Yesterday was a Sunday. I skipped church.
I didn’t go because I knew what the message topic would be, and I’m burned out on that topic. Seared to a crackly crunch burned out. That the topic just happens to coincide with a major initiative push within the church only further carbonized me.
Honestly, I think I’m also burned out on topical preaching. The Church in America largely moved to topical preaching with the advent of the megachurch model, and as a result, we have no idea how all of Scripture fits together anymore. The Bible has been reduced to a book of wise sayings about certain topics. That the entire narrative arc of God’s interaction with mankind and our relationship with Him has gone missing as a result of piecemeal teaching of topics is lost on far too many church leaders.
If we want to know why people are leaving the Christian Church in America, part of it is because they never hear the whole story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. An entire generation has been raised in the American Church without any concept of that old, old story. As a result they have no clue how they fit into that story. And as a result, whenever a competing set of topical advice comes along to war with the Bible’s topical advice, not much resistance to the upstart competition is offered.
Facts are useful only if we see the big picture. If your car isn’t running, do you want a mechanic who can only quote crankshaft specs at you? Or do you want one who understands how an obvious problem in the crankshaft may cause a hidden problem with the transmission? We want people who understand how the whole system works together, don’t we?
So it is with the Christian faith. Unless we understand how it works together so elegantly as an ongoing story of God’s love for us, we won’t have the ability to flex with and withstand the times. We might understand a topic in part, but the whole will still be lost on us, the nature of relationship buried under advice on how to do this and don’t do that.
You know what I want to hear about on Sunday? Jesus.
Can we talk just about Jesus for once? The Bible says that knowing the Father and the Son IS eternal life. Since that is true, knowing our trinitarian God could not be more important. There is no topic that trumps it. No amount of teaching on marriage, money, or mammon can surpass knowing Jesus.
And the funny thing is, if we really teach Jesus, the story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration all begins to fall into place. It all starts to make sense. It all works together in a synergy that creates faith, wisdom, and spiritual strength. Even those piecemeal topics start sticking with us. Because now they have a framework, a foundation. And that framework/foundation is Jesus. Only when we understand Him and His story does everything else make sense.
You know what else? Your story of Jesus has value to me. Not just the pastor’s story, but yours. Mine has value to you too. Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear those stories? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see your story and mine fit within that greater Story?
Yes, I think they would be so excellent to hear. Now if only we could find some time in church on Sunday to squeeze them in.
25 thoughts on “Why I Didn’t Go to Church on Sunday”
I’m on the worship planning team at our church, so I actually pay attention to things like this at least in a nominal way. Our church tries to tread a balance between topical preaching and the lectionary, and our pastor tries to incorporate the lectionary into his series topics–some of which are inspired by it. For the first time in almost 18 years of attending there, last week I caught a whiff from him that preaching from the lectionary was old-fashioned when he mentioned that the pastoral associate who would be preaching while he is out of town in July will use the lectionary for his sermons. Perhaps it was really the first time I had paid attention to the attitude toward the lectionary. Whenever our pastor has used the lectionary to plan a series (he does love a series), he has seemed vaguely apologetic about it, but I never really noticed.
You know what I want to hear about on Sunday? For a whole SERIES of Sundays? How God wants a personal relationship with me. That the most important thing to him is not the projects I’m doing or the good works I do or the character development I strive for, but that I love him, and that I grow in that love for him. Because I can hear about Jesus all day every day for years and years, but (because I’m a sheep) until I hear that all he did was just for the love of me, I’m only becoming a fan. Fans know lots of things about a famous person, but they aren’t personal, intimate associates. Jesus loves me. And the scope of the biblical teachings are all about this. The God of creation has set his sites on me.
Until we as Christians understand that, we will still be milquetoast. Oh, we’ll be scholarly, educated nurslings, but babies nonetheless. All of the moral teachings and character and good works that our pastors are trying to inculcate in us must be informed by the fact that God so loved us all that he wanted a personal relationship with each of us through Jesus Christ. Without understanding God’s love for each of us, we die in religious childhood and never reach the maturity in Christ that God intended for us. (This is the problem with the preaching I’ve been hearing for the last [cough cough] years, that no one wants to say it’s all about personal relationship.) As a worship leader, I can see the discomfort on the faces of our leadership when I say, during confessional prayer, that we are all sinners, that we do things that God hates and that we need to be sorry for them, that God hates sin and we love it. And leadership people are uncomfortable because it’s “hypocritical” to point out sin in others, so they don’t point out sin at all. (One of the things I loved about Jerry Kirk as a pastor was how he confessed in the pulpit.)
I agree with you, Dan, the preaching and teaching of the church today has lost the plot.
The problem is, the way the Scriptures and the Gospel were taught in the New Testament seemed to revolve around God’s relationship with Israel, and through Israel with a redeemed humanity, and the cosmos in which they would live. Not individuals per se. There’s plenty of room for an understanding of personal relationship within that, but it really shouldn’t be the focus- you can see this in the early church, that when they preached Christ to Jews and gentiles, the emphasis was not on what God had done for them personally, but on what he had done for Israel, and the whole world, in Christ, and how it was the fulfillment Israel’s Messianic hope.
I agree, we can become very heady, very scholarly without any effective change in the nature of our love for one another. I’m becoming more and more convinced though that this is because of too much personal relationship emphasis, not too little. Or at least the wrong kind. The reason I say that is because the most Biblically illiterate, Gospel-optional, Jesus-lite, non-disciples I’ve ever met have always waxed very serious about the need for a personal relationship with God. I think we’ll always have a personal relationship with him no matter what, it’s just that the way we understand it, and thus how it renews us, has got to be conditioned by the story of Jesus and the story of God among God’s people, as their King. That seems to be how the early church prayed it, taught it, and lived it.
Your comment stirs something in me. As I sit here typing, and I think back on every church I have been a part of, some OK, some good, some fantastic, I can’t recall a single message ever being preached on what being the Bride of Christ means to you and to me. We don’t understand our place as the Bride as a group. We don’t understand our place as an individual within the Bride.
You’re right. Everything revolves around me. The entirety of community and our “brideship” goes uncommunicated.
I wonder if what we really need is to lose the me and find the we. If anything, all of American culture today is focused on individual fulfillment. Perhaps this explains why we continue to drift farther and farther away. Really, I have no sense that we in the Church are a community at all. If you were to ask me the top three communities I know of, I’m not sure that any church community would fill a slot. I hate to say that, but I keep seeing unsaved people who will do more to help a fallen comrade. Too many Christians today think that helping is enabling.
You and Nate have both given me a great deal to think and pray about.
Our relationship with Jesus Christ is also a trinity: our personal relationship with Him, in which every believer has his or her name written in a white stone, which only that person and Jesus knows. Then we have the Body of Christ, which Jesus as the Head. And we have the Bride of Christ, which, in a sense, is the Church in her entirety standing “apart” from Christ, to be presented as the Bride. The Body and the Head are one. The Bride relates completely, all believers, with Christ. Then each believer has an individual relationship with Him. I want to understand each and my part in each completely without over- or underemphasizing any part of who I am supposed to be.
Excellent post. I’m a volunteer on the praise team at two different churches – both completely different. My home church *is* a megachurch, and topical is the name of the game. The church nearest where I live that I also serve at seems to be borrowing things from the megachurch model – good sound system, screen with the words of the songs – but that seems to be the extent of it. I wonder if there will be another revolution from within?
I don’t see a revolution unless someone puts a hobnail boot to our necks. When it becomes physical AND personal, then we tend to get riled up.
First, let me say I *love* your writing. You and I are quite passionate about the same thing, specifically, the bride of Christ. You are clear and cogent, and on point.
The revolution I’m speaking of is, in my way of seeing things, probably already happening – people are walking out the doors of established buildings and away from 5 year plans, passionless programmatic bullet-pointed lectures, and the like, and forming up again in smaller cells. They see the same things we see, and walk – but not away from God, but from the box that man builds around Him that doesn’t deal well with broken people. Those are the ones I am walking towards, even as I still serve within the belly of the box.
I keep running into people like this in online places and offline meetings – in coffee shops and in living rooms – and many of them have the same basic story. They are frustrated with “Church” but deeply in love with God, and many of them are tired of being ignored.
I went to church yesterday, but I got there about a half-hour late. I frankly had a hard time whipping up the enthusiasm to go even though I missed church last Sunday because I had to work and will miss it again next Sunday because I’ll be out of town visiting my father.
My church is currently in a series on Proverbs, although yesterday’s preacher also worked a passage from Mark into his sermon. The message on godly friendships was actually a good one, but it also reminded me of why I’m having trouble getting motivated to attend church. Earlier this year I started a new job which requires me to work weeknight evenings and some weekends. I was out of work for a long time and am grateful to be working. However, the hours pretty much cut out any fellowship opportunities other than the seniors’ group – a nice group of people, to be sure, but as a fifty-something I don’t quite fit. Recently the church also started a practice of having families lead the prayers of the people. They pray for marriages and families, but I’ve yet to hear a prayer for singles like myself.
Dan, you make a good point about preaching on Jesus. I hope the next sermon series, whenever it starts, will do just that. Or is that wishful thinking on my part?
I think we have to give ourselves away. Each of us has that asked of us. How we do that is the question. But we need to do it. In the end, it’s not about you or me. If we haven’t lost ourselves to Him, then perhaps that’s the source of the problem and the angst.
“That the entire narrative arc of God’s interaction with mankind and our relationship with Him has gone missing as a result of piecemeal teaching of topics is lost on far too many church leaders.”
You got that right.
“If we want to know why people are leaving the Christian Church in America, part of it is because they never hear the whole story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. An entire generation has been raised in the American Church without any concept of that old, old story.”
I had an exchange recently with someone who had lost their Christian faith after being “born again and deeply committed” for 20 years. In citing the reasons why he lost faith, noticeably absent was anything to do with Jesus, or the story of creation, fall, and redemption. No reference to the Bible as a unified story, or what its great themes were. Every reference to the Bible he made had to do with contentious side issues like young earth creationism and whether there was a literal flood. Not one objection he had to the faith was to something concerning Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, or reign.
I don’t think this is rare. I also think we ought to be asking what faith is being taught to people when the faith they lose has nothing to do with Jesus Christ.
It’s the old problem: Who (or what) are we being saved to? Some people think they know and yet miss Jesus entirely.
agree. topical teaching really lends itself to extracting from the bible whatever one wants to communicate.
For sure we need to hear gods story first, then over time see how we fit into that.
Honestly preaching jesus as he lived, as he died and as he has now risen is pretty scary stuff. He is kinda other than and always ahead of the curve. It’s hard to package and sell him the further one goes down the rabbit hole. Evertying about him is intense… his love, his acceptance, his judgement/criticism, his lifestyle, his sacrifice.
One emphasis that I see in the NT is how we as God’s people are to love God and then to love one another. There is no ‘me’ taught in scripture the way is seems that church leadership and other ‘christian authors in books have portrayed this idea’. You are right. We are to die to self in scripture. We’re to put off the old man, and put on the new man who is in Christ. We are to forsake sin, and do justice and do right.
We are to hate evil and love good. We are to stand in faith as God’s people. Right to the end. If we don’t we may lose alot, perhaps even our salvation . How can we be saved without faith? I don’t think we can. It is by faith that we are saved the Bible says.
We are to covet the best gifts in Christ. Love is the greatest of all. We are to enter into God’s rest. As we walk properly in the faith we do find ourselves entering into this rest. There is joy here, peace here, provision here. Our goal is to reach the ressurection. Without this ressurection we will not go on into eternity. We must become immortal in order to enter into eternity. Where is all of this being taught in the churches? We’ve made church and Christianity about something else.
I just read a scripture in I Corinthians yesterday saying that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’. How then are the leadership in some churches teaching that we will have the kingdom of God while we are in the flesh on earth, like we are in the flesh right now? There are lots of questions and very few believers are daring to ask these questions of their leaders. Because they know what will happen. They will be reproved, or rejected, or thought to be contentious, and negative in the church and toward leadership.
There’s a lot going on that Believers have turned the other cheek on because they have trusted and because they have given up reading their own Bible. ‘The leader’s right and I’m not understanding the Bible when I read it’. Also Believers have ‘itchy’ ears. This teaching about ‘me,me’ sounds so good.
We are to get our minds into the mind of Christ. The scripture reading and the Holy Spirit are who helps us with this. If we have worldly minds we are in trouble. If we are in sin, we are in trouble. If we love the world and ourselves and our families, or our businesses, etc, more than God we are in trouble. If we guide our lives by what is acceptable in our society, then we are in trouble.
These kinds of teachings are nonexistent in the church as far as I know. What is being taught in churches now is not changing peoples live, or strengthening them in the faith, or developing character, or gifts, or godly fruit. I think many Christians would be shocked with these teachings. They’ve never heard them. They would maybe leave, because they came based on what God will and can do for me. We know that there is a sense of truth in that God does us good things. But this has been skewed in the church. We see the fruit. Worldly Christians. This is not the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is the fruit of worldly, dammed teaching and leadership in churches, in books, in new revelations, in prophecy, in radio programs, in TV programs of religion, etc. etc. We need to be alot more discerning as Believers.
Your post reminds me of me back in 1973, when I was converted, went thru the yellow pages for a different church every Sunday, looking for others who knew Jesus. After a dozen or so attempts, I quit searching. I was sad, desperate and confused, but I suddenly saw what was going on.Apparently, it still is. I found no one with crazy unreasonable hunger and thirst for Jesus, no sitting as equals at His feet together to learn from Him, no random acts of silly unprompted love for one another, no abiding joy, little caring for the weak, no long suffering with the weaker.
I guess that’s why Jesus Himself didn’t then, and doesn’t now attend church, though I’m sure He visits because He loves His people.
In 40 years, Iv’e found Him everywhere but church,although I’d be wrong to say there aren’t whole churches where He lives with daily welcome.
I’ve never found one.
But Iv’e found Him a midst small gatherings of every imaginable kind, from 2 to 60 people, most calling themselves nothing but believers, led by women, children, men or nobody.
Iv’e met Him in a new convert sister who needed 10 years of our help to get free from a 3 pack a day smoking habit that consumed her life, but she did it.
He’s in a few gay friends, both of whom fell and rose again for over 10 years until they were free, and whole, and who have been free for 30 years now.
He’s in the midst of several new families we’ve fallen in with lately who left their respective churches to stay pure from idolatry, and whose children are messed up, but all are hungry for Jesus and need a friend.
These and many, many more have filled almost every waking hour in the last 40 years, and have returned our friendship and love with the same, filling us with joy, and satisfaction, comfort and hope.
We don’t have time or desire for ‘church’.
We’ve come to think of our lives as Nehemiah expressed his mission: ” We cannot come down and waste time talking endlessly about trifles because we are doing the Kings business”.
We think that’s what Jesus meant when He said He had meat that his disciples didn’t know about, and that’s clearly what He meant when He instructed us to seek first His Kingdom.
His kingdom is within people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, not in buildings, programs and bible studies.
You’ll find Him outside your church in your neighbors, friends and enemies lives.
You know Einstein’s definition of insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?
I saw this quote today. You may already have heard it.
“The chief danger of the 20th century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.”
General Booth (Founder, Salvation Army)
I think this quote from General Booth sums up our century as well. We have churches that function in the flesh using mostly natural and worldly strategies and methods, This is church religion without the Holy Ghost.
We have doctrines and teachings that seem to be talking about another Jesus and another savior and another Christ than the one depicted and taught about in the scriptures. This is Christianity without Christ.
We have most teachings today saying that God forgives your sin freely. Little if any teaching goes along with this forgiveness about repentance and forsaking our sins. This is forgiveness being offered to people by the church religion without the need for repentance.
We have much teaching today about God not seeing our sin, or looking only to Christ in His perfection without the need for the believers’ regeneration. “We all sin, we’re nothing but weak sinners” is what I often hear on websites. “God knows we will sin, so we just have to forgive ourselves when we fall.”
We’ve had politics without God for many years now in Canada. Basically since the eighties and nineties. Jesus and God can scarcely be mentioned in any sector of society without condemnation and sometimes a cost to a believer.
There seems to be much discussion and re-interpretation about what Jesus and the scriptures meant when they talk about ‘hell’. “God is so loving there cannot possibly be a real place called hell. Certainly not the hell that is thought of traditionally and historically as a place of eternal torment.”
The devil’s methods stay much the same throughout the decades and centuries. It’s just packaged a bit different in the presentation and the teaching by ‘leaders’ in the church.
Dire Dan: Honestly, I think I’m also burned out on topical preaching. The Church in America largely moved to topical preaching with the advent of the megachurch model, and as a result, we have no idea how all of Scripture fits together anymore. The Bible has been reduced to a book of wise sayings about certain topics.
The problem isn’t really topical preaching as such. The problem is that xtians don’t read through their Bibles with any regularity, at least enough to get the whole picture of what the thing is saying.
But why depend on preachers to fill things in to begin with?
I think that’s a valid point, Oengus. I think I do need to examine the Bride of Christ as it relates to my life and walk, but I keep rounding back to to concept of personal relationship, and if I personally am right with God and working on my relationship with him, Sunday church is a fringe benefit. I’m still thinking that it can’t be my meat and drink, that it has to be my dessert. That’s certainly how I view the worship, and how I lead the worship when it’s my turn, but I am responsible for seeking revelations from Scripture and prayer. Whatever my pastor preaches is bonus material.
People reading the Scriptures for themselves is a relatively new development in the history of the Church. For most of Church history, it was the learned people who read to the unlearned.
I’m not saying we have to adopt that model, only that reading the Scriptures by oneself in one’s own language was NOT an a priori condition for salvation or sanctification EVER in the Scriptures. Even the well-known “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” from the KJV’s take on 2 Tim. 2:15 has sort of been undone because the word used as study there doesn’t really mean studying in the way we interpret it today (see the ESV’s “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth”).
Besides, the Bible makes it clear that hearing is the preferred means of connecting with the Scriptures. Of course, this has been taken to extremes by those who think everything in the Christian life depends on preaching.
Why is it that so much of our church model comes from the idea of one or two select people telling something to someone else? Why isn’t there more of a collective take on sharing between people, with everyone contributing, not just a select few.
Fact is, more than anything, I need other Christians to use their wisdom, gifts, and talents in my life. I need to hear their stories of faith. I need to hear their struggles. I need to hear their failure. I need to hear their triumphs. I need to know that I’m not the only one who feels inept at life.
But here in America, we live and die by our right to be lone individuals who do it all by ourselves. Yet I see that model nowhere in the Scriptures. Even Jesus sent out the disciples on His behalf and with His blessing. But what is frustrating me more than ever before is that most people come to church and sit. The waste of time, gifts, and talents is extraordinary, and that model is NOT in the Bible. The expectation instead is that every person present will bring something to the collective experience.
But when was the last time your church did that? Heck, I think most people can’t even feel like they can stand up in church on Sunday and confess that they need help. Doesn’t matter what it is help for. We simply can’t do it because it doesn’t fit in our bulletin’s order of service. So many people walk away from Sunday meetings with their need unaddressed it astonishes me. In fact, I don’t know why anyone goes to church anymore, because so few that go with a pressing need ever get it resolved through the action of the collected Body of Christ.
Seriously, what are we doing?
Did you go to church this Sunday, Dan?
I wanted to, Poet, but I’m sitting out this series. Call it sinful pride, call it rebellion, call it whatever you want, I just can’t hear another round of this topic.