Alongside a faith in Jesus Christ and being able to play a four chord sequence on the guitar, being an enthusiastic member of a church is one of the crucial elements of being defined as a Christian. We sing songs, drink coffee, eat an awful lot of biscuits, and, if we’re really well-behaved, take notes during the sermons.
But I don’t fit the mould of a good, church-going Christian because I very rarely step foot inside one any more.
When I moved to a new city a couple of years ago I instantly threw myself into looking for a church to be a part of. It wasn’t something I even stopped to consider, because if I wasn’t part of a church didn’t that signal some sort of faith-crisis? Would I not become part of the huge number of twentysomethings who are haemorrhaging out of the church…and the faith?
I quickly committed to a church community, partly out of genuine desire to be part of church, and partly to keep up appearances. It was ok, but I stopped looking forward to going to church. The times I did drag myself there I ended up leaving feeling like I had just wasted my time and energy. At best I got a free coffee and something to do on a Sunday night that didn’t involve nursing a hangover. Most of the time, however, I left feeling drained, isolated and frustrated.
Aware that I should both look for somewhere that was the right place for me, but also not treat church as part of consumer-culture, I left and tried somewhere else. I was on a rota, in a small group and did my utmost best to make it out of bed and into the service on time. But it was the same all over again, and eventually it stopped being something I even considered on a Sunday morning.
So here I am. Christian, but church-less.
Don’t get me wrong – I agree that Church is important. It’s fantastic, and vital, to be part of a community where you encourage one another, grow in your faith and support each other through the dark times. Ideally I would be part of such a church, whether that meets in a church building with power points and heated floors, or a living room over a pot-luck dinner. Increasingly however, this isn’t the reality for so many Christians. Not everyone has good experiences with church. Not everyone can get to church on a Sunday morning. Not everyone likes the format of the traditional ‘sing songs and listen to one person speak from the front’ church service.
The biggest struggle I have right now is not my lack of church, but the judgement I feel from others. Just because I am not committed to one church exclusively doesn’t mean I am not committed to the church. It doesn’t mean that I am not growing in my faith. It doesn’t mean that I have stopped learning and seeking. It does not mean that I am devoid of community and input from other Christians. It doesn’t mean I will never again be committed to a particular church community.
It certainly does not mean that I am no longer a Christian.
I don’t want to be part of a church just because it’s expected of me. Although there are many reasons why people leave the church which need to be addressed (something I will write on in the near future), we shouldn’t automatically view it as a bad thing that someone finds themselves a nomad for a season. Nor should we try and force anyone back into the traditional western model of church just because that works for us. Let’s take more time to meet people where they are at, just as God meets us where we are at, and realise that so often ‘church’ extends far beyond a sunday morning.
This post is not meant to insult anyone or write off any method of being church, that completely defeats the point of what I am saying. I simply want to share where I am at and partake in an ongoing discussion with those who similarly struggle. Some resources I love at the moment are the nomad* podcast (http://www.nomadpodcast.co.uk/) and Rachel Held Evans’ new book: Searching for Sunday: Loving, leaving and finding the church.