certainly a place that people are, and people who love God like I do.

    That can’t be all bad. πŸ™‚

    The thing that could be bad is when we make attendance at such a thing a requirement for being a follower of Jesus. That’s just silly. Along with many other “requirements” that such organizations impose on their members. (Many of those requirements are silly.)

    But… that’s for another blog. πŸ™‚

    Perhaps we can carry on this conversation in person next time we are together. πŸ™‚

    Until then… anyone else feel free to weigh in. πŸ™‚

    Reply

  11. I found this blog interesting Greg and particularly your discussion with Amy and Adam. First thing that came to mind for me was “what are the functions of the church?” (i.e. what does the church really do that provides reason for Christians and/or non-believers to attend). Then I thought, what would be tough to replace if you didn’t attend. The first two things that came to mind were:

    1. Organized, targeted, giving – through tithe, time, sweat, whatever means…organized church gives you more of these opportunities to serve/give than you could easily find/organize/get involved in on your own.

    2. Focused, multi-party prayer – churches typically announce or otherwise convey issues/situations related to the congregation that they believe will be benefitted by being prayed for by as many church members as possible. Not attending a church, you miss out on the opportunity both to pray for and be “prayed for.”

    Just a quick search brought up this article as well:

    link

    -heent

    Reply

  12. Hey Heent
    Didn’t get to read the link yet, but will. Just a couple quick thoughts… On the last one, that’s interesting. I guess I would just see it as another thing that actually can happen without attending the worship services… we are known by many different “churches” because of friendships we have with people who are connected with other people who are connected with those groups. Ya know? So… again… I think that still happens in the normal course of everyday life.

    As for the giving/serving thing. You’re right. That’s cooler as far as what you can do (visible results) in a larger group setting. I guess I like the idea of a group of people who really have existing relationships (not just attend a weekly presentation) getting together when there is a need and pooling their resources (money, time, sweat) to meet that specific need.

    It still just all boils down to relationship vs institution for me, and Jen. It seems that the functions (or desired functions/goals) of a church are actually most effectively met/carried out relationally. Via real relationships of real people. Not structured, obligation-based ones. But real people who really care about each other – not just because they both attend a service together.

    That’s my 2 cents. Or… maybe like… 12 cents. πŸ™‚

    Reply

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