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A Christian in the world of today may utter the phrase, “I’m spiritual, but want nothing to do with the church.” And to be fair, there certainly are valid reasons why people would get turned off by many churches. But the question which must be asked is how much of the bad experience was the fault of the church and how much was because of the individual? In all but the worst scenarios, both share some fault. In this way and many others, the relationship between a Christian and church is similar to dating.
For starters, if we look for the wrong qualities, we should not be surprised when it ends badly. If a woman considers financial pampering to be a top priority in finding a husband, it makes no sense to become upset when he spends most of his time trying to make more money. Likewise, if a Christian desires a church with fancy light shows, professional musicians and expensive decorum, it should not be a shock when they expect us to pay for it. The point is, if we look for superficial qualities, we will get superficial results.
And how many times have we heard a Christian (or been the Christian) complaining about churches not caring about our needs and problems, but went for shallow reasons? Maybe they had a nursery so kids did not interrupt our time of worship. Perhaps we found the preacher to be charismatic and entertaining, despite almost never saying anything to challenge us. Or maybe we liked services never going over an hour and we could get on with the rest of our day sooner. But when a relationship is based on convenience and fun times, it is only natural for real issues to ruin the honeymoon. If we truly want a church filled with people who care about us, we need to look beyond petty preferences in the beginning. It should never just be about what the church can do for us. This then leads to the next point.
If someone goes into a relationship only looking for what they can get out of it, it is doomed to fail. Just the same, our connection to a church body will always fall flat when we only go for selfish purposes. Here in America, consumerism has saturated our culture. Unfortunately, every Christian is also just as susceptible to “gimme syndrome” as well. So if our idea of church is showing up to be fed spiritually and leaving, we are merely consumers. But if we feel a church is worth attending, it should also be worth becoming more involved in. After all, many of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven revolved around people carrying their weight instead of just wanting the benefits.
But the honest truth is, sometimes people at church will hurt our feelings. When this happens, many of us become turned off by that church or even churches in general. We would rather focus on our personal relationship with God than bother with all the gossip, hypocrisy and church politics. When we consider this from the dating perspective, it is no different than swearing off all relationships because one person broke our heart. Yet as the saying goes, there are a lot more fish in the sea. All men are not dogs and some churches are about more than greed and egos. But in any hurtful situation, we should always consider how much of it was because of our own brokenness. If we idolized a minister or only attended for some of the previously stated reasons, what may have been hurt more than anything is our Christian fantasy that a church should never have problems.
Some of us have found our own solutions to get around dealing with everything that comes with church membership. A common way is to get our fill of “church” from television ministers or other media. This way we can get the preaching without having to bother with church people. But is this really any different than people “dating” someone exclusively online? While it may be safer, at the end of the day there is no real growth or commitment. And both situations are certainly similar in that most are con artists who tell us what we want to hear so we will send them money. This then brings up a very important guideline for every Christian.
When we find a church which only says things we like, we have yet to find the right church. Being a Christian was never intended to be about a life of comfort. If Jesus is the example for every Christian as well as the head of the church, his ministry should be an example of what we should look for in a church. He did not tell people what they wanted to hear, but rather what they needed to hear. Yet he did so with compassion without watering down the point he was trying to make. In the same way we are to look for a church that will challenge us and bring about spiritual growth. Sticking to what is familiar because it is what we know, is like the person who lingers in a stale relationship because they are simply too scared to start over. While it may seem easier, at this point we are just going through the motions.
The reality is a church is not the building where Christians meet, but the people themselves. Therefore if we say we are a Christian yet refuse to belong to a church, are we truly a Christian at all? Jesus said the most important commandment was to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. So how is it that we have convinced ourselves we can love God without also loving people? Think about it. Jesus was perfect and lived in paradise, but gave it all up to come down here and deal our foolishness. Yet, we who are imperfect act as if it is too much to deal with other flawed people. If we cannot exercise patience, love and peace towards those who also belong to the body of Christ, are we being like Christ at all? Is the point of being a Christian not to resemble Christ more everyday?
As long as there is any organization or movement involving people, it will always be imperfect on this side of eternity. There will be people who offend us, rules we do not like and situations that make us uncomfortable. Likewise, every successful relationship includes our mate sometimes hurting our feelings, getting on our nerves and pushing our boundaries. But if we walk away from either situation because we expect everything to be smooth sailing, we only find ourselves repeating this scenario somewhere else. And should we decide to avoid commitment altogether, we will find ourselves in danger of trying to fill that void with something potentially more harmful.
The reason we are to be part of a church is to belong to a group who both challenges and supports each other to grow in Christ. But when something happens we do not like and we throw in the towel, what will we say to Jesus when we meet him? That we were more willing to hold onto a demanding job for money, than serve the church he loves? Or that we were more willing to put up with a difficult significant other, than the body of believers he bled and died for?
What often keeps us in both jobs and relationships is deciding the benefits ultimately outweigh the negatives. And when the benefit of finding and staying with a nurturing church is reaching more hearts and souls for God’s kingdom, how much more is this worth than all the money in the world? More importantly, is one wrong person or group in a church worth stunting our own spiritual development or abandoning the rest who are righteous? As much as we prefer to believe walking or staying away from church is no big deal, both us and the body suffer when we do. And if Jesus could love those (us) messy church folks enough to lay down his life, who are we decide they are not good enough for us to love ourselves?
By Corey Dorsey