My first breakup with church was entirely out of my control. I was twelve years old and furious with my parents for taking me away from the place that had housed my faith all my young life.
But my father felt called to step out that year—like Abraham, “not knowing where he was going”—and I was forced along for the ride. The craziest thing happened when the stability of my Sunday morning routine was ripped away from me… My faith began to grow. Beyond the four walls that once contained it. Outside the box I had crafted to carry it safe and close.
I learned that year (and in the many years to follow) that God was much bigger than the house man had built for Him. Perhaps that is why my newsfeed has been causing me so much frustration lately.
A meme tells me not to claim I would go to prison for a faith I “won’t even go to church for.”
A misguided evangelist assures me that my children won’t develop a desire to follow Jesus if I fail to take them to church on Sunday mornings.
Yet another meme informs me that if I think I don’t need church because I can study the Bible on my own, I clearly haven’t been studying the Bible.
You know, maybe I am having a hard time with Bible study because I seem to have missed the verse that says, “Faith without church is dead.”
I am not opposed to church by any means. Many people benefit from the long-held tradition of Sunday morning worship. I have been one of those people throughout several seasons of my life. My opinion is that, if church satisfies your soul—if you find that God feels present in a sanctuary filled with fellow worshipers—by all means, go to church. But if you find yourself on Sunday mornings wondering why you’re even sitting in that pew, craving a Bible and a journal and the silence of your living room… Well, maybe it’s time to move on.
Maybe it’s time to break up with church and fall in love with Jesus instead.
I know, I know. Sacrilege.
Because when it comes to breaking up with church, the church would like you to believe that the problem is you. You’re not trying hard enough to connect. There is a flaw in your faith. If a wrong has been committed, it’s your fault.
But ultimately, it’s like any breakup. Maybe one person carries more blame than the other, but the simple fact is that the two of you just aren’t right for each other. You need no other reason to walk away.
Church has been sacred to me in the past but, looking back, I can see it was also a danger to me at twelve years old when I considered that silly building to be the end-all-be-all of my faith. I fell apart that year, but by the grace of God, my faith came back stronger than before.
Because despite what I believed as a child, my faith was not defined by where I sat on a Sunday morning. God was not confined to the sanctuary of my childhood.
They’re separate. Christ and the church. And while the hope is that the church provides some kind of accurate reflection of Christ, the fact is that a congregation composed of flawed human beings often falls short of that goal. That’s why it pains me to see the church declare that they are the pathway to faith. I’ve seen the hurt the church has inflicted on some of its members. I’ve watched disillusioned believers try to reconcile the Christ preached from the pulpit with the man doing the preaching, knowing that his actions and his words don’t quite align.
What I’ve seen online these last few weeks appears to be a desperate attempt by the church to stay relevant. Only, it’s all merely words—a clamor of voices insisting the church still has relevance, trying to convince me that my faith will not survive apart from it.
But what if I truly believed that? Would I run back to church, seeking solace within the walls that lately have provided no comfort for me? Or would I let my faith quietly slip away, knowing it was made for churches and could not serve me outside of it?
That’s the message you’re portraying, church, with these memes insisting that you alone know the way to God’s heart.
It is important to leave the seekers that distinction. Let them not confuse a church that would wound them with a God who would take their wounds upon Himself. If a church is to push them away, let them not feel that God has also rejected them. Let us not act as though the temple veil has not been torn asunder, giving all people access to the God who resides within.
What I have gathered from that Bible I may or may not be able to interpret on my own is that we are called to community. We are called to fellowship. We are called to love and minister to the least among us.
I have yet to find the part that says we called to a building. Called to Sunday morning schedules or pastors who sit upon pedestals. Called to cling so tightly to tradition that we would chain and choke our faith just to keep things as they have been.
You may need church to help you grow. You may be fortunate enough to have found a corporate place of worship that makes your faith come alive. But if you ever feel that your faith is outgrowing the walls of that sanctuary… set it free. Let it grow. Search for God in the temple of the great wide world He created.
And don’t ever let anyone convince you that God only speaks from a pulpit.
“Remind me that you never asked us
to build a building,
only to build a kingdom…
Let me change the place I worship
to the temple you’ve provided,
all around me in my everyday life.”
-Steven James (A Heart Exposed)