I spend a lot of time thinking. Like, a lot of time. My friends will often come to me if they are making a decision, because they know I have what it takes to overthink things on their behalf and predict the ten possible outcomes for their scenario. When it came time to write this blog, I loved the title for this series, “On my heart.” It forced me to switch out of, “What do I think people will want to read. i.e. What is strategic, what will make for a good read,” and instead simply shut my brain off and ask God, “What matters to me, right now, in this season.”
So, here we go!
We are setting off on a journey of my own raw processing, with the prayerful hope of God shedding light through His Word on His perspective and what we are called as His church body to do as a result.
What is Church Anyhow?
I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last few years trying to figure out what the church is supposed to look like. There is a whole movement called, “The Dones.” The individuals who love God, have a relationship with Jesus, but simply are done living as a part of a traditional church community. I have found myself frequently straddling that line myself. I remember it started about eight years ago when a friend pointed out, “You know, the layout for a Sunday morning service like we do it at church is not outlined in the Bible.”
My mind was blown! I could not believe I had not thought that through before, and suddenly I was frustrated that despite my decades in churches, no one had pointed that out to me and a little frustrated at myself for never putting that together from my own Bible reading. Nowhere did it say to sing 4 songs, have a tithe message, sing another song while the offering buckets were passed, then have a pastor speak for 40 minutes, do a dismissal, and everyone is then free to head home with no guarantee you would interact with another human.
That started my digging into what the Bible does say the church is supposed to look like…everyone giving what they have, gathering together, entering His courts with praise and thanksgiving, taking care of the poor and each other, serving those in need. All good things, and all things which draw me to God’s heart.
This left me wondering, should I just cut out the church from my life and instead do all the things the New Testament describes? Find myself a dedicated small group of people strong in their faith, find a non-profit I value and serve with them, give generously, and so on?
I was speaking with a friend recently, and the hard truth hit me… the more I make my faith all about me, the more it makes sense to leave the church. After all, if I can predict the ending of all of the pastor’s stories, is there really a reason to go? But, when I flipped my heart over to thinking about the heart behind the New Testament church’s creation and how God designed it to operate, then yes, perhaps I can still predict the next scripture the pastor’s point is leading up to, but what about that stranger sitting next to me? This may all be new to them…and maybe, that is exactly why I am there. Maybe I am supposed to turn to them after service is done and ask them what they thought about service. Are they looking to get into community? Would they like help doing so?
Being the Church Anyway
I have been known (at least in my own heart) to have a chip on my shoulder criticizing how churches operate: Why do all the pastors sit together instead of spreading out in the sanctuary? Why aren’t the pastors mingling with strangers? Why don’t those worship leaders go hangout with a loner in the back? And so on. But at one-point years ago in my grumbling to God about church operations, He so kindly reminded me that though I am not paid to do so, I am a part of the body…so if my heart is so strong in reaching out to people, why am I not the one doing exactly what I think they should do?
It is far easier for me to judge than to be the church within the church. It seemed simple once it hit me, but I was attending a large church at the time. I knew how many paid people were in that building at any given moment on a Sunday, and it simply did not sit well with my justice-bent personality. For the longest time I did not choose to give grace and recognize that I had no idea what their assigned roles or responsibilities even were. It was just me judging all they were not doing, most specifically the things I deemed important. It was much harder for me to celebrate all they were doing, most specifically when they were things I did not deem important…notice the pattern there? My impression was based on my opinion, my perspective…aka, my prideful, self-righteous attitude.
I was overthinking how my church should run, but not taking the time to put me in as a culture-shifting factor. Now granted, if a church community is not, for the most part, operating in a healthy manor, then it very well may be time to leave, but that’s a different blog for a different time. Or shoot me an email, and I’d love to chat with you about it (firstname.lastname@example.org). We are called to be a part of the body, which means if there is something we do not see happening, we may be best qualified to help with it rather than complaining about why someone else is not doing it.
Finding Excuses Everywhere
In the story of Gideon, he starts complaining and asking why God has not done anything to help his people…then God tells him he is being called to it, and Gideon has all sorts of excuses (Judges 6-8). Isn’t that a lot like us sometimes? We complain about problems we notice and expect someone else to do something about it. But what if that awareness is actually Godsend? What if He is laying it on our hearts so that we would be the ones to do something about it?
I think a lot of the issues we experience in our local church bodies would be eradicated if we, as God’s people, took the Bible at face value and let it tell us how we should operate rather than having to be recruited for a particular role during a church service.
About 8 years ago, I visited a church where I knew no one, I walked in surveying the sanctuary, and no one introduced themselves or befriended me. I looked down one nearly empty row and saw a girl similar to my age sitting alone, and I thought, “wow, this church is not very welcoming. That girl is sitting alone…” and as my thoughts started to wander to, “…and I’m about to be sitting alone too,” it hit me! As someone gifted in noticing those who are not traditionally seen that same calling to reach out was on my life whether or not I myself was comfortable in my environment. That day, I sat next to her and made a friend. Later that day, she even came to my house for a game afternoon with some friends. I recall that day often as it showed me just how much my pride and critical side can cost me from operating as a healthy part of the body. There is joy to be found when we allow God to stretch us.
Maybe you’re like Gideon and God is calling you to lead an entire people group into battle, or maybe you’re like me and God simply wants you to sit next to a stranger in church on Sunday, but no matter what His calling, your call will never fully be found behind a volunteer badge. It is found in the moment to moment surrender of saying yes to God… even when it feels cringy.
Perhaps, the next time you’re at church (which by nature is full of humans who are not perfect), you will see that Sundays are not about what the church does right or wrong, but about surrounding yourself with a body of believers and non-believers who need the spiritual gifts and calling the Lord has placed on your life. It is a place to lay down your pride and pick up your cross, even if the service flow is not 100% as described in the New Testament.
I’ll be honest, this is something I expect to be wrestling with, perhaps for the rest of my life. But honestly, I am okay with that (by the grace and peace of God), and I will lean into being faithful where I am called. There is no perfect church just like we can never find a perfect parent, friend, spouse, child, pastor, or puppy. To expect to find that means disappointment is imminent, but the love needed to cover all of those flaws is given to us through the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Am I ever grateful that I do not simply have to lean on my own flawed understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). I invite you to join me in pursuing God’s heart for His church and seeking after what beautiful role He has designed for you to play, both on Sunday mornings and the other six days of the week.