“I love Jesus, I just don’t like church.” Anyone who has ever been part of a local congregation has probably felt that way. Christianity in its abstract form is a beautiful faith based on the perfect life of Christ. In reality, it’s a bunch of imperfect people, doing their best to follow a high calling while stepping on each other’s toes almost constantly.
It is challenging to be part of a local congregation. That may be why so many Christians are quitting going to church.
Most recently, Donald Miller expressed a similar view, saying, I think, that he simply doesn’t connect with God through the things we usually do at church, namely singing, preaching.
I have felt that way myself.
Shortly after Heather and I were married, we began to look for a church home together. After weeks of visiting various congregations, we were nearly in despair of finding one that fit our view of the Christian life and feel like home. It seems incredible to me now, but we—both lifelong Christains and churchgoers—had a serious conversation about whether we needed church at all.
You might think that a pastor has little choice but to stay with the church, but I wasn’t pastoring at the time. We could have quietly slipped away and few people would have noticed.
We didn’t do that.
While it is often difficult to live in fellowship with other people, here are four reasons I’m glad I stayed with the church—and I hope you will too.
1. Living in Community Makes Me Less Selfish
Most of my relationships are based on a transaction in which someone provides value to me and ensures my total satisfaction. In other words, I am a consumer just about everywhere I go—restaurants, the grocery store, the health club, even the library. Not at church. This is the one place (outside home) in which I must be a true giver, offering my time, attention, and even money to others without expecting something back. When I approached church as a consumer, I found it frustrating. When I learned to give, I started loving it.
2. I Believe What Jesus Said about the Power of Unity
Jesus said, in John 17:20–21—
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
I believe in this vision for unity and the powerful witness it gives to the world. When we are isolated from each other, especially over the petty grievances that divide so many Christians, we are weaker and less effective. When we fight through our differences and stay together, we all become more like Christ.
3. Being around Other Christians Makes Me Stronger
Next time you sit by a campfire, try taking one of the logs away from the fire. Two things will happen. The log will quickly burn out, and the fire itself will lose intensity. When I am connected to other Christians, my faith grows stronger, and theirs does to. Would I really remain a passionate follower of Jesus Christ in isolation from other Christians? I could, sure. But is that be the most likely result?
4. Working Together Multiplies My Impact
If the whole point of following Christ were to make me feel better, I might not need others. But that’s not the point. Our purpose is to continue the work of Jesus in the world, and none of us can do that alone. We need one another—in small groups, in congregations, in denominations, and in ecumenical associations. We can’t do this alone.
I don’t think I or my little congregation will ever fix the problems with church. They’ll always be there. And there will always be people who would rather pursue their own course with God than to do faith in community. Maybe we could do a better job of listening to their reasons for filtering out. I’m grateful to Donald Miller for pointing out a disconnect that many people experience.
But in spite of those challenges, the church’s potential is greater than it’s problems. I choose to be here. I hope you will too.