I don’t know when church-going became a part of who I am, but I guess faithfully attending every Wednesday and Sunday for 22 years has a way of turning into a habit. Over the short amount of years that I have been alive, I have had plenty of reasons to leave church, most of which deal heavily with the reality that people suck.
It’s true! I have been around different leadership styles, different personality types, different worship styles, even different theological viewpoints- all within the same church!
To give you a little background about my temperament: I am pretty easy going with most things, it takes a lot to get me riled up and even more for me to speak out against something. I am a natural-born leader, and when a leader is needed (whether in academia or in the church world) I tend to rise to the occasion. Because of these seemingly contrasting parts of my personality, I often am critical of leadership but rarely do I do anything about it.
You see, I am definitely smarter than my pastor. This is a thought that I have actually had on many occasions in my short adult life and I guarantee it’s something you’ve thought of as well, if you’re a regular church-goer. Where does this feeling of superiority come from? It’s easy for me to see problems within the church and think of a magical cure-all to the situation. As the logic goes: if I can do it, how come my pastor can’t? The answer then, obviously, must be that I’m smarter than he is.
Sometimes, I get really undone with what I see around me in the modern day church and church culture. I think about all of the sad injustices I have seen in churches, both with my own eyes and through news outlets. The lying, the distorting of scripture, the abuse of the pulpit, the misconduct of pastors, deacons, and clergymen, the exploitation of children, the gossip, the politics. That list, though it is not conclusive, is enough to make me sick. If I think too long about what happens in most churches nowadays, it is reason enough for me to leave on fair grounds. There are so many great things about The Church too: a strong community, a place to encounter Christ, meeting people, the chance to use your gifts and talents- the list is a long one. But I have had to take a step back sometimes and ask myself: why do I stay in church?
The major theme that links these problems- and is a common theme among Christians today- is the inability to practice what is preached. So often, we hear wonderful sermons and devotionals about loving our neighbors (Mark 12:30-31), “judging not” (Matthew 7:1-2), and forgiving those around us (Matthew 6:14-15) but are unable to keep these scriptures in mind when dishing out hatred, judgement, and unforgiveness. Please don’t get me wrong, I am one of these people! In fact, I’m probably the worst one of us all. I am guilty of almost every sin in the Book.
God has reminded me of something recently and it looks a little something like this: Be the change you wish to see in the world. Now, most of us internet folks will know that that is a quote from Mohandas Ghandi, but the words are a truth that resonates deeply within me. The first portion of that truth is that I have to get over myself- I must submit to authority and realize that it’s not always about me.
The question why do I stay has no concrete answer.
I stay in church first and foremost because I need a community of believers who I can connect with. I stay in church because I want church culture to be different. I stay because I want to see change, but I cannot wait for someone else to come along and change the culture of the church. I must to be the change that I want to see. I stay because I’m not perfect, I need as much grace as I can get, and I need to learn how to extend that grace to others. I stay because I have forged lasting relationships with people and because I have gotten involved with the worship and youth departments- allowing passions of mine to develop more fully.
The only way of learning how to walk out Scripture is to practice it. I must show kindness, learn to control my tongue, give of my time and energy. Remembering that what I do “unto the least of these” is what I do to Jesus. Because, sometimes, if you aren’t helping, you’re hurting. Imagine what the church would look like if everyone would stop talking and put their hands to good use. Instead of complaining that this or that isn’t right, why don’t we all take a moment to reflect if our complaining is actually helping the problem at hand. I had a mentor of mine explain to me that when I find myself being frustrated with the happenings in a church, I must ask myself if something is a preference or a problem. If it is the latter, then it needs to be prayed about and addressed according to scripture. If it’s the former, then I need to get over myself or leave. So if you’re disillusioned with church right now, I encourage that you stay for a little while longer and change your perspective (and your attitude) and see what happens.
Read more from Hannah on her brand new blog!