There are a million everyday reasons why going to church on Sunday is too hard/inconvenient/not practical. And as summer beckons with its warm magical outdoor possibilities, even more reasons where church vs a hike on a clear blue day or a warm croissant at the local bakery after rolling out of bed around 1pm... well, you probably know what you'd choose as well as I do.
I confess that we haven't been to church in at least a month, and even before then, since the birth of our daughter, our attendance was spotty at best. And we have lots of legitimate reasons, from crazy weekend working schedules to unexpected baby meltdowns. (The car seat was feared and reviled by all of us for a few stressful months). And after living, breathing, and working at the church for three years, I need a break once in awhile...aka every week. Or so I successfully tell myself.
Never mind the existential reasons from the classic Vancouver-speak: "I'm just not feeling it today..." to the social anxiety some of us feel or the perceived slights and snubs of our fellow church goers or more dangerously, the feeling of shame when our week has been decidedly heathen and we feel like frauds for showing up on Sunday and singing along with gravel in our mouths, tripping again over a misunderstanding of grace. Or maybe you've decided while our gifted teacher and preacher, Tim Horman, is on sabbatical, you'll just skip church altogether as it won't be nearly as good without his sermons.
There are a million reasons not to go to church. I’m guessing you’ve got a few good reasons of your own from visiting family to shift work to soccer games to kid’s activities to disappointment at the worship...the list goes on.
And there is a lot of handwringing, in print and from the pulpit, on the numbers of people leaving church and how best to get them back. There are piles of earnest paperbacks with cool fonts urging us to re-think church and give church a chance.
Some people successfully mitigate these non-church going tendencies through a carefully cultivated guilt factor. I was brought up like this...come hell or high water, a screaming fight with all family members involved in the car, or extreme lateness, or a vehicle breakdown, we would still manage to slip into “our” pew every Sunday. It was almost as if our weekly church attendance was a way to tell ourselves, no matter how disconnected from God we had managed to become during the week, that “We are still good. We made it to church.” Some folk show up every Sunday to avoid judgment, while others skip church to avoid the same. The classic opening greeting, “Where have you been?” is something I personally like to avoid answering at all costs, as I might just appear to be completely utterly backslidden, or get a lecture from someone who lives a hundred miles away and has seven children, and they manage to come every week on foot with handmade pies to share with everyone, so why can’t I get it together?
Some sign up for a team, crew or task and that gets them out of bed in the morning and church becomes another activity that requires attendance. The ultimate version of this plan is to make yourself indispensable so that you are always needed - become a hardcore volunteer who serves without ever complaining, or become a paid staff member and never, ever take a break. There will always be more to do and someone needs to do it.
And then there’s the “suck it up” message to keep us coming. You’ve heard it before: church is hard. Church is full of people you don’t like. No matter what church you pick, you will be disappointed. Church isn’t supposed to be fun, or enjoyable. This rhetoric always lures me in, because I want to be a better person, a less selfish person, a person with fewer judgments and preferences, or at least a person who seems nicer than I actually am. So I suck it up and overlook the things about church (as if I am an outsider looking in objectively) that I don’t like. I go to church in spite of these people or that annoying song they always sing...church becomes a “they” to be endured, a challenge to overcome on the road to individual sainthood.
Or some walk away altogether and choose an “alternative” Christian lifestyle and become allergic to tradition, churches in general, and anything that even slightly hints at an ecclesiastical background. These folk may then try to re-enter the Christian tradition and attempt to revolutionize the church by creating new, hip or deconstructed versions of church with names that could mean anything and everything but church.
I am being slightly flippant here on purpose, but sometimes a little exaggeration helps to expose the lies we tell ourselves. We can rationalise pretty much anything, including why we don’t go to church.
Things are about to get real, though. We should all really just stop with the excuses and stop going to church.
It's okay. Take a breath. I did just say that.
The reason is simple. We should stop going to church because church isn’t a place. We need to stop pushing ourselves to go or pushing the weekly attendance away out of a misplaced understanding that church exists without us. Church doesn’t just sit there all week, full of everyone else but you awaiting your attendance as you slide into a seat. I tend to have this picture of church as being in some kind of suspended animation - a snapshot of a continual Sunday morning in paused motion, a place that exists with or without me.
When I worked for our church, next Sunday was always just around the corner, and the moving parts and pieces that came together every week relied not on infrastructure, sound gear, communion bread, and worship set lists alone. All of these things were both the product of people’s creativity and their continued participation - from the early morning service of the crews setting up chairs and picking up fresh bread to the carefully and prayerfully discussed order of service and the songs, words and multimedia presentations. I always knew I had the balance wrong when I’d have an unexpected visit from someone midweek and wish they would go away so I could keep organizing and getting things checked off my list. My list existed by, and for, the people, not the other way around. All of the well-executed logistics in the world mean nothing if there are no people they are serving and bringing together.
It’s so simple it’s still hard to wrap my head around, having been steeped in this consumerist culture where we produce and consume and exist defined as workers and aspire to be “productive people” who earn rewards in exchange for our labour and completed lists. We are measured by how we perform, what we produce, and what we accomplish. There’s not a lot of room for “being” or “loving” or “giving” in this modern paradigm.
We need to stop going to church as a destination, stop performing church, stop producing Sunday mornings and start being church.
You and I, we are church. The day we signed up with Jesus, we became a part of this amazing, living, growing, global, changing collection of people celebrating since Jesus was here the first time around:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many...God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:20-27)
So when I’m not with you, and we are not together, worshiping, praying, eating, crying, laughing, sharing, discussing, disagreeing, encouraging, and just being with each other, church isn’t quite the same. It’s not the same without you or me. It isn’t church because it doesn’t exist without us. I need your company to drink deeply of the Spirit and you need mine. We hold one another up and together, and at least one day a week, we get the chance to remind ourselves that we are the church. In this city, with this group of people, that moment happens to be Sunday mornings at 10am. That’s a moment to look in the mirror, and see the body. To see yourself and Christ in the people sitting next to you and remember who you really are.
When we lay down our million reasons for skipping church, our plans, our productivity and our getting ahead of ourselves and spend time together in Oikos groups, in prayer groups, in shared meals around a thankful table, in backyard barbecues, on a Sunday morning, in working shoulder to shoulder to help someone out of suffering, we are the church. Sunday mornings, especially, should be a joyous reflection and reminder of what already exists and what we all carry together - church doesn’t end when the last song plays or the kids come rushing back from Sunday school. We don’t stop being the church when we leave the building.
For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
That’s church. More than one person, together, simply because of Jesus. There’s no mention of times, days of the week, correct orders of service, dress code, length of sermon, colour of carpet.
And once you’re in, you’re in for life. Because you belong to God now, and we belong to each other. And no matter where you are in the world, or on a Sunday morning, you are a part of this body. Whether you are recognised or ignored, have a specific role to play, a task to complete, an instrument to play, a hand to shake or just a seat that you can sit in, you are the church. We are the church.
It’s been too long since we’ve been church together. See you Sunday?