Five reasons to stay in church
This column is for all those people who feel trapped in church. I recognize that worship services, which are one of the foundations of our Christian life together, simply don’t work for everyone.
I hear complaints about fluffy songs, outdated hymns, exclusive language, narrow theology, judgmental messages, too much fashion consciousness, sheer boredom or simply being indoors on a free morning.
Some people leave, but others stay in spite of their gripes, usually for family reasons. One young man I chatted with a couple weeks ago felt stuck going to church because he wanted to give his children an experience similar to his own, even though he has drifted theologically from the group.
Instead of yielding to bitterness, why not find positive reasons to stay, even though you don’t approve of everything? Here are some strategies.
- Anabaptist principles. As Anabaptists, we have a radical theology. We believe that everyone in the gathered community can bring a word of God to the group. We believe in a spiritual unity that allows for a diverse expression of gifts. One of the gifts I like to bring to the church is doubt. I often doubt we’re heading in the right direction. In Anabaptist fashion, I agree to speak, listen and discern together. The voice of dissent may be prophetic or dopey; it takes a group to know.
- Take an interfaith approach. If you can’t abide by some of the core Christian affirmations, then you may wish to consider an interfaith approach. I know this is unorthodox, but look for the God that is present everywhere, in all people and, dare I say, in all faiths, including Christianity and your local church. [Note that the church teaches that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world, referencing Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name . . . by which we must be saved.” Ed.] Look for glimpses of wonder, love, grace and compassion, you’ll find them.
- How we express our beliefs. God talk takes many expressions. In my case, I no longer use conservative evangelical language to describe God. But it’s only the labels that have changed, God hasn’t. This means I can “worship” with more traditional believers. But I don’t use the word “worship” to describe the activity, I prefer to see it as a time when we “participate in the divine.” The difference in language helps me, and may help you.
- Social circles. It’s important to have friends with similar social ethics, especially if they are outside of the mainstream (like pursuing downward economic mobility, for example). In my view, the communal rapport trumps most theological gripes. Furthermore, commitment to a group, especially if you are bugged by some things about people in the group, can be a witness to the power of unconditional love.
- Sabbath. Like most people, I work and think too much. Sunday morning can be a fast from a constant concern for productivity. If I let go of my need for agreement on everything that happens in church, I can sit and rest in the sermon, I can sing and be moved by the chorus of voices, regardless of the song. The sanctuary really is a refuge from the hecklers and hucksters in workaday consumer society. It is non-productive space. For me, it can be a deliberate time set aside to meet God in the present moment, but only if I can let go of the need to have everything my way.
Aiden Enns is publisher of Geez magazine and can be reached at aiden[at]geezmagazine.org. He is a member of Hope Mennonite Church in Winnipeg and sits on the board of Canadian Mennonite magazine, where this article first appeared.