People quit attending church for a variety of reasons. I can only tell my experience, and for me, quitting church was never about quitting God. Initially, it wasn't really about intentionally quitting anything.
A sequence of inspired readings pointed me to Jesus as I had never met Him before. I prayed prayers realer than I had ever experienced. And as I drew closer to the heart of God I saw His power unleashed in places I never thought to look.
The closer I got to Him, the more I saw Him freely moving beyond the humanized structure of church--and I wanted to be part of it.
I wrote about this realization of quitting church >> here a couple years ago.
It wasn't all because of sickness or Daniel's travel schedule or the impossibility of keeping a stubborn 2-year-old quiet for over an hour. Those were good, sometimes even legitimate, excuses, but the deeper truth was my frustrations with church. I shared that story and encouraged others like me to view that frustration as a gift, to be courageous and not quit.
The follow-up to that post is simple: We did quit.
We unintentionally quit the sanctuary rituals of praise music and congregational prayer and a weekly sermon. We returned a few select times--like the dedication of our third baby along with several of his cousins. Or the weekend my parents kept the kids, when we decided to show up to church for the first time in a while.
It didn't seem we were missing much in our absence. Largely because we didn't quit God and we didn't quit living with and for Him.
We continued showing up at home. Taking on the humbling task of training our little arrows to be courageous God-followers (based on Psalm 127:4). Or at least love each other and stop yelling "I don't like you" when they're upset. We're making slow progress on that last one. I pray they experience faith and life beyond the mold of safe Christianity.
I continued showing up to our church's Mom's Cafe. Teaming up with other moms as we serve each other and encourage each other in that arrow-training mentioned above. Taking my turn to make brunch and finding a miracle in broken eggs, or sharing about how God sends Jesus-notes to help on the hard days of motherhood. Simply talking and sharing life as we attempt to raise courageous God-followers. Making our best attempt in God's grace is all we can do.
We continued showing up during Sabbath School. A time when the kids get the story of Jesus in language they understand with their own community. Meanwhile, we mingled with other young-hearted adults wondering if we're still arrows--is it too late for us to be courageous God-followers, too?
Lately, a few of us meet, chat, drink coffee, and take turns reading a book. Then we discuss from the context of life, where we hint at the challenges of finding courage in our play-it-safe and by-the-rules church.
I can sense it, though we don't always discuss it directly, we all want the same thing--more of Jesus. More of His power unleashed in real ways in our lives. More of His free movement--where His limitless Kingdom sets the rules, not the limitations of our humanity. I know He has a courageous call for His followers, and I believe I'm not the only one that wants to be part of it.
Between showing up and getting involved in conversations, I see ripples of this movement all taking place outside of traditional sit-stand-and-amen church.
I'm not ashamed of that, although maybe a little confused by it.
I'm told traditional church is where we worship and where we fellowship, and I must be missing out on both if I don't attend. But I've found that's not true. It's only after we tried that on for ourselves outside of church, that we've started attending again.
We've spent enough time figuring things out outside of church. I've faced my frustration--that if my time is limited, why not opt for an interactive, alive time with and for Jesus, rather than whatever church had become. Which seemed to be loved-people hoarding more love.
I wondered, what about healing (which requires admitting we're sick) and experience-telling (which requires room for us all to speak) and teaming up in Gospel-sharing (which happens with "outsiders")?
I unintentionally discovered some of that with Mom's Cafe, casual Sabbath morning readings, mastermind meetings, conversations with friends, and personal devotional time.
Now, we're showing up at church again. Making some small effort to be part of the team. Bringing some of that power of God we've been experiencing with us. Courageous God-followers showing up makes a difference, and we've barely just started seeing what that really means. Sure, in church. But everywhere else, too.
It's kind of like my husband's softball team. The team started now 5 years ago. I think one of their only wins the first summer was when the team they were scheduled to play had to forfeit. The next year they might have won a few, but didn't make it past the playoffs.
By the 4th year, their game had changed. They were beating the good teams. They were winning by a lot. They were undefeated. My husband even hit his first couple homeruns. Watching their games was exciting--a true underdog story--and they made it to the championship game.
Then, they lost it.
It was the first game in 4 years that several key players all at once couldn't make it. The one game that really mattered. The one game they'd aimed for each season. And they didn't even have a fair chance because their team wasn't all there.
Church... God-followers... People on the fence or those who have flat-out given up: We've made it to the championship game. Whether Jesus comes in our lifetime or not doesn't really matter. Either way, we only have one life. This is it. Jesus has brought us through the playoffs. We can't afford to lose this one on account of not showing up.
Spoiler alert: showing up wins us, mere underdogs, the game.
And I'm not going to lay out what showing up specifically means, because that will look different for each of us and evolves throughout our lives.
What I've experienced, showing up isn't a repetitive motion just for its own sake. Showing up involves heart-felt prayers for God's Kingdom to show up here as it is in Heaven. It involves seeing God's power where it is and not trying to limit it with textbook religion. It might feel awkward or heavy at times, but we have the hope of a reward we can only imagine because we trust its Creator.
Showing up happens with our own families and in our own homes. It takes place with the neighbor kids or that group we formed in real life from online connections. Showing up is 24/7 wherever we are and with whomever we interact.
It might require some trial and error as we figure out where God's calling us. My experiences lately are just the tiny-step beginnings of showing up in my own life.
I'm finding it might even mean getting our butts back in church because there's a whole generation of arrows waiting for permission to be courageous God-followers. And maybe we're just the testimony they need to know it's possible. Or maybe we need encouragement from each other to know its possible.
Did you think you were the only one feeling this way? The only one being led to something more?
I've made that false assumption before.
It's time to think again, and look around us. The conversation is going on everywhere. The ripples are moving everywhere. The feelings are, more often than not, mutual.
It's no secret what a power our testimony is and what happens when we join together in Jesus' name. There's a sneaky snake that would like us to believe what we can do on our own is enough. That if Jesus' power was seen outside of church then we have every reason to not return.
I hope we start to see those thoughts as they are--lies attempting to dilute the power of the Truth.
And the truth is this: All of life is about love for God and love for others. Not just one of those, but both together. Our devotional life is an important start that must ripple out. Meeting Jesus and experiencing His power leads to action. It leads to ministry that touches lives--working with and for people.
Wherever we experience Jesus' power, it must be taken where it is lacking in this world--our homes, our towns, and, yes, even our churches. Showing up with our testimony of Jesus' love and with the invitation for others to experience it, too.
It will be frustrating at times. It might even feel like we're alone in this.
But we can't give up.
We are His arrows. Let's courageously follow His lead. In our home, in our town, in our churches, and beyond.
We're in the championship game. Let's show up in the power of Jesus and win this thing. Shall we?
the church needs you to be courageous
your family needs you to be courageous