I vividly remember the last church service I attended before I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I was sitting with a couple thousand strangers in a megachurch when the thought crossed my mind: Why am I here? I could watch this on the internet. And after the service ended, I walked into the church’s multi-acre parking lot and drove away, never to return to church services again (or so I thought).
This didn’t come out of nowhere. I had been growing weary of the church routine during law school. I mean, I went to church on a regular basis, but my closest Christian friendships blossomed outside of it. So I began wondering why I needed to spend time with a room full of strangers and acquaintances on Sundays if I could find good Christian friends in the real world, seven days a week.
But even considering quitting church services felt like an act of betrayal — I mean, where I grew up, someone who didn’t go to church was “backslidden” or maybe not even saved. So I maintained the Sunday morning routine throughout law school and assured myself that when I graduated, I would find a tight-knit church community in Jackson, Miss., where I was moving. Unfortunately, though, my determination faded when I arrived there and began the painful church search.
Instead of finding friends at church, I found an experience that was more akin to an awkward blind date with hundreds of Christian introverts who — if they spoke — did so quickly and moved on. Plus, I started noticing that so much of what we called church didn’t look anything like the loving community I read about in Acts 2; it was mostly just watching other people on a stage for an hour.
Despite my growing frustration with the church, I kept going to services for a while after moving to Jackson. But I was no longer looking for friends; I was looking for flaws, and they were everywhere — in the music; the long sermons; and the lonely, 90-second break in the service for “fellowship.” With so much bitterness and judgment simmering inside, quitting church services was the next natural step for me, so I did that Sunday at the megachurch.
Granted, I felt a little guilty when I started sleeping in on Sunday mornings, but my guilt was assuaged by the fact that I still had several long-distance, Christian friendships. Plus, I started attending a loosely organized, Anglican Bible study with a handful of middle-aged believers, so at least I had that.
“I haven’t left the church,” I would tell my befuddled, churchgoing friends. “I can’t leave the church — I’m a part of the Body of Christ no matter where I am.”
That was true, but I couldn’t deny the fact that on my own, I still felt even more disconnected from other believers than when I was sitting in that megachurch auditorium. But I was too far down the rabbit hole of my Sunday morning boycott, so outside of attending the Bible study, I steered clear of Sunday services during the year I lived in Jackson. And although I had every intention of keeping it that way, at the end of that year when I moved to Washington, D.C., divine coincidence got in the way.
What Made the Difference
Before I moved to D.C., several folks from my Bible study recommended that I visit Church of the Resurrection, a small, Anglican church on Capitol Hill. I had no intention of doing it, but during my first week in D.C., I randomly met a young woman who aggressively invited me to her church. When I tried to shrug off her invitation by saying I was supposed to visit some place called Church of the Resurrection, her face lit up, and she said, “Oh my goodness! That’s my church! I will see you there!”
In a metro area of five million people, that act of providence was just the postcard from heaven I needed to get me back into a pew for at least one Sunday.
When I walked into the sanctuary at Resurrection, I was greeted by a number of people who seemed genuinely pleased to see me. Furthermore, a pastor invited me to dinner after the service; a guy invited me to a men’s small group; and when I told the worship leader I could sing, she invited me to come to music practice the following week. With growing excitement, I took everyone up on their invitations.
In the months that followed, I attended services every Sunday, even though I didn’t particularly enjoy the liturgy and felt overwhelmed by the theologically heavy sermons. I also became a regular part of the men’s group, sang on the music team, hosted events in my apartment, and spent most of my free time hanging out with church members.
In the midst of all that involvement, my boycott of church services just stopped making sense. My local church had embraced me when I was a lonely believer looking for friends. It gave me a safe place to be myself, to dig deeply into theology, and eventually, to get to know my wife and start my family. And all of the life-giving relationships at Resurrection started with a good, old-fashioned Sunday service — a service that became a weekly opportunity for me to celebrate the Gospel with brothers and sisters in Christ. So I surrendered, got over my boycott, and never imagined that my commitment to the local church would eventually get tested all over again.
Come to the Table
A couple of years ago, my wife and I moved to another city, leaving Church of the Resurrection behind. We unrealistically hoped to find something similar to what we had in D.C., but in the end, we settled down at a large, Anglican church where, for whatever reason, it just never quite felt like we found our place.
During that time, some of the old feelings from my lonely days in Jackson resurfaced, and I found myself wondering why our church attendance mattered at all. But I didn’t want to go down the same, self-righteous rabbit hole I had gotten lost in so many years before. So I did what I could to get involved, and as I took communion each week, I often comforted myself with the thought that I wasn’t alone, that there were millions of other believers doing the same thing all over the globe.
I eventually began to see church services as something similar to Thanksgiving, which I enjoy spending with my extended family. There are quite a few of us — so many, in fact, that we’ve had to use a church gymnasium for most of our recent Thanksgiving gatherings. And although it isn’t exactly the perfect time to develop personal relationships with all my relatives, there’s nothing like sharing a feast with dozens of Christian descendants of my late grandparents. It reminds us of our roots, our identity, and the faith we want to pass onto our children.
Like our earthly families, our church families have their quirks and dysfunctions (and I think they need to be dealt with at the right time and in the right way), but even so, we must “not neglect our meeting together, as some people do” (Hebrews 10:25, NLT). Because when we gather, we’re participating in a spiritual family reunion, a physical reminder that Jesus saved us into something bigger than our individual experience.
So let’s do all we can to find a Christ-centered, life-giving, local church and then come home to our church families each week — whether at a mega church, an inner-city mission, or a house church. Let’s find a body of believers and meet with those people whom we may not have chosen as relatives, but who were nonetheless chosen for us. And when we gather, let’s not look for the flaws that are so easy to find — let’s gather around the Lord’s table and celebrate the beauty of feasting with the descendants of Jesus, the Son of God, through whom we are related by His precious blood.
Copyright 2014 Joshua Rogers. All rights reserved.