Now that it’s advent (church word for time between Thanksgiving and Christmas) I’ve seen a lot of conversation online about the significance of worship and church this advent season. I agree, it’s a special time to be in church, waiting for Jesus to come. But for some reason this season I’m thinking of all the people who read my Facebook feed and think about all the reasons they don’t want to go to church for different reasons.
So, to play devil’s advocate, I present to you: Reasons to not go to church.
1. Church people are boring.
True, in my 26 years I have nodded off a few times in church. My claim to fame at my home church in Washington state was that I drew elaborate stick figure scenes that littered my bulletin almost every day during my confirmation years. But my attention span aside – I wonder if my bordem is the result of tuning out. Are you tuning out? Why are we tuning out?
I think the ripe question to ask is HOW can we tune out when challenging and controversial stories are all over the Bible? Like, in Luke when Jesus is graciously invited to a Parasisee’s house and promptly says “Go and sit down at the lowest place… for all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:10, 11).
Do you know what that means? That means I just had Thanksgiving with the wrong people! That means that I should have had Thanksgiving with the guy who was fishing through the trash can in the McDonalds parking lot, not with my family of similar racial, economic, ethnic, and class privileges as me. That would be kind of offensive, if I said that was a reason I didn’t show up to Thanksgiving this year, right?
My point: The gospel is offensive. TV commercials, American individualism, and our “Black Friday” culture are telling us the opposite of what Jesus is telling us and showing us to do. Jesus shows us that to be a Christian is to be anything but boring: it’s to be someone who stands up for the marginalized in our communities locally and abroad and donate our money and time accordingly; it’s to be someone who is acting and valuing things and people for the sake of the common good just like Jesus did; it’s to be someone that stands up to systematic oppression that results in the lifting up of the few and keeping the poor poorer and poorer.
To me, if that’s what it looks like to be a church person, sign me up. That’s nowhere near boring.
2. They just want my money.
This is one that I wrestle with. My instinct is dig into my research from my seminary education and share that churches don’t want your money! They’re about so much more! For some, this is true. For others, it’s not. I think churchs’ and individuals’ worry about money comes from a fear of the unknown – unknown about what tomorrow will bring.
Fear gets manifested into anxiety, and when anxiety talks, it talks loud.
It says things like “You really should think about building a fallout shelter in case we find ourselves in a nuclear war,” or “You don’t have enough friends,” or “You don’t have enough money.” Extreme examples, but are they really extreme? The concern that churches just want your money comes out of anxiety. Anxiety that says you won’t have any money left over when you exit the church service. But the money we have, the possessions we have, even our very bodies and lives, are gifts from God. We are called to serve God and our neighbor by sharing what we have with others.
That’s it. Relying on yourself to generate as much income as possible is to go against one of the first calls from God – to help each other and understand that our money, energy and time as gifts from God, not as things earned because we’ve been good.
We gather as followers of Jesus – church – and money goes to bills and such but to so much more – in service to the world. Isn’t that a movement you want to get behind? I know I do.
3. I’m not Christian enough.
A friend told me about this time she taught a class about theology at her church, and she remembers one class where a women refused to do anything other than stand in the doorway. My friend, her name is Siri, went to welcome her, and the woman said she was unsure if she was Christian enough to take this adult Sunday School-type class. With Siri’s encouragement, she eventually joined the class and together they walked through the 1st session through the last.
During this woman’s presentation of her personal theology, Siri recalls that she just beamed.
To me, this story tells me that Christianity, any religion, is not be consumed. It’s not something we eat up like sitting on the couch watching TV.
It’s something to be lived within our flesh and bones – it’s an identity that others bring out of us, who say “You’re smarter than you think you are”, and “That time when you moved across country with no secure job set up when you got there? You know something about God.” I challenge all of us to make churches welcoming, safe, and encouraging – not a place that says “You’re not Christian enough to walk through our door”, but a people, your people, who say “You know more about God than you might think – and we want to know what that is, because the world needs you to show up.”
If that’s what it means to be Christian, count me in.
I can think of plenty of other reasons to not go to church, but for some reason I keep finding more reasons to go. Why do you go to church? Why do you not go to church? What makes you curious about going (or not going) to church?