By Cindy Gregorson, Director of Ministries
I have a confession. I did not go to worship for the past two weeks. When my mother learned this, she said to me, “The devil was on my back!” She was teasing me, sort of. She is from the generation that if you are a Christian you are in worship every Sunday unless you are sick or out of town. When I was a pastor in a local church, I held out the same expectation for those who claimed membership in that community of faith. And yet, I was neither sick or out of town. The first weekend I had been going non-stop for several weeks and just need some time and space for myself. I wanted a day where I had no expectations to be any place, do anything. I needed Sabbath. And so I claimed it. The second weekend I had not been able to get in my usual exercise in on Friday and Saturday due to other commitments, and so I decided to go to spin class on Sunday morning instead of worship. Ironically, the instructor never showed. So maybe my mother has a point! I did exercise anyway….and is not spending an hour working your body, paying attention to your breathing, clearing your mind, being present to the present, in its own way worship?
I may have missed two weeks of formal worship, but I feel like I worship all the time. I was in a meeting yesterday morning that began with worship. I have communion once a month with a team of leaders. I frequently am offering prayers, publicly and privately. I am always aware of how I am or am not living for God. I start each day reading a daily devotion and I listen to Christian music on my way to work. I work for the church. I think about God all the time, and I really, really try to pay attention of how I am showing up as a Christian in the world every day.
Now I know how easily patterns and habits get formed. One week becomes two, two becomes three, and before you know it, it has been months since you have been at worship in church. And I do benefit from being a part of a larger community, to hearing a word from God that I might not have chosen to focus on or would open me to new possibilities. I am often blessed by the music, the prayers, the message offered at the church I attend. I wrote a previous blog about the value of community forming us for faith and life. I often say I am who I am because of the faith community that loved me, shaped me and called forth gifts from me and sent me out to lead. What surprised me in this whole episode was how much I really did not want to go to worship, for a variety of reasons, and how hard it was to give myself permission to choose not to be there and feel like that was not a statement about my devotion to God, or my desire to be a faithful Christian. The tapes running through my head went something like this: A good Christian would be there. I am a pastor after all. If I am choosing not to go to church, what does that say about me? Am I being selfish choosing to meet my needs instead of giving this hour to God? Can I dare confess this “transgression” to my colleagues, my family (and the world on this blog) without getting judged for my choice? Does it really make me any less of a Christian if I am not in worship every Sunday?
So in these days as we are re-thinking church, and Christianity, I find myself again pondering what makes you a Christian, and how does the church, the faith community engage us and support us in that journey. Is being a good church member and being a good Christian one and the same thing? When I am working with churches, I am always stressing the difference between activity and productivity. Just because we have people in activities (worship and small groups and hands-on mission) it does not actually mean life change is occurring. But if we never have people in those activities, we are missing the opportunity for life change to potentially occur. And what is the difference of the role of the faith community when you are a committed Christian as I am? Should I be there for the sake of the community, even though my own faith commitment will not be diminished by missing a week or two here or there? And if Sunday morning is really one of the last times in people’s lives that is open, unstructured, where people have margin to just be…do we need to rethink how and when we gather for worship so people can truly experience Sabbath on Sundays? I know for me, if I don’t have commitments to other churches, it is the one morning of the week I would have the luxury to sleep in, read the paper, drink coffee, listen to the birds sing, not rush out the door, to just be. Is that equally needful for my soul and spirit as going to worship? And my cynical self wonders if the faith community really cares if I show up for worship or not as long as I keep sending in my money. But that is a whole other topic!!
These are all things I am thinking about and would love to hear how you are wrestling with this and moving it beyond the usual responses of either You don’t have to go to church to be a good Christian, or You can’t be a good Christian without the church. I don’t see either of those statements being completely, fully true. There is something deeper, more complex about Christianity and the faith community and how they intersect…and what does that look like for our time. So share with me what is your reality, and how are you trying to make sense of it all. I am truly curious especially as we seek to make faith and church real and relevant for today.