But I don’t want to go to church…

In my mind there is a difference between being the church, (God’s people on earth and in heaven) and going to church (a religious exercise sometimes attached to self-righteousness and a sense of well-being). As I have progressed in my journey I have come to question many of the things I used to take for granted, including the habit of church going.

Of course I am not against people going to church but I am questioning the reasons behind it and how effective it is in bringing the people of God to maturity; it is probably worth noting that I have been a ‘pastor’ for over ten years, I have planted two works and have preached in any number of churches around the world, I am forty eight years old, married with two married sons and two daughters at home. Along with my wife I oversee two Christian schools as well as the churches and I am asking the question “why would I go to church?”

  • To hear the Word of God? – Well maybe, but I have an excellent library of both books and audio by some of the best preachers and teachers in history. I can read far more in forty minutes than anyone can preach and I don’t have to leave home.
  • To worship God? – Hmm, I guess we mean singing here. This I do already. On the road, in the kitchen with my friends and with headphones on. Whilst corporate worship can be fun (as well as dire) I don’t really need it.
  • To fellowship with other believers? – I do fellowship with other believers; they are my friends, we meet, we hang out and sometimes we get very ‘real’ with one another. To be honest telling someone “I’m fine” over a drink in a plastic cup isn’t really fellowship in my books.
  • To express my faith in God? – I think Jesus said people would see how genuine our discipleship was through our love for one another and the good works we do in His Name.
  • To please God? – How does my going to church please God?
  • Our children need to learn about God in ‘Kids Church‘ – My daughters go to a Christian School, they know more Bible than most Bible school students and I teach them at home (or McDonalds!).
  • The Bible commands us to go to church – No it doesn’t; the book of Hebrews tells us to not stop meeting together which is another thing entirely. I meet with other believers in pubs, restaurants and our homes; we share with each other what God is showing us, we sometimes confess our faults to one another, sometimes we pray, other times we talk about what we have read in the Bible, sometimes we eat together, sing together, laugh together and even cry together.

I could extend the list by talking about corporate identity, fund raising and mobilising workers but I don’t think they are any more legitimate than the ones I have already discussed.

Let’s do another list; this time about what church can’t do for you.

  • Going to church won’t make God love you.
  • Going to church won’t put you right with God.
  • Going to church won’t earn you favour with God.
  • Going to church won’t make people like you.
  • Going to church won’t ‘meet your needs’.
  • Going to church won’t make your children believers, (it is more likely to do the opposite).
  • Going to church won’t make you a disciple.
  • Going to church won’t make you a mature believer.
  • Going to church won’t change your community.

All that I have listed here are simply parts of the normal Christian life that exist and work apart from us going to church; for example God loves you not because you are lovely or go to church but because He is love.

Am I saying that you should not go to church? No not really, but I am saying that we should be clear about why we do it and what we should expect. The church can meet in all sorts of ways that can be helpful and valid but they are not church; a church service is not church. We can come together for a seminar,  a concert, a conference, a praise party, a stadium full of believers, a Sunday meeting with a preacher as long as we understand that these things are what they are and that non of these are commanded in Scripture. In fact the only description of an expected meeting in the New Testament is in 1 Corinthians which had no professional ministry, no preaching and no chairs in rows but instead an expectancy that every believer would be used by the Holy Spirit to minister to the rest of the group. A far cry from what we call church today.

If we can clearly define what our meetings are and what we can realistically expect then we can choose to attend and enjoy them; or alternatively we can choose to stay at home without feeling guilty.

Go well 🙂

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About Mark Neale

Husband to Sandra, dad, grandpa, Christian educator, and a John Maxwell Team Member.
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11 Responses to But I don’t want to go to church…

  1. Dave Vaughan says:

    Love it Mark, Great stuff, I was found in Him before I was ever lost in Adam, Effortless Union. Blissings to Yourself, Sandra and the family

  2. Hi Mark,

    I agree with your points and I think your main critique of the assumptions and language that goes with “church territory” to be accurate. My wife and I recently started a “church” but we do not call it a church and we call our meetings “gatherings” and do all we can not to have people see church in institutional terms. We have named our gathering the HUB (standing for the Holy Unified Body) and that is what we strive to be. I have long been frustrated by tithing language (giving to God only by giving to “church”), priestly language (shepherd of the sheep, touch not my anointed etc.), God’s house (in reference to a church building), meet with God (by singing together), hearing God’s word (by listening to a 3 point sermon, often terribly shallow) etc etc etc. All this language speaks far louder than the occasional quip of “the church is the people not the building”.

    However I must admit that I have been alarmed to find many of my great friends, with deep faith, become disillusioned with what institutional church has become (or always was but we are only now seeing it) and have therefore left any kind of gathered group of Christians. It rarely has good results. I urge them not to give up on corporate expressions of Christ as I see deeply in scripture God’s love for the church (people) and that we all need each other as God has decided to limit his expression in each of us according to the grace and gifts we have received. A body must be connected! Some of these people end up going off on tangents, not just theologically but also in their lives. I also know that a thousand conversations with Christian friends have kept my meditations and thoughts in a stable direction and encouraged me to question my conclusions at times.

    As a result I have concluded that, for pragmatic as well as spiritual reasons it is worth keeping an ordered time for gathering but maybe rethinking what that means. We have done our best to decentralise leadership and push responsibility onto all members. But what has been the most life-giving change we have made has been to demolish this ridiculous (and gnostic!) separation of faith with life. Its not all faith and no works but faith evidenced BY works… not works of the law but works of love and transformation. Christ works a transformation at the deepest level of our being, and continues to. The level of how we perceive and respond to everything. If this isn’t blindingly obvious by the way we live then something is wrong!

    Nathan

  3. This all to me assumes you have these Christian relationships all around you for fellowship? I think the “formal” Sunday church gathering though is a great place to cultivate those very needed relationships. It is a great place to be taught, to be accountable (if we have those relationships). I mean accountable to a local body where we are under the watch of some God fearing, Bible believing elders.

    The other thing I do find is that there is a bigger pool of minds to interact with. If I could only ask my friends some questions I might never get the wisdom that can be found in some of the more weathered Christians I will have access to at the “formal” Sunday church gathering.

    I do however hear what you are saying and I have never felt guilty for not attending. I do now though more than ever really enjoy it. Love the time I get spending with the others, cultivating new relationships, learning more…

    • I hear what you are saying Chris Penkin and I certainly grew as a young christian at my childhood church. Since then though my relationship with church has become more cynical. The last church I attended before I moved to my current one was a big church and I ended up gettting there early so that my son had a spot in the Sunday School. That was my main concern. I ended up in the back with no one talking to me and really not enjoying it. Those things mentioned in the blog were certainly not present for me. When we decided to move churches we looked at an offshoot of that church and again I was overwhelmed by this awful sense of inactivity and “fakeness” like the people were putting on their sunday act. Where I live at least there are fewer and fewer people going to the old style church and the churches are dying a slow death.

      My current position (and I have to say I am still grappling with it) is that church as it has been presented is not working and God needs his children to use their personal relationships to minister to people. After all, it is not about getting people to go to church but rather to get people to have a personal relationship with Jesus. It has worked to an extent because one of our three “branches” has already multiplied so now we have a fourth branch filled with skaters and bmx`ers, meeting and getting guidance from one of the elders who oversees the original branch and its offshoot.

      I think the danger of just going to church is that we don’t fulfill the great commission and “go and make disciples”. We get stuck in the beaurocracy, politics and increased resistance to moving out of comfort zones that are associated with church. We also tend to think that people who have just been born again could not possibly know enough to lead others to Christ even though the Holy Spirit is burning at its brightest then. Guidance is certainly needed and accountability is paramount but ultimately what matters is that we make Jesus accessible in whatever way is necessary to people who are disillusioned God and with church in its current form. If you ever get a chance, read “The Organic Church” by Neil Cole. It presents an alternative model that just might work..

  4. Joe Bigliogo says:

    I don’t go to church because:
    I don’t believe in god.
    I hate Christianity like poison. Stinking torture religion.

    • Mark Neale says:

      Hi Joe, I can understand your loathing of religion, it is indeed a poison that has tortured mankind for millennia. Sadly Christianity has been, in many cases, reduced to a religion. However, the good news is, God is real, He loves you and He is definitely not religious. Go well! 😀

      • Joe Bigliogo says:

        I never said I hate religion, I said I hate Christianity. However Christianity perfectly conforms to the definition religion as found in every dictionary. God belief and worship is also defined as religion according to all dictionaries. I see the bible as a repository of bronze age ignorance and the god depicted within a malevolent monster.
        Now I don’t believe for one second the god of the bible is real but if he/she/it were real I’d still only be able to manage hate for the vile creature. As you can tell I’m not just an atheist but an ant-theist. I’m okay with moderate Christians but the dogmatic fundamentalist types (as found in modern day America) I resent walking the same earth and sharing the same air. There are however many nice Christians and I have no truck with them. No offence intended but I consider Christianity (along with Islam) to be among the most toxic belief systems ever conceived and my fondest wish is to see them wiped off the earth. I hope that clarifies my position.

  5. Mark Neale says:

    Hi Joe, thanks for your reply. When I use the word religion I am referring to manmade and lifeless dogma that does nothing good, and often oppresses both it’s adherents and critics. I should add that I am ashamed to admit that the message proclaimed by many Christians is so similar to Islam it is scary. Having said that, if we removed all the Christians, Muslims and any other group we could choose, life on earth will still suck in so many ways. The reason being that every belief system, whether it be Christianity, Islam, evolution, atheism, money et al, all have a sub-text that will always be manipulated by the stronger at the expense of the weak. Stalin banned all religion and murdered millions, Hitler used evolution as a justification for his atrocities, Popes and Kings have murdered in the name their religion, bankers let people starve for the sake of the bottom line and Islamists will murder anyone if they think it will give them enough personal gain.

    The hard reality we all have to face is where did we come from and why are we here? Many like yourself are happy with the molecules to man hypothesis and at death nothing, but to embrace this faith you have to ignore challenges from every field of science, philosophy, art and human experience. Our choice is that everything came from nothing, or that there is someone behind the vastness and complexity of creation to whom we will be held accountable. If we embrace the thought that all came from nothing then there is no wrong or right, no love, no purpose, and the best lifestyle would be one of utter hedonism in whatever form we prefer – there will be no point in considering the views and feelings of others as they will soon be dust. In short, non of us matter – but then if we are of no importance, then neither are your thoughts, feelings or questions.

    The good news is, we do matter, we matter to God; and God is probably the most misunderstood and misrepresented person ever…

    Go well my friend.

  6. Joe Bigliogo says:

    I think you need to re-read what I said. I never advocated “removing all the Christians, Muslims and any other group we could choose”. That would be genocide. Are you accusing me of advancing mass murder? I think I made it clear it was the Christian and Islamic belief systems I’d be happy to see die away, not the followers. If you are talking about murder there was no worse a genocidal monster than Yahweh of the Old Testament, the god you worship. Yes Stalin was a monster and his rationale for banning religion was he didn’t like competition. In the minds of paranoid dictators people who unite and gather under other ideas are perceived as a threat to the prevailing powers––something amply demonstrated by the church in the middle ages also afflicted by the same petty paranoia during it’s spree of murder and torture of heretics in the name of god. Hitler was a self proclaimed Catholic who wrote that he was “doing God’s work”. It’s a malicious myth that Hitler used evolution science as justification for his agenda of genocide. This kind of nonsense I’ve heard from Ray Comfort and his boy toy Kirk Cameron. Among the many books Hitler banned was Darwin’s “Origins of Species”. Hitler was not a champion of Darwin or his theories so please put that utter nonsense to rest. His hatred of Jews was for complex psychological reasons requiring a team of trained psychiatrists to dissect it all. Hitler was a huge admirer of Martin Luther the “father of Protestantism” also a scathing anti-semitic and advocate of Jewish genocide.
    You said “we have to ignore the challenges from every field of science, philosophy, art and human experience”. The problem is these fields do not provide us with any agreed upon consensus of “where we came from and why”. A vast range of contrasting and conflicting ideas, even conflicting religions are the product of these fields of study. Among these it’s only science that has given us anything resembling reliability, consistency and consensus.
    The concepts of right and wrong have nothing to do with where we came from. Moral principals do not float about as part of the fabric of space nor are they the product of inexplicable divine command. They are the product of rational and thoughtful inquiry into the question of how best to survive in peaceful co-existence with our fellow man. Evolution has given all species including humans an instinct for survival. As a thinking species who can foresee the results of our actions we find it useful to devise moral codes that best serve our instinct for survival and mutual co-existence.
    I clearly do not believe in the existence of the god you erroneously believe so please stop saying “we matter to god” to me. You might as well say we matter to… Thor, Zeus, Shiva, Siris, Odin, Pegasus, Dionysos, Chimera, Njord, Cit-Bolon-Tum, Venus, Kuhuluhulumanu, etc. It conveys the same level of presumptuousness. I also find quite lame and thoughtless the accusation that anyone who doesn’t believe in god (your god) is immoral or amoral, and a nihilist. That everything apart from your pinched view of existence is random, pointless and without meaning.There is nothing more ignorant, dismissive and arrogant than this kind of world view. It is a form of philosophical bigotry that has no place in the field of thoughtful inquiry. Your words only strengthen my convictions.

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