What Church is Really For

By Tracy Keenan

March 27, 2015

One of our young adults told me he hasn’t been to church in a really long time. He loves God and all, but just really doesn’t feel a need to come to church.

I said, “Do you work out?”  

He looked startled. Random subject change?

“Oh, yeah, I have to,” he replied.

“Why?”

He placed a hand on his tight abs and leaned back from the café table. “It’ll get ahead of me if I don’t.”

So… you work out to keep your body in shape and to deal with any new things that come along – a strain or a weekend of partying. Don’t you think it’s the same with your spirit? Your spirit needs care and stretching and strengthening.”

“Ah,” he said, nodding, putting my point behind a back molar to think about later.

I hear this kind of thing a lot.

“I love my church. I want to stay connected with it. Christmas and Easter and the famous Block Party every summer - I come to those. I just don’t see the need to come the rest of the time. I love God. I pray. I just don’t need the whole ‘church thing.’”

I’m not always sure what they think the whole ‘church thing’ is that they don’t need.

Going through the motions? I don’t need that either.

Sitting passively while being spoon fed doctrine? Nope. I wouldn’t want that, either.

But it’s funny that some of our younger friends think that the reason they had been at church growing up was to “get God” somehow, and once they got it, they were good to go.

You don’t eat vegetables some time in 2008 and assume you got nutrition.

You don’t work out until you have a buff body and then quit because you got what you wanted.

I wonder why people think that something as vast and challenging and uncontainable as God can be acquired, pocketed, and pulled out when needed.
Another twenty something said recently that he was proud to be a Presbyterian. He had just heard that we had voted to allow (not mandate, but simply allow) pastors to officiate at same-sex weddings in the states where it was legal. We surprised him. I think he had thought we were all just a bunch of people who sang hymns and drank coffee and spoke niceties to one another on Sunday mornings. 

He said that he had not come to church for a long time because he had the internet – there was so much to read about faith and spirituality, and he didn’t really need to come to church.

collegeI suggested that he had not really needed to go to college. He could have just read all those books and learned all that stuff. Why have seminars, discussion groups, papers, advisors? Why have to articulate what you are learning? Why have to be in conversation with people who disagree with you, or who stretch your thinking, or who challenge you? Why make friends and dream about life and how everything you are learning affects who you are?

The same with church.
Church is not just to “get information” about God. It’s a lifelong learning environment that equips you for the living of each day with:

  • the challenge of forgiveness and compassion when people are annoying, or even downright awful.
  • the opportunities to work for social justice, which is an integral part of our faith tradition.
  • the comfort of being reminded that we are each loved deeply just as we are.
  • the crazy adventure of walking alongside other journeying souls and supporting one another
Frankly, those skills have short shelf lives in human beings, and we need to keep at it – reminding one another, encouraging one another, challenging one another – in intentional ways. 

Perhaps we are doing a terrible job of letting people know what church is actually for. 

We are not a place where you have to conform to us or adopt our ways of doing things. 
We are a place that recognizes the God is doing something in your life, too, and what God is doing in your life affects more than just you. 
It’s an adventure, and we help one another navigate the trail, celebrate the beauty, help one another through the rapids or the brambles. 
We can help you avoid some dangers. 
Others are unavoidable, and we can help you know that someone’s got your back. 
The Good News of God’s love that never gives up on us is not a message you receive and then put on your shelf like a trophy as you go about your duties, thinking you can look at it now and then for inspiration or a reminder that you are loved. 
 It’s a call to a livelier, deeper, more meaningful encounter with abundant life and all its vibrant color and power.

Maybe we need to rebrand. Be noisier. Let the world know what church is really for.
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