Why I’m Not in Church on Sunday Mornings Anymore

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Leaving, walking out of churchurchWhen my 15-year-old son graduated out of Sunday School, he missed the dialog he got in class. We sat passively in church on Sunday mornings, and I could tell he was disconnecting. I’ve never been a twice-on-Sunday person, so I thought that perhaps we instead could go on Sunday nights, where the youth group was a little more like the Sunday School he had been attending. Similar worship, but with a little more back-and-forth, and a more intimate crowd.

Still, something is not the same. It’s not just the transition from Sunday morning to Sunday evenings, but something in me. And it’s because I’ve changed at the same time the Church in America has.

We’re at a crossroads, folks. I’ve written about it for years, but I think I need to talk more about it.

This transition has got me pondering where we as Christians got off base and the general status of the Christian Church in America. I want to share my experience.

I want to reiterate that it’s my experience. I’m drawing on it. It may be different for you. It probably is.

First, I don’t have any allegiances to any one flavor of Christianity. Each has some validity, and each has its blind spots, and even its wastelands. In fact, the valid and invalid differences are largely what define each church or denomination.

I’m going to cheese off a lot of people by saying this, but if you’ve been in the same denomination from the day you were born, it’s like living on a farm in Montana in the middle of nowhere. Nothing wrong with your place, but East Etherville, Montana, is not New York City, and it sure as heck is not Beijing, China. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you know what the Christian faith is like, because your flavor of it ain’t even close to being the full expression. Really. You don’t know. And as much as I’ve been around the block in a bunch of American denominations of radically different expressions, I’ve never sat in a Catholic cathedral in Argentina, a house church in peril in Iraq, or a decaying Greek Orthodox Church in Athens. I can imagine what those would be like, but I would be wrong. You and your favored flavor are wrong, too, about some aspect of the Christian Church universal. Just accept your limited view and subsequent wrongness. You’ll be a better and more humble servant of Christ if you do.

So again, what I share here is my experience. It’s wrong from the start from someone’s perspective, and I understand that. You don’t have it all down either. Thank you.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church, and as much as the Lutherans had it going on with understanding grace and the centrality of Jesus, there wasn’t a lot of concern for the lost or for being the priesthood of all believers empowered by the Holy Spirit. Sure, the priesthood of all believers is a bedrock Lutheran understanding, except like an excerpt from Animal Farm, some creatures were more equal than others—and those had ordination papers and a seminary degree.

Ironically, it was a Spirit-filled Lutheran who taught me about the charismata, but then there wasn’t much room for that wonderful man in Lutheranism either, so…

I saw a lost-concerned, Spirit-filled way to live when I started attending an Assemblies of God church. While the leaders at that church were solid, the denomination had trouble with some of its other leaders and big names, and it all tainted the rest of it. Human frailty—and for a young, naive man, it was hard to make sense of. Now, I know better.

The Church of Christ Restorationist asked many good questions about some aspects of the Faith I had always taken for granted, but they had the opposite problem with wayward leaders, and I never understood how one could restore the Christian Church by blackballing people.

The Presbyterians held Scripture and study in high regard, but sometimes money was held up equally high, and people who didn’t have any money not so much.

Evangelical Free excelled at being all evangelically. Good sermons, though.

Methodists somehow hold together their big tent of diverse factions, and we can all learn from them, but they also have a hard time telling anyone, “Yeah, that ain’t right, and you need to stop doing that.”

The Vineyard rocked both the Kingdom of God Now and the Kingdom Not Yet, and it also got the gifts, creativity, and worship right. In fact, the Vineyard folks had the best balance—at least until John Wimber died. And that whole Kansas City Prophets fiasco.

American Baptists—well, they have John Piper and a few other solid pastors who are trying.

Pentecostals have a great sense of duty to God and country and to ol’ time religion. Coming full circle, I just wish there were more focus on Jesus (rather than whatever it is I’m doing) and grace.

Here’s the thing. All those churches and denominations have their goods and bads. But somehow, someone, somewhere, some church, has got to put all those goods in one place. And start dumping the bads at the same time.

Does any church pray anymore as a corporate body on Sundays? And not here and there, three minutes and a cloud of dust, but on-your-knees, specific, intense, non-canned prayers, both with church leaders leading and the people in the seats praying for the immediate needs of the folks sitting next to them. I mean, how hard is that? Really, if the Church as a whole isn’t devoted to prayer, we might as well pack up and end the charade. We’ll spend a half-hour singing witless, CCLI-approved chart-toppers, but praying for more than five minutes taxes everyone’s ability to focus. C’mon, Church!

I used to adore worship times. I would genuinely lose myself in the hymns of my old Lutheran church and during the peak era of the Vineyard with its huge P&W influence. Great, great music sung with passion to our great God.

Today, I grit my teeth in worship time because the songs we sing are so bizarre, unfocused, irrythmic, vague, and constructed for marketing purposes. Who is this sung to? For? And why is there a new song or two every week? Why does the entire verse consist of the same note or two, and yet it’s so hard to sing? Heck, I used to play drums on a church worship team, and I’m not even sure how to make all the syllables fit in that line. And why does nothing rhyme so I might recall the rhyme and remember how the song goes? Maybe it’s me. I dunno. I think the last contemporary worship song that helped me connect to God was “Revelation Song,” and that came out like a decade ago, right?

I don’t want to sit in a pitch-black theater anymore, where I can’t see people around me (you know, the Body of Christ), and where I can’t look at anyone on stage because I have a strobe light flashing in my eyes, all 50,000 watts of it. I don’t want to go to church and worry that I may have an epileptic seizure from the light show.

Jesus, Light of the World. Remember when churches were lit by natural light? Often with some stained glass windows, which were enough light show for most of us? I get enough darkness during the week. Can I come to church and see the faces of fellow believers lit both by natural light and also the Light of the Holy Spirit? Please?

And speaking of Jesus, can I hear the Word of God read out loud? A big chunk of it? In context, please, and not a set of cherry-picked verses used to make a point. And can the sermon be about Jesus and not about how I can try harder to be a good Christian? I don’t need five points and an application or three. I need Jesus. I need to hear about Him because it’s unlikely I’ll hear about Him from the world, except as a curse word or two, and the world is where I dwell for most of the week anyway. Maybe if I heard more about Jesus, some of those places where I’m screwed up as a husband, parent, employee, or whatever would get better because I had more of Jesus—rather than having more Christian principles I can’t possibly keep because I’m a broken person who is terrible at using checklists to make myself better.

Maybe I could go to church and use the gifts God gave me to help other people. If I had a chance. I pray well, I think, and I do hear from the Lord for other people. Words of knowledge. Words of wisdom. I care about other people, but sometimes my life is harder than I wish it was, so I don’t get the chance to do as much personal ministry outside of this blog and those opportunities I might have for a couple hours a week in the assembly of the believers.

Sometimes, I wonder if any church thinks I have value within the Body of Christ. I think I’m not alone in wondering that.

Maybe I’m too self-centered by asking these things and wondering what the solutions might be.

I hope to see a church that lifts up Jesus and never stops doing so, where the whole Bible is read actively and with joy, and prayers are the language of love that each of us bestow on each other (and not just hidden in our prayer closets).

I want to sing to the Lord and not worry that I’m off beat or that I’ll screw up the words, and that those words have real meaning about Jesus, and not some capitalized Someone, or some River, or Rain, or whatever the market-driven metaphor of the week is. I want to connect with God in worship and not hope to and instead leave disappointed that somehow I knew how to worship just fine once, but I’m not doing it right anymore.

I keep hoping for more spiritual Light and not more artificial lights. There’s enough gloom in the world; I don’t want to marinate in it on Sunday, punctuated only by lasers and disco balls.

I really don’t want to hear about me anymore or what I should be doing. I’m painfully aware of what I can and can’t do, and the can’ts outnumber the cans. I want to hear about Jesus, because He can do everything, and without Him, none of us can do anything.

I want to hear about and experience the Kingdom of God Now. Because none of us is marking time until Heaven. It doesn’t work that way and never has. Most of us are aware of the Kingdom of God that is Not Yet. Most of the Church in America has shifted everything to the Not Yet and acts like the other half doesn’t exist. I want to see—and be a part of—the other Kingdom half too.

I long to be the beneficiary of the assembled Body of Christ’s collective charismatic giftings and to use my gifts to help too. Because that’s the entire point of being the Body of Christ, each person unique and necessary to the health of the whole. Along the way, maybe we will hear prophetic revelation that will be discussed and discerned as true by mature leaders, so the church can anticipate needs and not always just react, both with too little and too late. You know, the way Paul said the Church should be, not this deaf and dumb thing we substitute because we’ve disempowered everyone out of ungodly fear.

More than anything, despite all the cranks, killjoys, fearmongers, and naysayers, I pray for a Church that is everything we see in the Book of Acts and more. Because THAT Church has never stopped existing—except in the hearts and minds of shriveled people. And I’m not one of them. God help you if you are.

We keep asking what is wrong with the Church in America. We’re wringing our hands over what has gone awry, and why attendance is down, and why, why, why…

I’m no genius, but it seems to me that we have simply forgotten what is main, plain, and important. We have no patience for God, no love for anything authentic, and we want to be entertained for an hour.

But that’s not everyone.

I really don’t want what most people seem to treasure in a church nowadays. A show doesn’t cut it for me. Neither will business principles and celebrities save a church, nor hip leaders, marketing trend analysis, or flash.

The Holy Spirit showing up in power WILL draw people, though. Churches toss in everything else when there is no presence of God. Sooner or later, people get wise to the lack. They’re getting wiser every day.

Some people want the presence of God. Heaven knows I do.

Maybe I’m self-centered in my wants, but I want real Church done the old-fashioned way. More than that, I desperately need it. Maybe you do too.

The Godly Wait and See before They Do

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“Just Do It”

We all know the slogan. It may be the most popular of our era. If any marketing motto can speak for the American psyche, it’s this one.

Conversely, “a friend of God” once wrote this:

But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
—Psalms 38:15 ESV

The Bible is filled with humble people who waited on God. Waiting involves serving, abiding, and patiently expecting. Waiting always demands time.

WaitingGod dwells apart from time. He’s the attendant at both your departing train station and the station at the end of the line–at the same time. And He knows every happening in-between. You can’t fool Him, because he’s at the beginning, end, and all points along the way.

Big picture? He alone sees and understands it. No one, human or otherwise, does. Betting people would be idiots not to bet on God. He knows how the dice land even before they’re tossed.

Yet most people live by “just do it.”

Jesus lived this way:

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.
—Luke 6:12 ESV

The understanding behind that waiting:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise….”
—John 5:19 ESV

Wait. See. Do.

Expect. God will answer. Then we will know our course of action.

Nothing in our cultural and societal milieu supports waiting, especially waiting on God. We rush from one forced solution to the next. When people wring their hands at the condition of the world today, the fretting results from the fruit of impatience, of a “just do it” attitude among leaders, who feel compelled to act, yet do so without waiting on God and seeing what He is doing.

Such leaders inhabit not only our government offices but also our church buildings. They even inhabit your home and mine.

No wonder so many programs and initiatives fail. Even governments and churches. Households, too. In failing to wait, we will not see, and therefore, whatever we do in blindness will never be of God.

Yet, somehow, the one who waits on God is deemed the fool.

Except by God Himself.

Doing What God Places in Our Hands–No More, No Less

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I was talking with a friend the other day about the fear of being an ineffective Christian. Both of us face some difficult challenges in our lives, some the same, some different. Those challenges have taken their toll on us both.

No one gets through life unscathed, though. Everyone has challenges. Everyone. If not now, then later. If not when we’re young, then when we’re old. Life is hard, and no one has a magic mirror to peer into the future or a gilded passport to avoid trials.

Christianity in America consists largely of two polar camps.

You have the Radical camp that defines Christians by what they do or do not do for God. Some even go so far as to say one’s ultimate standing with God depends entirely on how radically engaged one is for the Kingdom. It all comes down to what you do, and you better do a lot.

Then you have the Rest camp. “Do? What is that? I’m resting in the Lord and in my salvation!” The funny thing about that camp is that it never seems to do anything, ever. The world ends at the tip of their noses (or, in some cases, the outline of their belly).

I don’t think the truth dwells in either camp. The Church in America can lull you to sleep or work you to death. Neither is healthy–or godly.

Open, cupped handsOne day, I cupped my hands in prayer and said, “God, fill these hands.”

And He did.

He filled them with a mix of normal American life and stuff no sane person would want. Do my best for Him at work, at home, and out there in the world. You know, everyday normality. This blog was part of that mix. Then came the outrageous stuff, most of which consisted of challenges that would push me to the edge.

All God asks of me is to address what He has put in my hands right now, or as one wise Christian once told me, “Jesus hung on one cross only.”

We have this tendency to either drop our cupped hands and let things spill out, or we let guilt force us to take on so much we can’t hold it all and panic sets in.

We need to examine our lives. What is immediately before us? What is in our hands right now? Do those things to the glory of God.

Little things that daily fall into our cupped hands matter too. When God puts a person in front of me, I can give that person my attention and be in the present. I can be Christ in that moment to that one person. That fits in my hand. That I can always do. I may not be the answer to that person’s deep need, but the little bit o’ grace I dispense in our connecting matters to that person. I can always be kind and empathetic. Maybe I can help that person financially or emotionally if he needs it. But then, maybe I can’t. God, what can I do right now? In what ways can I be your ambassador to this person now? What have you put in my hand?

Regarding the challenges of life, let no one judge you. Anyone who has had to caretake a dying parent knows how debilitating such a task can be and how it consumes all of life. That’s reality, and it’s OK. It’s what is in your hand right now. It won’t always be there. God is not judging you by what else you try to carry. Sometimes, something that big is enough. It doesn’t matter what other people think of your inability to say yes to everything else they ask of you. You can only do what you can do. Taking on too much means you do everything poorly and stress yourself. Don’t. All you can do is what is in your hand. Too few Christians understand this, and one of the most toxic tricks a local church can pull is to guilt people “in the name of Jesus” into doing more than God expects.

God knows what you can and cannot do. Keep your eyes on Him. Learn to say no when He wants you to. Never feel guilty for saying no when it’s God leading you to say it.

If the contents of that open hand begin to overflow, get help anywhere you can. God rewards the resourceful, and admitting to being overwhelmed is no sin. Where humility is, Jesus is. You’re not a superhero, so don’t try to be. We are all dust; without God, we can do nothing.

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the man going on a journey gave five talents to one servant, two to another, and one to a third. He didn’t give five to the servant who could handle two only. Similarly, he gave five to the one who could handle that many in the moment. When the talent dispenser returned to his servants, all he expected was to see what each servant had done with what each was given. Each was accountable solely for making something out of what the journeyman had placed in their hands. No more, no less.

Those Rest folks need to step up. Those Radical folks need to calm down.

Where are you?

Know that you can do only what God has placed in your hands at this time. A year from now, what is in your hands may be different, possibly more or perhaps less. Give your best to God for what you have before you now, and stop beating yourself up. If only one thing occupies your hands right now, do it for His glory. If God wants to add something, He will. Trust Him to get it right. And if it seems too much, trust that God will put people in your life to help. Ask for that help and keep asking until you get it.

Most of all, trust God. Pray over everything He puts in your hands and never stop offering it back to Him as you partner with Him to make it happen. In the end, it’s not really about you and how well you perform anyway. It’s about moving the whole Kingdom forward. And that happens one cupped-hand item at a time.