I should start with an apology as my title is misleading. I do want to go to church, I enjoy church. Of course I’ve had bad experiences of church who hasn’t? No, this title reflects the conversations I often find myself in, when people hear I’m a Christian, or that my husband is a Vicar. They seem to want to explain to me why they don’t go to church.
Maybe it’s just me, but If I were to meet a gymnast, I think its unlikely that I will spend the first few minutes of the conversation giving reasons for my lack of roly polys over the last week. I also don’t think I will be promising to do some next time I have a free weekend. So why do people (upon meeting a Christian) feel the need to give reasons or in some cases an apology for not going to church?
Of course, There are loads of reasons! However, I am intrigued by those who seem to truly want to go, but don’t. Who feel a longing for belonging .
Here are some of the most common reasons I hear and my thoughts in response. So if you want to go to church, but never quite get there, read on.
1. The ‘I am not good enough’ reason: If I walk through those doors then everyone will see right through me and God will strike me down…. right there and then.
Firstly, it’s not God’s style to strike you down right there and then.
Although it would definitely liven up a Sunday morning. Services would become more like X factor, a classic game of risk…who dares enter? Probably none of us!
If there is a little part of you that really does think you are not worthy, good or holy enough, then let me encourage you to read the second part of the Bible. It’s all about Jesus arriving as a baby and flooding the world with grace! Grace is about getting what we don’t deserve. So if you walk through that church door believing that you will be struck down, it seems to me that Jesus would rather you got a big hug. Just like little old Zacchaeus. A church should be full of a messed up, flawed people who are getting better at saying sorry.
Some of you may have had a bad experience of being ‘corrected’ in a Christian environment, this can leave you feeling that you haven’t made the grade, hurt and misunderstood. You might believe that everyone else is doing it better and that maybe church just isn’t for you. I would challenge this, If this is you then there are a couple of things worth considering:
firstly did you do something wrong? If you did, then maybe you should suck it up! It’s not wrong to challenge people’s behaviour in church. You would think I was loopy if I said that I never corrected my children for fear of putting them off family. Likewise a church community should work like a family and within those caring relationships help each other to live well. That might mean a correction now and again!
But what if you didn’t do something wrong and you still feel punished? This is very hard. I have been in both positions, but this for me was harder to shake off. It’s made clear in the Bible that we should respect authority, so we should do all we can to address the issue and pray about it. It might be right to go back to the person responsible. If you can’t do this then take it to the leaders.
Sometimes though, you are unable to do either of these things and all you can do is pray that God helps you forgive. God forgives us so that we can forgive others. Unlike the parable where the man lets a guy off a huge debt, only for the now ‘debt free’ man to demand payment or punishment from another. We shouldn’t be like the loan sharks, holding all those to account that owe us. We have been let off a huge debt of our own, told that whatever we’ve done it can be forgiven. So as hard as it is, we should aim to forgive one another. Not forgiving someone is often more painful for us than the person in the wrong! Sometimes it helps to talk to someone outside of a situation, feel free to email me if you want.
2. The ‘Christians are all hypocrites’ reason.
The simple answer is: No they are not, but some are! You will find hypocrites in every community of people. I think it’s worth thinking about what you mean when you say this.
Do you mean: that Christians are not good people and do bad things? In which case you are right. As a Christian I absolutely agree, I am not a good person and I do bad things. You may have mis-understood what a Christian is. A Christian is not someone who after asking Jesus to be with them is suddenly magically good (I wish).
A Christian is a person who realises that they can’t go it alone, that they do the wrong thing (a lot) and need a little help.
A church is made up of people with gifts and goodness but also those little character traits that need some work! When I go to church or pray, I bring those flaws and temptations with me and ask God to help me change them.
So, If when you think of church you think of a lot of people that act as though they have got it sorted, life is perfect and they are constantly making good choices, can I encourage you to look again. Those people are not perfect. I think the harder people try to look sorted the more scared they are of failing or making mistakes. When Neil and I go out to a posh restaurant and we feel a bit nervous about fitting in, we dress up and make an effort. However when a very rich person goes to that same restaurant they wear what they like, an old jumper and jeans, if that feels good. They have nothing to prove. They don’t need to dress up as they are secure in that environment. This leaves me wondering, what if when church goer spends a lot of time telling others how good they are or acting in a superior way, what if they feel the opposite? Maybe they don’t feel as secure as you think? Give them a hug.
The only banner over our heads in Church should read Forgiven. So instead of stating ‘all Christians are hypocrites’, why not try: ‘all Christians are Forgiven’ you are not saying we are perfect, just forgiven.
God extends his gift of grace and forgiveness to all people on earth and it’s in the act of asking for and accepting his forgiveness that we start our own journeys into the Christian faith.
3. The ‘I hate organised religion’ reason.
Oh I love this one, boy! does it make me smile. It’s hilarious to me (and I am sure to many others) that Neil and I are leaders in an organised religion! We are far from organised and pretty chaotic. I know this isn’t quite the point, but its still funny!
Fair enough over the centuries we have made a mess of things, but we have also done some great things as a Church too. If we weren’t a bit organised none of these things would have happened.
4.The ‘My Kids play sport on Sundays’ reason.
Sorry, this is a rubbish reason! If you want to do something you will do it, if you really believed that going to Church was a good thing to do, you would go. Your son will probably not be the next David Beckham, your daughter will probably not represent England with her gymnastic ability, so maybe you don’t have to go to those Sunday meets/games?
Don’t be so panicked about giving your child every opportunity out there. Get a grip! What if church is the best thing for them? Hearing about God? Forgiveness? Grace? Being in a community of different ages/generations? What if learning to get along in community, gaining an extended family is what it’s all about? What if that helps grow their gifts more than that football match?
It’s hard I know, My son loves to play football. He is good at it. But, he can’t go on a Sunday…when he is old enough to be independent maybe he will choose football over church. But, now while he is dependent on us he will come along.
In church he gets to play instruments in the music group, learn about the Bible and Jesus. He gets to brush up on how to live well within community. He gains a whole load of Grannies and Granddads, Aunts and Uncles, Brothers and Sisters. So… he might get a bit bored during his dad’s talks (sorry Neil), but why should life be constantly exciting? And as a teacher I have seen 4 year olds sit through way longer and far more boring assemblies! They can do it, they will gain from it. Don’t use your kids as an excuse not to go. There may not be anyone their age (and there never will be if you don’t go). They have all week at school with kids their age, it’s not urgent! My kids love the adults in our church, they are much kinder to them than we are! They listen to their stories (better than I do), they smile at them, when they arrive in yeti slippers or wielding a light saber (more than I would). They have a few more people on their side, ready to pray for them, ready to care for them than they would if we didn’t go.
But, O.K, I hear you… I’ll leap off this soap box and agree with you that in some rare cases, you have a child genius on your hands and in which case you will find plenty of churches that offer a 4pm service, a Saturday service or a midweek service to suit your needs. Humph.
So… If one of these four reasons has been on your mind, maybe give Church a try this weekend. Perhaps you will have a pleasant surprise? No fear eh!