I’m a church skipper. I’m a Christian, follower of Christ, lover of people. I believe in the importance of church and community, yet I skip.
I’m not a morning person, so there’s that, but there’s also people. While I dearly love people, they also can be truly annoying. And like family, we don’t pick who slips into the church fold. There are so many people who define church differently, and there are forms, blogs and discussions about the importance of church. Ol’ Webster tells us that church is “ … a body or organization of religious believers, such as: the whole body of Christians.”
But just because people call themselves Christians does not mean they follow, obey or understand the grace of Christ in the same way that I do. Plus, there are all these different denominations, and who’s the judge on who’s right or wrong? Could it be that each type of church that calls on Jesus as Lord is good, along with their various traditions and liturgy, but they’re just different?
And did I mention I'm not a morning person? Church can be held anywhere and at any time, but I am referring to the traditional morning hour, on a Sunday, that most Christians would call “church-going.”
No matter when you go, if you go, how often you go or what denomination you’re a part of, “Church is not a sanctuary for saints but a hospital for sinners.” Yet we seem to be in an age when simply being in church is one of the most counter-cultural moves we can make.
Author and friend, Sarah Condon, who’s a wife, mom and clergy-person, says, “People tell me regularly that they do not want to go to church because they have been burned by it, that it is full of hypocrites, and that people only attend church as a status symbol. I don’t care where you are on your spiritual journey with the Lord: Pharisee, apathy, or agnostic. Maybe you’re mad at Him? Maybe you’re acting like you’re not? Maybe you need a place to fall apart, or maybe your 10-year-old daughter does. Just find a back pew at a church and take a seat. You are not there just for the sermon. Human beings can be hit-or-miss. You’re there for Jesus. Or rather, He is there for you. Listen to Him. He will wash your feet. He will tell you to love one another.”
Let’s run to Him and fall at His feet. When my four boys were young and challenging, and Minnesota winters were cold and testing, church was not on my list of favorite activities. Yet I wanted my boys to go to church because I thought it was good for them, and it turned out it was — for all of us. I’d sometimes hear, “Why do we have to go to church anyway? I don’t want to go.” My answer was for them just as much as it was for me: “Because it’s not about you. Love God. Love others. Get in the van.”
Our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak.
Now on Sunday mornings, the down comforter is comforting, along with the realization that I probably shouldn’t have had that second glass of wine, and of course there’s that writing assignment due Monday, so I can easily justify staying in bed and skipping. However, when I do go to church, God always seems to put someone in front of me to love and someone there who loves me right where I’m at. Church is community, and that’s something we all need.
I bet you or someone you know has felt that their faith and love of God, with their identity as a Christian, is measured by how often they attend church. But I’ve yet to meet anyone who knew God through rules and religion.
People go to church and get to know Jesus because of His work on the cross. His death and resurrection are powerful. There’s power, too, in sharing with others, honestly and sincerely, our personal struggles, missteps and hopes. What if church was more like an AA meeting (i.e. “Thanks for sharing. Who would like to share next?”)? Our identity needs to be from who God says we are and not what others say or think. It’s hard if you tend to be an approval addict.
My pet peeve is when someone reminds me to represent Jesus well. I always think I suck at representing Jesus well, but He represents me well. I could never do enough good things and perform Christianity well enough. I need Him. I need community and church for accountability and confession just as much as I need to be encouraged to do good things for Christ because (as all Christians know) “faith without works is dead.”
My oldest son, while in grad school for pastoral ministry, had thoughts on the subject of representing Jesus: “Mom, of course you are to do good works to represent Jesus well.” And I’m like, “I know, but sometimes we think God loves us more if we do good works and Christian-y activities, and I’m just at the point of sharing the bottom line truth: Jesus loves us no matter what we do and He gives us ‘works’ to do out of His love for us.”
Serving others gives us meaning in our lives. God knows this. He gives us talents to serve others so we have purpose. You’ll hear people say, “I’m a Christian. I believe Jesus died for me. I’ve given my life to Him and I’ve accepted Him.” But if you don’t see any change in that person’s life, with identity-shifting behavior or any sort of transformation, you’re thinking, “Where’s the joy, the peace in their life? What’s the problem?”
Maybe it’s because they have no real grasp on how desperately God’s grace is needed and therefore there’s this stingy attitude toward life and others. If we’re looking at people and their good works and judging like, “Wow, this person is a mess and they are not doing well; they don’t deserve grace," then that’s our problem. None of us deserve anything. We all have a mothership of debt, and therefore the size of the payment is beyond comprehension. To really understand grace, and for grace to be transforming, first we have to understand the debt.
The second thing we have to understand is the magnitude of the provision. There are people who understand that they are pretty bad and flawed, but they aren’t convinced of the magnitude and sufficiency of the provision. The gospel of salvation by grace through faith and the work of Jesus Christ alone, and substitutionary atonement . . . we just don’t get it. But when we begin to get it — wow — we’re alive; the church is alive.
At the end of the day, isn’t it about having a heart to serve and worship God? Let’s go to church because we get to and not because we have to. And when we don’t go, it’s OK because God goes on loving us. While we may just miss out on being and/or receiving a blessing on that particular Sunday, my motto still works: “Love God. Love others. Get in the van.”
Editor's note: This column is a regular feature of the Detroit Lakes Tribune's monthly Faith page. Debbie Griffith is a Minnesota-based, faith-focused speaker, writer, radio personality and entertainer. She attended high school in Detroit Lakes.