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I love the church, but I hate going to one.

I could probably count the times I’ve attended church in the last year with my ten fingers.

Me – the youth minister, worship leader, the ‘strong-in-faith’ lady, the encourager, the giver – stopped going, and even began resenting the church. Too many Sundays have passed with sleeping in, enjoying a good breakfast, reading an interesting book, and going to church sounded like hard work. Work I wasn’t willing to do.

The Sundays when I kicked my own butt and got myself to church, empty-handed and empty-hearted, I showed up annoyed and left appalled, aggressive, and angry.

I’m angry at people’s closed-mindedness; that God can only be found a certain way, worship songs performed in a specific style, and a service outside of a church building without a proper sermon doesn’t count. I’m frustrated at the, “We’re all one big family in Christ… except not,” mentality. Instead of living and acting like ONE body of Christ, churches are quick and eager to emphasize their differences. Arguments and theological debates about minor issues make people blind to those who are really in need to hear the good news. In a country where Christianity has lost its influence and society mocks believers, Christians would rather fight with their brothers and sisters instead of moving closer together.

I’m bewildered at, “We need to make Jesus cool, so we can sell the gospel,” strategy. Meetings follow meetings, with extensive planning to create an even cooler service or special event. A service needs to entertain the audience (or was it congregation?) with a light show; an atmospheric, ever-repeating worship time and a message spiced up with hipster language delivered by a hipster pastor read from an iPad. “Church time” is about connecting people over flavored coffees and beautiful cupcakes, and you better not leave without signing a card to enter a small/connect/dive in/whatever group. Your name, your life is not as important as your commitment to church membership.

I’m disillusioned by, “Jesus loves everyone, but we have certain conditions,” attitude. Getting saved is only the beginning of the journey. When you become part of God’s family, you have to read your bible, pray daily, fellowship with other Christians, stop doing “worldly” things, plan outreaches for the “lost” while not fraternizing with them. When you come to church, don’t think too much; take notes on the sermon, say, “Amen,” at the right time, and adopt the attitude towards abortion/gay rights/bible interpretation/dress code everyone else has. Yes, you’re saved by grace, but you’ve still got a lot of work to do.

I’m disappointed by a lack of real understanding, real caring, real bearing one another’s burdens and waiting together. This past year has been one of the toughest in my life. I had to embrace an unknown future, deal with loss, grapple with doubts about myself, others, and God. This encourager and leader was exhausted; I had nothing left to give. I was consumed with hate. What I needed were friends who sat with me in the darkness, who bore the silence with me, who weren’t afraid of the hard questions. What I got was shallow worship songs, a nauseating happy-clappy atmosphere, and promised prayers that made me want to punch someone. Church had become a hypocritical performance I no longer wanted any part of. So I left.

I step out of the safety of my boat to take first steps onto the shaky waves.
I break out of old boxes to conquer new ground.

I leave behind religion to discover more of God.

Some assume I am losing my faith.

They think I have turned my back on God and the church. But in walking away from the church, I have found the church.

My service is sitting with a friend going through tough times; battling fear, shedding tears and waiting until this quiet sense of peace settles in our hearts. My prayer is often just a whispered, “Lord, have mercy,” when big words sound shallow. My worship is sweet nights of cooking and fellowship with others, rejoicing at what the Lord has done in our lives, no matter how small it may be. My Sabbath is allowing my body and soul to truly rest; walking through nature and drinking in the rich colors of creation; being still until I can hear that quiet whisper that restores my life. My congregation is broken people lifting up their empty hands to the well of living water every day.

My church is wherever I meet someone in Jesus’ name – in a café, on the bus, at work, in the middle of the night, in the silence – and not when I drag someone to a building whose soul has left a long time ago to follow where its master calls it: TO BE a light in the surrounding darkness.

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