I have spent a lot of time considering the words I am about to share with you. In fact, these may be some of the most important words I ever put on paper. And yet, I am the first to admit I am impatient. So, the past 10 years of biding my time have been nothing short of exhausting for me. Therefore, as I share what I share with you today know that this isn’t some article written up in 30 minutes while sitting at Starbucks, it is an article written over years – through tears, blood, heartache, laughter, pain and more.
So, what is it that I have been struggling with so dearly for the past 10 years? The answer may sound simple, but for me it has been deeply profound: Why, in doing all the “Christian” things we are supposed to, does our faith journey often fall more than short of the life Jesus promised?
You see, in order to expound upon this more, I have to take you back in my timeline just a bit. It starts with how I was raised – in a good Christian home with loving parents that assimilated me into a Church culture using all the best practices available to them. They did a great job of introducing me to Jesus and His Church and I hope someday, when I have children, I can be half the parents they were to me. But, you see, as I grew up I followed a pattern that most of those I surrounded myself with modeled – we secretly loathed waking up early to go to ‘boring’ Church and confined our faith to something our ‘parents made us do.’ I am grateful for this time, it allowed me to walk away and over the process of a couple years come sprinting back to Jesus as I had finally found him for myself – shaking off the assimilated beliefs and defining my relationship for myself. Yet, sadly, Church still stunk. I searched long and hard for the ‘answer’, and over the process of the past 10 years I experienced the reality that there are really only four types of Churches I could attend (multiplied by the thousands across the American landscape). I’ll briefly describe each as I think it depicts a very important reality we all must understand.
First, there was the ‘Home-Church.’ I enjoyed this for a while, but as the ‘Church’ became more a social group of friends that an active participant in the story of the Gospel I found myself once again growing bored with the same old stories we each would share time and time again. I longed for something more from my faith.
Next was the ‘Community Church.’ These Churches, typically rooted in a bit more history, were a lot of fun. We would enjoy the fellowship through pot-lucks, outings in the yard, yearly trips across the country and more – we really were a fully functioning community (with the ups and downs that contains – you don’t need to remind me of the drama this brought about as well). However, when I realized that none of us were attending to truly learn and develop our faith (if we were we would have undoubtedly outgrown this type of Church and moved into one of the next two I’ll share about in a moment), but instead to develop community, I quickly because unsatisfied and exited stage left.
Another type of Church that is quickly gaining steam is the ‘Discipleship Church.’ I will be honest, having spent time as a Church planter myself, I quickly became entrenched in every piece of education available on Discipleship and creating a reproducing Church. If you are not familiar, the intention of the reproducing Church is to educate people in what it means to be a disciple (very good intentions) by teaching its members how to teach ‘non-disciples’ to be disciples and make more disciples. What it boasts in outward ministry, it lacks in communal substance. I enjoyed the theory tremendously, but when I saw how it was being put into practice by Churches across the country, I became less than enthused as it simply became another program the modern Church offered its congregation – it wasn’t learning a lifestyle as Jesus intended, but instead was simply implementing a Church-growth tactic.
Lastly, the Church I spent the most time in was the modern Mega-Church. When I say Mega-Church, I mean Churches over 1000 people on Sunday mornings. The big draw for me, and it may be the draw for many, was the level of teaching. When you can have someone like Tim Keller or Bill Hybels teaching you the Word on Sunday morning is there really anything better than that? I loved the Mega-Church because it was rooted in scripture, it pushed me to learn more and I thought that was all I really needed. That was until I realized it was a model rooted in consumerism. As a nation, we love consuming stuff; I needn’t get into more detail, but by watching the actions of those who loved the Mega-Church, I quickly realized (myself included) that we only came to our ‘show’ on Sunday morning, and maybe some programs through the week, but we lacked community and we lacked the lifestyle Jesus called us to.
So, as I stated when I started this article, perspective takes time. What I found after years of searching, years that included post-graduate education on the topic, being licensed as a pastor, starting multiple ministries myself, planting Churches, and more… is that despite how devastated I was by the reality in front of me, no Church is ever going to live out all Jesus has called the Church to and I was expecting it to produce the life I had been longing for all the same. The Mega-Church will forever struggle against consumerism (what do you expect from a 10,000 person auditorium) the same way the small Church will struggle for excellence on Sunday morning (if Sunday was excellent, they would grow into a Mega-Church). And, as the different types of institutions aim to prove why their method is the best with convincing articles that insert controversial Christian titles, let me instead save you the heartbreak of searching for the right kind of Church, and thereby the right kind of Christian experience, and instead challenge you to something altogether different.
My challenge to you is to remove your dependence on the Church to define what it means for you to be the best version of a Christ-follower you can be. Sunday morning should not be the means by which we dictate what our life in Christ looks like. Instead, ask yourself:
- How can I best learn about and from Scripture? What methods are available to me to do so?
- How can I be in community with other Christians and experience the life-change that can only come from a tight-knit group of believers?
- How can I be out amongst those who need to hear about Christ and what I can do to equip myself to be better at this?
- What means are available to me to improve my prayer life, my worship, and so on?
If instead of finding a Church which we think does the least amount of these things poorly and instead put the onus on ourselves to develop a whole Christian life, the struggle we find with the Church will quickly go to the wayside. And, if we do this successfully, choosing what community we will engage with on Sunday can help to plug SOME of the holes we struggle to identify solutions for as we work to follow the model Jesus laid out for us in scripture.
As I started, so I shall end: I am the first to admit I am impatient, I am flawed, I am a perfectionist and more. My struggle to find the right Christian experience through the ‘right’ Church was actually wrong in so many ways. Yet, I must confess that I imagine many are on a similar journey, dissatisfied by where they currently attend and likely dissatisfied with their Christian experience in some respect or another. The reality is Jesus is the same – yesterday, today and tomorrow – He is still the loving savior that died on the cross and invited us into an incredible walk with Him. I beg you to not lose hold of that incredible reality and let the failures of humans and human-made Churches diminish that walk with Him. Instead, I encourage you to take your journey into your own hands – go before our King and ask Him to help you walk a new path alongside Him and together forge a new life – one that embraces the Church for what it is, embraces the journey for being just that (a journey), and one that draws you closer into his presence, delighting in Him more than you ever thought imaginable. While I have been on this road for many years now, I feel like a child with so far to go and so much to learn – but, the experience is no longer about the negative. Instead, it is about the hope and joy found in walking alongside our loving creator and learning from him each step of the way. This same reality is available to you today should you choose to embrace it, something I long for you more than you will ever know.