As is the case every now and again, Christians start to look at numbers and trends behind those numbers and get worried. We never get worried when the numbers look good (read: bigger numbers). However, we do get nervous when the numerical trends are headed downward. In my home tribe (Churches of Christ) the trends haven’t been good for a while. And when the number begin to sink, Christians begin to look for the Jonah to toss overboard.
We are not the only ones though. Even though Christianity is thriving across the world, in many places in America, we are seeing fewer and fewer folks in the pews. Predictably, people like me begin to posit as to the cause. It makes for good blog reading; but ultimately the reasons we assign to decline are more about what we personally dislike rather than what our non-Christians friends don’t get. All we need is one or two Sunday morning sleepers to echo what we feel to verify our thoughts. Recently, folks I like such as Rachel Held Evans, David Kinnaman (You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith) and others have jumped into the conversation about why people are leaving church – especially young people.
As I read these reflections, I largely agree with the conclusions they reach about American religion. What bothers them bothers me. What bothers my non-Christian friends bothers me too. Yet this Sunday, as I have nearly every Sunday of my life, I will wake up, get dressed, load the family in the car and go to church (And yes I’m using “church” as word meaning “a place where certain things happen.” Don’t worry, missional friends, I know the difference between “worship service” and the “church.” This is just easier for people).
Anyway. I’ll get up and go to church. And so will some of my best friends in the world, some of the best people I’ve ever known. And while everyone else is ruminating on why others or they left the church, I want you all to know why I stay. And no, it’s not because I’m a preacher.
I stay because…:
- …over 30 years ago Godly men and women sacrificed their time, talent, and energy to teach me the scriptures. Those scriptures have and continue to anchor my life. I’d be lost without them. I’m grateful that they sowed love and honor and attention into my life. Those people thought going to church was a pretty big deal. My past teachers would strongly disagree with my current theology, but I would not be anywhere without both the light and the path they laid before me.
- …I’ve spent more than a few Sundays in church services that stunk musically and homelitically, but God’s presence seemed to seep through the cracks of the door and settle itself on the pew next to me when I was willing and able to see it.
- …I was taught that “church” isn’t actually a place where certain things happen, but the people of God. I don’t like thinking of myself as the kind of person who quits people.
- …my two daughters haven’t heard all the stories of God yet. They know Jesus and Joseph and Samson and Ruth and Naomi, but they don’t know everything about Hosea and Gomer and David and Bathsheba. They can’t live rightly without knowing those stories. And the church wants to help me tell those stories.
- …it’s so easy to blog and say things about forgiveness, reconciliation, graciousness, and the “one another” passages, but it’s impossible to do them without some “one anothers.”
- …some days I wonder if I believe in God the way I want to believe in God. At church I’m reassured by both the Joel Osteen Christians and the Dark Night of the Soul Christians that there is something really big that we all don’t fully “get.” If we did get it we’d be neither that happy nor that sad.
- …when I’ve gone off and done everything wrong and been a complete jackass, someone at church will hug me and tell me they love me.
- …I’ve come to realize that no one is saved by their theology and everyone in church is significantly wrong about something. I can find a congregation that practices what I want them to practice, but I’m not arrogant enough (and that’s saying something) to assume that the way I think it is is actually the way it is.
- …I listen to classical music and NPR; I read lots of books and the New York Times; I don’t watch RealityTV and every week I’m in the same room with people who listen exclusively to country music; who wear work boots to weddings; and who enjoy fishing and hunting. I love being a part of the only place in the world where all kinds of life and living connect with each other because we understand that what makes us different isn’t even close in terms of the immensity to what brings us together. I think when Paul said that “we no longer see people from a worldly point of view” he kinda meant it.
- …when I sit in my church in Texas my mother is doing the same in Georgia, my brother is doing the same in North Carolina, and my father is doing the same in Mississippi. In all the highs, lows, ins and outs of broken families, this we share. Every Sunday, if only in the smallest ways, we are healed.
- …I fell in love with my wife at Abilene Christian University and one of the first things we started doing together was going to church. Plus, I think she’s most beautiful when she sings.
- …I’ve heard one too many stories of lives on the verge of or a notch past destruction when they stumbled into the door of a church only to find hope in the lives of other people equally shattered.
Ultimately I don’t expect the church to be perfect – to have faith, hope, doubt, science, marriage, parenting, or politics all figured out. Shoot, I’m just happy when there’s a children’s church. Call it low expectations if you want. I call it grace. If I can’t practice grace here, how can I practice it anywhere? I’ll tirelessly work to right the wrongs in the church and world, but I can’t leave church because of poor theology or even the harmful, destructive, horrible practice of poor theology. She is a bride. She is married to my elder brother, Jesus. I will love her, respect her, and treat her well. It’s His wedding, not mine. And if He can love her so can I.
Tell Us. Why Did You Go? Why Do You Stay?