Several weeks back, Jason Raitz posted this on his Facebook wall:
So, I’m curious and need your help. Quite a few people have asked me this question in the past 2 weeks. ‘Is attending church consistently really all that important’? What do you think? I’ve been writing a blog post on this for awhile now, but would love your help!
My very first thought when seeing this question was this, “Is that a rhetorical question?” It’s impossible to imagine that he’d really think that anyone would post on his wall and say no to him. I mean… dude is a pastor of a church plant. His Facebook wall is 99% mentions of his church. His Facebook profile picture is the logo to his church. I know Jason, he’s a great guy, and he’s 120% about his church.
So obviously, Jason thinks everyone on the planet should be consistent about church attendance.
He and I agree on that point, 100%. I believe consistent church attendance is part of walking with Jesus. But when I see a church leader say stuff like that I have to read between the lines because I’m willing to bet that his definition of “consistently” is different than mine.
Here’s what I replied:
I guess I’ll be the voice of decent. (Shocker, I know) I used to think it was a big deal… when I worked at a church. And now we make church a priority, we go a lot, but more like 35-40 weeks a year instead of 50-52 when I worked at a church. But I would say that nothing happens there that is magical and makes me OK with Jesus any more than not going. Plenty of times I go to church and leave completely unsure of why we went. So is going to church consistently “really all that important?” I think there are a lot of other things more important. The flip side question is also really important, “Is there such a thing as going to church too often?”
The Right Question
Ultimately, I think Jason’s heart was, “What level of church involvement is healthy and good for a believer?”
And, as a dude who used to work at a church but is now trying to figure out life in ministry without being on staff at a church, it’s one I think about.
I used to be Jason. My life used to revolve wholly around the life of my church. And I remember dealing with the frustration of seemingly never having enough volunteers or money or consistency from people who were part of my church. I was wondering “how do I get the most out of people” and it ripped my heart out to have people pull me aside and ask, “What’s the minimum level of involvement I can have here and be OK in your eyes?”
But I’m not in Jason’s seat anymore. My life has changed. Things are different and as much as I empathize with it and understand it, I long for Jason (and people like him) to really see things from the perspective of people in the community.
On the one hand I want to be part of my church, I want to find community there, and I love investing in the guys in my high school small group. On the other, I almost see getting involved at church as a trap: Attending ANYTHING includes ovations and invitations to attend more stuff at church. (We’ve been part of 2 churches in San Diego since making this transition, while they are both wildly different in size, this one aspect is exactly the same. Being a part of one thing almost always includes invitations to more things.)
Addressing the Elephant in the Room
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Jesus in John 10:10
When you drive around in many places in Europe you’ll begin to notice that the church is the tallest building in town. Quite literally, the church in many Europeans was designed to be the central focal point of a community.
In America, churches are rarely the high point of a city. Instead, churches try to make themselves the high point of congregants lives.
And in the same way you or I would drive into a small Bavarian town and laughingly think… “Did they really think that if they made the church the biggest building in town it’d become the most important thing in people’s lives?” The same is true when we wrap our whole lives around the day-to-day activities of being a part of a church.
It works and doesn’t work at the same time.
I think wrapping every free minute and thought up in the life of our church misses the point of John 10:10. It’s not living life to the full. It’s living life full-of-something-less.
I have many friends who work in churches and I think, “Do they have a life outside of their jobs?” Because addiction to a church job is just as unsexy and unhealthy as addiction to teaching or being a CPA or any other job. Being a workaholic as a church leader is incredibly dangerous (it impacts EVERYONE in your life) but also somehow seen as incredibly normative. (Which is why so many people don’t want to be involved in churches, they see it as unhealthy!) I find myself lovingly telling friends, “You need hobbies, you need a life, you need adult friends.” But at the same time you’d think a pastor wouldn’t need to be told that. You’d think they’d be modeling health to me instead of the other way around?
Newsflash: There are not “non-church-y people” walking around your neighborhood right now thinking, “Know what I need? I need to get involved in something that keeps me really, really busy!”
We, as a society, are busy enough. We need rest. We need less. We need Sabbath.
Desperate for Good News
Think about it like this. I believe humans are hardwired to inately seek out good news. (Both the Good News of Jesus and good news, more generally. General revelation means all things that are good come from God, right?)
Is how you live, as a church leader, good news in your neighborhood? Do you have a life? Do you have hobbies? Do you practice Sabbath? Are you present with your children? Do you date your spouse? Do you manage your house? Are your weeds pulled?
Because that’s the stuff your neighbors notice about you. Do they look at your life and go… “Dang, I want that!” Or are they looking at your life and going, “I don’t know what that dude does… but I don’t want to be like that.”
If the answer to that question is… “Um, crap. Probably not” and you want your community to hear the Good News of Jesus you’re going to have to figure out how to live a life that’s good news. You are going to have to make some changes.
No one walks into a church building thinking “How can I get more busy?”
If you could preach to me, the sermon I long to hear, the good news I need in my life– is for someone to stand up and help me discover less church life and more life of being the light of Jesus in my community. Someone, anyone, please tell me what’s enough church involvement instead of inviting me to more. If you can do that it’d be the best news I’ve heard all year.
A fully devoted life to Jesus simply cannot be a fully devoted life to church life.
I’d love to hear thoughts, comments, call for my head below in the comments. People who work in churches… does what I just said make any sense at all? People who go to churches… does what I said resonate with you? Why or why not?