It’s no secret. You’ve read article after article about Generation Y’s reinterpretation of “church” to mean anything from sleeping in on Sunday morning to dinner with friends. In fact, you’ve probably done some experimenting yourself, or at the very least called your own beliefs about “church” into question.
In many cases, this stems from a movement that puts its faith in an active God, a God who emphasizes action over passivity. In essence, a go-and-do God, rather than a go-and-sit God. And if this is the case, certainly He would prefer that we avoid the building of church in favor of hitting the streets and standing up for the fatherless, the widow and the orphan, right?
God certainly places a huge emphasis on church in the Bible, but when the integrity of church leadership comes into question, there’s a tendency to panic and try to figure out a way to live a Christian life separate from a congregation. As a result, the argument is frequently made that Scripture references to church speak of the universal, invisible relationship between all believers in Christ, instead of the human institution recognized by gathering Christians under one roof for a weekly ritual. With this definition, unconventional Christians seem to have an “out” from a routine service centered on expectations and rules for behavior, but this perspective comes with a price.
The church building exists for the purpose of unity. I acknowledge that in many cases, this purpose gets confused and hidden behind a number of humanly ambitions and desires, none of which uphold God’s purpose for His church. We live in a fallen world, and even the best-intentioned churches and pastors can lose their way. They are, after all, just as human as you and me. However, what we see when this happens is not a call for change in that particular leadership in that particular building, but a reaction against all churches everywhere. Several bad experiences lead us to the conclusion that church is corrupt, and the only way to love God well is to love God alone. If there’s anything highlighted in Scripture, it’s that a Jesus-centered life needs to be done in community.
There’s a huge temptation here to pit Scripture against Scripture, to make a judgment call based on our experiences about which passages and verses speak louder and mean more. We decide to place our faith in verses that say, “On this rock I will build my church” and, “Christ is the head of the Church,” which emphasize the Church as a whole, and let verses that say, “For where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I among them” fall by the wayside. God calls us to “confess our sins to one another and pray for one another,” not hold it all in and hope for the best. He created Eve so that Adam would have companionship. Adam and Eve were immediately unified by their common knowledge of a greater good, a binding love.
There is no shortage of examples in which relationships are critical to the way of Jesus. What happens, though, is that when we’re burned by the Church, or when we get exhausted or bored, we flip through Scripture and determine that God never endorses a Sunday morning worship service, anyway. “Great,” we think. “I’m off the hook. I can quit this thing and not technically be in any trouble.”
The problem comes when walking away from the Sunday morning service means walking away from people. From God’s people. From the endless beauty of a common knowledge of a greater good. From people who will serve with you, pray with you, believe in you and fight for you. At the end of the day, the mystery of the Church isn’t a worship song or a sermon. If it is, then, sure, walk out of the building, load up your iPod with church podcasts and worship bands, and never look back. But the reality is that sermons and songs aren’t all that you give up when you walk away. You also sacrifice a community of believers.
Serving the fatherless, the widow and the orphan is a beautiful vision, and with every fiber of my being, I encourage you to do it. But understand that God knows what He’s doing. There isn’t a verse in the Bible that calls you out by name, but there is verse after verse and passage after passage that calls out believers. The New Testament letters aren’t written to individuals; they’re written to communities, to groups. Because service is most effective when hands are joined to do it.
If you’ve been in church (and even if you haven’t), you’ve caught glimpses of this before. You’ve helped feed the homeless or gone on a mission trip or played on a sports team and experienced the unity that comes with a common goal. For Christ-followers, Jesus is the common goal. Being surrounded by others who believe in this goal is how we survive in a world that strives every day to steal our joy and redirect our journey down a darker path. So stand up for the Church that God intended, vow to work for change, believe in a greater vision! But stay connected. Join forces. Don’t walk away.
Micah Smith works in the public relations industry, but has a passion for using her communication skills to impact the larger community.