I Am An 'Unchurched' Christian
If you google the words "unchurched Christian", what you'll find is first, a Barna survey exploring the percentages of individuals who claim to be Christians but don't attend church, and second, quite literally thousands of blogs, articles, "Pastor's Corners", and comments from churched Christians on why *they* think these people no longer attend, why *they* think these people are in the wrong, and the most appalling display of Christian cultism, tips and tactics for how to "assimilate" and "reach out to" unchurched individuals.
The idea is simple if you're a church attending Christian: Jesus is coming back for "the Bride", the Bride is the church, so if you aren't in Church you can't *really* be a successful Christian, and eventually you will turn away from God and deny Him and end up in Hell. The end.
There's a lot of emphasis in the modern day church placed on gathering with other Christians. In Hebrews 10:25 the writer, whom many believe to be Paul, says, "not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
This is pretty cut and dry for churched Christians. The "meeting together" is the church and here Paul, assumedly, is directing us to go to church because it's for our own good, and because Christians worship (yes, worship) Paul and revere him as the greatest writer of the New Testament, what he says goes. And honestly, yes, being a Christian and going to church does make it easier.
But why? It's easy to be a churched Christian because no matter what you've seen or done that week, every Sunday you get to be around other people who believe everything you do and that feels just like Mommy putting fresh powder on a diaper rash. It's comforting, it's safe, it's sequestered, it's secluded, it's distant, it's cliquish, it teeters on the edge of cultish...
I never find blogs from people like me. And by me I mean passionate, intense, serious, devoted, and committed believer in God my Father, but staunchly opposed to the modern church and all brands of Christian denominations. In truth I haven't yet met ANYONE else like myself and my husband. We simply do not fall under that category of angry, hurt Christians rebelling against church because we're pissed off. This just isn't us. We aren't mad at God. We love Him. We live for Him. Every single decision we make we take to Him first. Every heartache we bring to Him on our knees. And every blessing we raise to Him in thanks. Everything I am and have today is from Him. I have done nothing of any merit to deserve how good He is to me. And yet, He is good. My faith in Him is unfaltering, and moreover, strengthened since leaving church behind.
Being an Unchurched Christian is like walking blindfolded, with earplugs in, wandering around in the desert trying to follow a distant drumming you can't hear, but can feel in your chest. Because I read the Bible I have an internal map giving me suggestions on which directions I should be pointing to follow the drumming, but other than that I go alone, or rather, we go alone. There is no warm fuzzy feeling and high from a weekly dose of rousing worship and singing. There are no actual voices burned into my brain from fellow Christians talking about the latest praise report and prayer request. I feel tired. I feel scared. And I feel alone. But I keep walking, arms outstretched, moving forward, following the beating, because I trust that God is at the end of my journey and if I just keep moving and believing He will bring me to Him.
When you're raised in church, as my husband and I were, you associate church with God, and are unable to separate the two. I'd like to go a step further and say Christians have replaced God with Jesus, and worship Jesus as their main deity, with God kind of looming overhead watching stuff go down but not really getting too involved. It's like God is the guy who designed that fancy car you drive, but Jesus is the one who gave it to you on your 16th birthday. Sure, we appreciate God for it being His idea, but come on! Jesus gave us a car! We see the church as this go between for us and Jesus and God. To be close to Jesus, we go to church. (Which is the complete opposite of what Jesus came to Earth to do.)
We admire portraits of Caucasian Jesus hanging in the halls, we sing triumphant songs memorializing Jesus' achievements, and we tearfully listen to "messages" from the Bible regarding whatever issue we might be having. We shake hands, we hug, we tithe, we laugh, we smile, and we go home feeling rejuvenated and content. We feel like we can take on the world. We feel like we can make it after all. We feel so strong and so brave.
But hold up a second...
If you are a Churched Christian and you read that last paragraph and saw nothing wrong with it, I think you need to read this next one very carefully.
Count the number of times I used words associated with feeling and emotion. Just kidding, you don't have to count them. But, I intentionally used words that evoke strong emotional responses because I want you to understand that much of what you believe about your self, your life, and your God is based on your emotions.
Church is often compared to a "hospital for sinners", but in truth, it's Ecstasy for Christians: it works fast, it makes you love everybody for reasons you don't quite understand, and it makes you feel absolutely invincible. Church is the number one drug of choice amongst Christians. And like a drug, its negative side affects outweigh the good vibrations you get when you're on that wild and crazy ride.
Being a Christian is more than being happy. But we don't really let ourselves ever feel anything other than happiness. We view sadness as a slap in the face to God (it's not), so we go to that one place that always gives us what we need to feel happy again: church. For the many Christians who have left church because they are angry and sad, as many and MORE stay in church because they think feeling sad and angry will make them lose their salvation and ticket into Heaven. They return to their drug over and over again to keep the high and make it through another week without feeling the true sorrow and desperation of Christianity.
Feeling sad and alone is an understated but essential rite of passage for a true believer. Those who refuse to walk in the darkness of depression rarely know what to do when a real tragedy knocks them on their back. As a woman living with infertility I've watched so many of my peers go from being devout Christians to atheists based on their struggles to conceive. These are good people who really believed in God, but never experienced life without the high of church. So when the tragedy of miscarriages and failed pregnancy attempts broke them, they couldn't cope with the sadness, and turned away from God altogether. And in a way, I don't blame them. No one told them that sometimes just being "saved" won't make the pain go away. No one said, "Hey, you're going to be mad at God A LOT in life. Start embracing it and working through it with Him NOW before something goes wrong and you don't know what to do."
By walking blindfolded and alone as an Unchurched Christian I have found something I never had inside of church: faith IN my sorrow. The last time I felt a good churchy high was 5 years ago. And though the first few years were very hard on my relationship with God, this last year has been brilliant. At first I crawled on my hands and knees toward the beating, sobbing all the way, stopping to weep, vowing I wouldn't be able to get back up, going back to church for a visit, needing that high but not finding it. But now I'm walking upright. I don't weep anymore. I don't threaten to leave Him or turn away. I just keep walking and believing He's waiting for me. And, moreso, I KNOW He is.
Christians often mistake the modern physical embodiment of the church for being the "bride" the Bible speaks of. The church. Is. Not. The. Building. It is not the choir. And it isn't...wait for it...the pastor. BOOM. I JUST BLEW YOUR MIND. But in all seriousness, the physical manifestation of the church is completely irrelevant to God. Because there are a ton of crappy people in church right now who have a first class ticket to Hell. This being the case, how can we say that being *in* church is the only way to really get into Heaven, when we already have plenty of douchebags *in* church very much NOT going to Heaven? That doesn't make a lick of sense. It can't work both ways. So, if simply being *in* church can't help these Hell-going evildoers from going to hang out with Lucifer, why do we think not going to church will make us go to Hell, even if we really are Christians? It seems contradictory because it is. The Bride spoken of is the Spiritual assemblage of believers.
Have you ever seen X-Men? Ya know that machine Professor X uses to physically locate other mutants? Think of the church like that. God sees us all in the spiritual realm. NOT the physical. We can all be standing in a big room together, but if only a few of us out of 100 or so are actually Christians, it doesn't matter if the sign outside says "church". We ain't assembling. The assembling means we are of one MIND. Think of it, if you will, as a Hive mentality. Despite how far the honeybee roams he is still connected to the one basic principle that keeps his people alive. And he has to roam. He has to go it alone sometimes. He has work to do and no one can hold his hand while he does it. And if they all just hang out in the hive all the time doing nothing but feeling really happy that they're all bees, they will all die. As Christians the hive mentality of who God is should be enough for us to know we are connected to millions of Christians around the world. But we refuse to let this be enough. Because it doesn't feel quite as good as snuggling up to another bee and thinking about how great it is to be a bee, and isn't this hive nice, and that's where the new children's hive is going to be, and I personally love the new buzzing dances we're doing, and that Queen sure knows how to cheerlead us into being happy bees, doesn't she? We would definitely be happy bees. And then we'd die of starvation.
Hmmm....sounds like quite a few churches I know.
I'll give you an example. 5 years ago I went to a local megachurch. At the height of its membership it decided it was time to build an even bigger church. Several designers were brought in, plans were drawn up, land was bought, parking lot was paved, and old church was put up for sale.
And then several factories in that town shut down, putting over half of the membership out of work. Tithes stopped coming in. Membership dropped. And that lot has now sat vacant for 4 years. This church is paying for two properties it can't afford and tithing and membership continues to steadily drop. In a few years time they will be forced to sell those 15 acres, and paved parking lots, and building plans. Because when tragedy hit, the bees hadn't learned what it was like to be faithfully alone and walk through sorrow without faltering. And the hive is dying. And no one knows why.
I'm an Unchurched Christian. And once upon a time I was hurt by church. I was hurt by the hypocrisy and control I found in church. So I left in anger. But instead of staying angry, I humbled myself and took a long, hard look at my life, and I made God a promise I have always kept: I will go back to church if that is what YOU want me to do. If being in Church is good for me, YOU tell me, and I will do it. Lead me where I need to be, Lord. And I will follow.
And I have followed. I've visited churches. I've researched different denominations. I've learned about Judaism and the roots of Christianity to grasp a deeper understanding of what I believe. I always go with my parents to their church when we visit them. I attend church with a neighbor of mine if she invites us. I repeatedly open my heart up to the possibility that at any time God could place me in a church that He feels will help me grow. I keep myself open for it. I don't fight it. And I won't fight it.
But that being said, I can say with all honesty that the last five years of my life as an unchurched Christian have been the most challenging, rewarding, and faith growing years I have ever known. Before these last five years I didn't know how to handle despair when tragedy strikes. Now, I keep walking, even though it doesn't feel good. Before these last five years I sought the constant approval and support from fellow Christians. Now I rely only on God to counsel me and encourage me and guide me. The opinions of others are of no consequence to me. And, I'm just gonna tell you this right now: being persecuted by other Christians because you don't go to church will teach you a lot about mercy and forgiveness. And it will really open your eyes to what the church can do to good, well meaning, but indoctrinated people.
I am an Unchurched Christian. I am not angry. I am in love with God. I am changing the world and sharing His truth with those around me. And I am still going to Heaven when I die. And it's okay if you disagree. It's okay if you don't understand. It isn't easy to walk through the desert, blindfolded, with earplugs, and only a faint thumping in your chest.
But, it's worth it. And when my outstretched hands meet my Father's at the end of my life, I hope I made it there running, and the first thing I see is His face and the first thing I hear is His voice.