Let’s Stop “Going to Church”

No, that is not a typo.

It’s what I intended to say—even though is seems to fly in the face of everything I have been taught and have taught as a pastor.

Yesterday as I was straightening up my computer desk I ran across an article that I had clipped out of the Jan/Feb 2019 Christianity Today magazine. The article by Dr. Krish Kandiah, entitled Church as Family, sowed the seed for today’s blog. Kandiah shared an illustration that reminded me of an experience at the small Bible College in Uganda where I have taught. In fact, I have said that if I return to teach there again, I want to address this problem.

The subtitle of the CT article said it well: “It is time to reclaim the church as something we belong to, rather than just an event venue.”

Kandiah shared about a man from northern Kenya who had fled to the south after converting from Islam, being disowned by his family and facing an imminent death threat. This believer from the north was granted sanctuary in a church building in the south. He was given a room with a mattress on the floor. Food and necessities were brought by church members every day. Now I quote:

The man was extremely grateful for their hospitality. But, he confided, the hardest part of his week was on Sunday morning after the church service when everyone went home to their families and their Sunday lunches, leaving him alone…. This church was so near and yet so far from Christ-like hospitality. The church building provided shelter, the church members provided sustenance, and the church event provided sacraments and spiritual teaching—but none of these were a substitute for the lifelong intimate commitment of a family.

The church members and the guest sleeping in the church were all Kenyans. All shared the same color of skin, but they failed to share the joy of being part of the same family, God’s family. I have witnessed a similar situation in Uganda where I discovered tribal prejudice within the Ugandan Baptist churches. When Great Britain carved out a colony in eastern Africa, they created a nation called Uganda. It may look like one nation on the map, but after centuries of tribal conflict, Ugandans remain a divided people. Sadly, that is still true to some degree within the Christian Church.

We have experienced a similar symptom when the American Church gathers on Sunday mornings—except we tend to divide over racial and theological lines. If there was any place in the world where color of skin, language and cultural differences shouldn’t matter, it is the Church.

Each of the familiar New Testament metaphors that describe the church share one common truth: there is but one Body of Christ and one spiritual building and one family of God and one Bride of Christ. Interdependence is the glue that binds us together in Christ. A building consists of many parts; each essential. A body consists of many organs; each essential to the health of the body. Families consist of different members that together make up one family. A husband and wife may be two distinct persons, each playing an essential role in the relationship, but in God’s sight, “the two have become one flesh.”

Every true believer or Christ followers belongs to one Church. Saints who lived nearly two centuries ago are part of the same Church, the one true Church, as I am today.

Please hear this: We don’t go to church, buttogether in Christ, we are the Church. My point? Let us stop just “going to church” and live like who we really are: the very body of Christ in a deeply wounded, confused, and unhappy world.

Krish Kandiah referred to a book, The Churching of America, 1776 –1990, stating that the American church is fundamentally shaped by free-market capitalism. I believe the recent emphasis upon Church Growth strategies reflects the above statement. Churches, whether we want to admit it or not, often become competitors seeking to get their share of the market. Success, based upon numerical growth, is rewarded.

After nearly 50 years of pastoral ministry I have occasionally pushed back against efforts to treat the local church like it was a business. The church is not an institution but a living organism. Yes, there are most certainly things we can learn from the business world—sound principles that can protect our integrity in communication and financial responsibility. As members of a true family, however, we must always give higher priority to relationships over statistics, graphs, and pie charts.

I share another personal example that reflects how corporate business practices have been adopted by the church. After retiring from my position at Foundry Church I deliberately stayed away a few years to encourage the congregation to accept and to love their new teaching pastor. After receiving much encouragement from the pastor and the elders to return to Foundry Church, we began to attend once more. I have tried to keep a very low profile.

A few months ago a newer attendee, upon discovering I was the former pastor, exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”

I understood the question It springs from the almost universally accepted mindset that former pastors, like CEOs of a major corporation, always clean out their desk and never return.

My response to the question was that Foundry Church is a family. I’m not a retired CEO, I’m more like a grandfather. And healthy families don’t put grandpa out to pasture.

I love our church family. I believe Foundry Church is almost unique in the way we practice being family. Several years ago we began interviewing members and attendees as part of the Sunday morning gatherings (now there’s a family word). If we are family, we should know each other.

Recently, one of our young women was interviewed. Kathy (not her real name) was leaving for college in another state. Kathy had grown up in the church, and after her grandmother passed away, continued attending even though she no longer had biological family members at Foundry Church.  In the interview she shared that she now saw Foundry Church as her family—and she was having a difficult time with the prospect of leaving us.

That’s the way church is supposed to be. The epistles are filled with “one another” commands such as love one another or bear with one another or encourage one another or spur one another on to love and good deeds. That is also the reason the author of Hebrews included the command not to forsake gathering together.

Sunday morning isn’t just an event that we “go to” or attend. It isn’t just the music or sermon or sacraments and ordinances. It’s a family gathering, a time to love on each other and, when necessary, encourage someone to act like a family member is supposed to act.

Life is tough enough as followers of Christ in a broken world without trying to go it alone. We need each other. We need family to support us. We need mentors to point the way. That is why we gather on Sundays.  Or, it should be. The way we love and accept one another is a great apologetic for the power of the gospel to transform lives.

So let’s stop going to church on Sunday. Let’s stop attending an event venue or a building. Instead let’s be the church and do church by making Sunday mornings a family reunion.