I went to church today. It’s been 5 months since I’ve attended a church service.
In 2016 I wrestled a lot with the idea of ‘church’. I see how church is described in scripture but in all my years of following Jesus I’ve only experienced church services and church buildings.
Don’t get me wrong – there are some really awesome church buildings and I’ve experienced many services where God moved in mighty ways but my heart has been yearning for more.
I just couldn’t take it anymore.
Showing up on Sunday, looking like everyone else. Checking my children into childcare and making small talk with greeters and other church volunteers. Sitting in my chair pretending to be researching something extremely intense in scripture so that no one would talk to me … yet I longed for someone to talk to me … but around here you cannot be desperate for human connection or friendship because it will come across as lack of boundaries and burdensome.
Then when I would hit it off with another woman, we would have the same conversation every Sunday and never go beyond maybe becoming Facebook friends and liking each other’s posts. Not to mention she’s a stay-at-home-mom and I’m a working mama. No one is at fault but those schedules are hard to match up. I get it. I’ve been a stay-at-home-mom before too.
Then there are small groups, connect groups, house church. This is a space outside of the church building where a group of people come together on a smaller scale to fellowship and talk/learn about Jesus.
Right. But go into one of those groups and unload all of your baggage or talk about your drug addiction and see what happens. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming or bad mouthing anyone here … it’s just what I’ve experienced.
In my own experience I’ve often felt like we’re just going through the motions of being in “community” and “doing life together”.
While I’m just going for it, let me not forget my own hangups. Expectations that NO ONE could ever live up to. Picking apart how someone responded to me or didn’t respond to me all because of my own insecurities. All up in my feelings about how I don’t fit or belong. Trying to jive in a group setting but unable to get my focus off of myself long enough to even love on anyone else.
Straight up consumer.
And never ever satisfied.
So you church hop. Because, hey – there is literally a church on every corner in middle Tennessee. And if you don’t like those you can just start your own!
I can’t even tell you how many churches I’ve visited or ‘joined’ in the past 13 years. In my defense, I didn’t grow up in church so I was okay with checking out new churches because I wanted to see what else was out there.
But church hopping doesn’t do much for a lonely heart.
Soooooo …. you DO! You serve and create and do things in the church. There is nothing wrong with doing but when your heart gets more focused on doing than on Jesus, that’s a problem. When your identity is found in what you do and not in Jesus, that’s a problem.
So, yeah. I’ve been a hot mess with church. Completely overcomplicating it.
Last year I was going about my normal ‘churchy’ life when I just burnt out. Done.
I wasn’t back sliding or doubting my faith. I wasn’t exploring different religions. I wasn’t ‘taking a break’ and making up my own rules and ideas to support my own wants and needs. I simply burnt out.
I started to question what my deal was with church and why it wasn’t working out for me. Here’s where I landed:
“God, what do I do when church, community and serving become the idol?”
So I stopped going.
My adult life had been spent in church and I needed to step away to find out what church is supposed to be through the lens of scripture.
Side note* People freak out when you say you’re not going to church anymore. Holy crap, do they freak out!!! I get it. I used to do the same thing when someone told me they were leaving church for a bit. “Backslider! Let me try to DO or SAY something to convince them how wrong they are for taking a break from church. The devil clearly has ahold of them. Let me send a few daily scriptures to them just in case they’re not reading the Word anymore”**
I laugh now. I used to be that person. I would never take time to listen or understand what the other person was going through. I just immediately started sounding alarms in my mind about how they were detaching from the church and going astray. It’s funny now because I became the other person.
I did leave the church (building and service) but I stayed in close community with a couple of my friends who are Christ Followers. I actually felt closer to God than I ever have in my life. There was no audience. So when I went to Jesus, it was really just to be with Him.
When I read the Word, it’s because I wanted to read the Word. No other reason. When I prayed, it’s because I wanted to pray. Not to be heard. Actually my prayers stopped sounding so Hallmarkish and started sounding like real conversation… the way friends would talk to each other in love and confidence. It felt wrong at first. But I felt like I was acting if I said prayers the way I’ve heard others say prayers.
I don’t freakin’ talk like that…. so why would I talk like that when I pray? If I’m supposed to be real and bring the real me … why not bring the REAL me?
For once my faith wasn’t running on hype or feelings or my next Facebook post. My faith was just my faith. There weren’t these highs and lows in my faith. It just became steady. It was quite incredible actually (and still is). I’m altered forever.
So today I woke up without a plan. I decided in a moment that I wanted to go to church alone. In my job where I work with people who are battling substance abuse and mental health issues, the job gets heavy. My company moved downtown Nashville last week so between the commute and the job itself, I knew I needed to find a place to help ground me.
Where better than the church?
5 months of not attending church and today I came back to the building.
It was a church I have never been to before, as far as church service goes, but my husband and I got married in the building 11 years ago. It had a different name and congregation back then. Over the past few months I’ve felt drawn to that church for some reason but I knew it wasn’t time to go back yet. One day on my way home from work I pulled into the parking lot and just sat there in conversation with God.
Today I was greeted at the door by two kind people. Their smiles were genuine. I quickly found a seat and kept to myself.
I worshipped. They worshipped. We worshipped. In unity we worshipped our King, Jesus.
For the first time in my ‘church life’ I wasn’t insecure or focused on myself. I didn’t battle the “you don’t belong here” lie. I actually didn’t hear that lie at all. I was just there. Being me.
I didn’t seek out cool people I’d like to be friends with or search for my place to serve. I was just there. Being me.
As the pastor started to speak and share the Word, I realized I wasn’t really feeling anything. I wasn’t having this intense spiritual experience that maybe I thought I should have after being away from church for 5 months. I was just there. Being me.
I realized that church was never about feeling something. It was never meant to be an experience (by itself). God goes way beyond our feelings and each of us experience Him differently (in the context of scripture, of course). So to think that church was ‘not good’ or ‘not for you’ because you didn’t feel the hype is silly. **This doesn’t mean you can’t feel something … it just means our relationship with Jesus shouldn’t be based off of our feelings.**
Church is not a service or a building. Church is the gathering of Believers. The Church is referred to as the Bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:32; Revelation 19:7; 21:9). It’s referenced as sacred family relationship between Jesus and The Church (the people of God).
The Bride of Christ. The Church. So beautiful.
So simple. We’ve overcomplicated church.
So today I went to a Sunday church service. God revealed that it was never about the building, or the feelings, or the doing. It was about His Bride coming together to worship Him and build up one another in love. We don’t have to figure out anything beyond that … He pours out ‘what’s next’ as we seek Him.
There I sat with a sweet revelation that The Church is simply The Bride of Christ in the same building where I became a bride 11 years ago.
He is faithful.