I Don’t Need Church
I overheard this conversation recently at a men’s bible study.
“I haven’t seen you at church lately?”
“I haven’t been going much (at all).”
“Well I’ve just been really busy, lots going on, working a lot, just wasn’t feeling it, I just don’t think that church works for me”.
There usually follows a laundry list of reasons to justify the statement:
I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian..
I don’t need to go to church to be saved…
I don’t need to go to church to be spiritual…
I don’t need to go to church to have a relationship with God
In the past when I would hear some one say these things I would think: “That’s ridiculous how could anyone be serious about being a Christian and not be plugged into a church? I mean its like peanut-butter and jelly, hamburgers and fries, football and fall they just go together.
And then you see those who don’t attend church maybe your friends who have been excited about church life, attending on a regular basis, actively involved, lose interest and stop going.
My wife and I have attended our current church for over 7 years, have been small group leaders, and involved in various ministries in that church. There have been times that I found myself “not feeling it” fighting discouragement, and critical feelings towards others.
There was a period of time when many of my close friends left the church to go elsewhere and I found myself defending my church on various points with them. And yes there were times I thought about going somewhere else myself .
In an attempt to understand my own feelings of discouragement I decided to do some investigating.
Church: People or Place
The word church or churches is used 114 times in the New Testament. The Greek word for all 114 times is the same
Ekklēsia- a congregation or assembly
Jesus used this word in Matthew 16:18-
Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.
We see this word in:
Acts 20:28 So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church,
1 Corinthians 1:2 -I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people.
1 Thessalonians 1:1 -We are writing to the church in Thessalonica, to you who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 16:5 Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home.
It is clear that the primary use for the word church in the New Testament has more to do with people than it does a building or a location, and that Jesus and the writers of the N.T did not intend the focus to be on a building or a program but a community, people. When we look at the model in Acts 4:32 “During those days, the entire community of believers was deeply united in heart and soul”- we see the results of that unity and begin to understand that the church at it’s best is a local community of believers connected, interacting and growing with one another.
Why do people leave churches? There is enough blame to go around. People leave churches and churches fail people. I believe the following list provides some of the reasons
Lack of Relationship: Christianity was never meant to be lived out in the context of isolation, but rather in the context of relationship. “People are not looking for a friendly church, they are looking for friends at church” People come to church seeking relationships, looking for friends. Even Jesus chose twelve friends to share his journey.
Lack of Community: When healthy community is encouraged and value is placed on building it in the church it can be a life giving experience. When it is not it becomes just one more thing you have to do. Cliques, social climbing, not having a welcoming attitude (yes this happens in church) to folks outside your circle does not promote community.
Consumerism: In order to find community or to be part of a church community you have to be willing to do more than just show up. We tend to make our “church home” decision based on what the church will offer us without considering what we might offer the church. Community by definition is: “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals”. Merriam-Webster dictionary Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others
Spectators vs. Participants: Many pastors and church leaders will bemoan the lack of involvement and participation of those in the church, but many times due to lack of organization and sometimes because of control issues, fail to provide meaningful opportunities to serve. For some this is a perfect excuse to continue to be a consumer (see #3) for others who have the desire to serve it sends the message they are not needed. Churches/pastors who have the most success clearly present the mission and the vision and encourage people to find their place in it.
Wrong Priorities: “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship,to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
In this passage of Scripture we see characteristics of a healthy church
*Devotion to the Apostles teaching
*Breaking of bread
Nothing replaces the preaching of the gospel and the discipleship of the believer through the teaching of the Word. In our efforts to make church more attractive we have in some cases created an expectation of “entertainment” at the expense of solid, Bible based teaching. When people cease to be entertained they move on to the newest trendy location.As a result people do not grow spiritually.
The primary reason for attending church is to hear the preaching/teaching of the Gospel. If we allow anything to replace this our priorities are out of line with God’s purposes. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we read that “all scripture is is inspired by God to teach us what is true and right, and “that God uses it to prepare and equip his people for every good work”. It is through this that we are equipped to not only live the life but to share it with others. The first priority of any pastor is to provide sound biblical teaching, and the first priority of the attender is to have a heart ready to hear and receive.
From this comes fellowship, breaking of bread (yes it means sharing a meal) and finally prayer. For our pastors and leaders and for one another sharing in one anothers burdens and needs. The pastor of my church encourages us frequently to:
1. Attend a service
2. Serve in a service
3. Join a life (small) group
In other words don’t be a spectator get on the field.
Small groups are an excellent way to get plugged in and begin to develop meaningful relationships with others especially in a large church setting .
Finally the writer of Hebrews says:
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:25
There are many reasons why people leave the church and this list is by no means all inclusive. Whatever your reason might be I would encourage you not to give up- keep searching, have a heart ready to serve.
My prayer is that you would find that place of fellowship that is right for you.