Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? Why We Should Choose Church Anyway
Let me say, I appreciate his honesty and enjoy his thinking, which is often out loud and causes worthwhile discussions. He provokes—and that's what good writers do.
Miller writes that hearing sermons and singing songs is not how he connects with God. He says this causes church services to be difficult for him. He doesn't go often because, he says, "It's not how I learn."
So how does Miller find intimacy with God? He continues:
The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I've got my hand on the plow.
A few years ago, I was at a similar place. I had been the interim pastor at a church of 9,000 members. I loved the church, the people were great, but I just showed up on Sunday and preached. I lacked community with them.
Then I was done serving at that church and was suddenly an attendee and not the pastor. I, too, found I don't get much out of sermons, even the good ones. Honestly, there is not much new content I learn at church. Finally, I am easily distracted and the slow pace of sermons lets my mind wander, so I'd rather read a good sermon than listen to one.
So, I could've just stayed home.
But, I didn't. And neither should you. Church is more than sermons and music, it's community, mission, ordinances, and so much more.
Our church involvement is not just anticipated (1 Corinthians 12:27), but commanded (Hebrews 10:25).
I took some time over the last few days thinking over the issues Miller raised. The more I think on it, the more I see his comments are worth noting, but not emulating. Here are three reasons I found for attending (and committing to) a local church and why I think you (and Don) should.
You see, the church is where you experience the love of God, support God's people, and accomplish God's mission.
1. Experiencing God's Love
In Ephesians 5:22-32, Paul speaks of the love that should be present between a husband and wife. He compares it to the love shared by Christ and the church.
You just really can't love Jesus and ignore his wife. He loves the church—and you should be part of the bride He loves. Part of that is loving it "gathered" (and the other part is loving it "scattered," but that is for another day).
In gathering together for worship in a local church, Christians experience the love of God for his people. Sure, we must distinguish between capital "C" Church and lowercase "c" church (the people of God around the world and the local group of believers with whom we gather), but the Scriptures indicate a clear need for togetherness within the people of God.
Earlier, in Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul writes that we are members who are joined and built together as the "household of God." That takes feet and faces, not just books and electrons. In the New Testament, community requires (and clearly assumes) congregation. So it should be with us.
2. Supporting God's People
Scriptures teach that you need to go to church.
Now, I get that it is much more than a building that we go to. We need to be the church, not just go to church. I could add 14 more caveats and still not cover them all, but I'm sure someone will object to the idea of "going" to church.
But, the fact is, Hebrews 10:24-25 is still in the Bible and it says:
And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
The writer of Hebrews clearly took issue with believers "staying away" from worship gatherings. Gatherings of God's people are a means of encouraging one another—and we need that support. And we need to give that support to others.
Yes, church can be a mess—and a pain—but it is still God's plan. As Augustine famously explained, "The church may be a whore, but she is still my mother." Or in this case, she may not be the best way you learn, but you still need her and you can still be of benefit to others within her.
Hebrews 10:25 matters. Still.
3. Accomplishing God's Mission
The average church service is not the best venue for many. We need to not miss that. I resonate with that sentiment because I am the same way. I, too, connect to God through working and I love that sentiment.
But this is beside the point. This discussion is more than simply whether the church is for you, if it meets a need or if you feel you don't need it.
The fact is that God has chosen the church to be his instrument. Ephesians 3:10 says, "This is so God's multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens."
Now, the church is not the center of God's plan—Jesus is. But the church is central to God's plan. It is the means through which God has chosen to work.
Find a Way to Live Those Church Commands
So, ultimately, I get it. I often feel the same as Miller (and perhaps many others)—I don't always need the church, at least in my own mind. But, those teachings of scripture don't just go away.
So, I had to choose not to stay home (or to just go because people would expect me to go). Instead, I decided to volunteer my time as a pastor and plant a church. Sure, I could just write and speak, flying around the country talking about living on mission. But, I know I needed this thing called church, most specifically though the small group I lead in my neighborhood, an imperfect litte group that prays for and encourages one another each Sunday night.
So, perhaps the approach of many churches won't resonate with many. If so, it gives us an opportunity to engage in new approaches of church. If, perhaps, we don't benefit in a lecture style, maybe we need to be part of an organic church where there is a dialogue around the room, or a missional-incarnational community which is using efforts in a third space to ultimately create a church that meets the biblical marks and definition of the church.
Be bold, not by leaving, but by creating. Be a part of a church that has the marks of a biblical church but learns and engages differently. Be a part of a different kind of church (and others may join you for they feel the same), but still be a part.
We are more than consumers of church preferences. We are co-laborers, called to live and serve in this thing called church.
It's not about You (or Me)
At it's simplest, the church is not just about you. You and I are not customers, but rather we are co-laborers in Christ. You are a disciple, following a Savior—who established a church and placed you in it with other people who also need your presence and partnership.
Certainly, someone can be a Christian and not go to church. Yet, the bigger question is whether someone can be a fully obedient Christian and not be involved in a local church—and that's hard if we see the teachings of the Scripture as our guide to life and practice.
The Church is God's Plan
In an essay he wrote fourteen years after his conversion, C.S. Lewis communicates the realization many of us go through:
I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn't go to the churches. . . But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren't fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.
Those dirty booted individuals often help remind us of how far we have to go. And maybe we can help them as well.
The church wasn't an optional idea for a portion of Christians—it's part of God's plan for all believers.
I/we/Don need this community called church, even when we don't know it.
- Chris Martin assisted with this article.
For more of a discussion of that point, listen to this helpful radio program from Doug Bursch, who lives in the Northwest and addresses a bit of Donald Miller's approach and read Aaron Earls' helpful article in Facts and Trends magazine.