As some of you know, I still go to an institutional church on Sunday mornings. The believers I spend time with are a wonderful group of people who call themselves Presbyterians. I attend the Sunday morning service regularly but I don’t go to any of the regularly scheduled programs although I may attend a special event if I want to.
About 12 years ago, God began to set me free from a religious mindset. As I became more and more aware of my identity in Christ and what he had accomplished for me by his death, burial and resurrection, I started to see the church differently.
I now understand that the church is not a building or a denomination but it’s a people who have been energized by the life of God. Also, fellowship is not a group of believers sitting in a building listening to a lecture about the Bible. Fellowship is a sharing of lives which can take place any time believers come together.
As I began to understand the truth of the gospel, my involvement in the organized church grew less and less but I never actually stopped going.
Those of you who have stopped going understand the stress you experience anytime you’re asked THE question . . . “Where do you go to church?” There’s always pressure to come up with an answer that won’t generate the infamous Hebrews 10:25 response.
Those of us who still go and can name a place have our own stresses too. I can feel a knot in my chest every time I’m asked where I go to church. Although church is a part of my life, it’s a relatively unimportant part. So, as a result, I struggle to find the right balance in my answer.
Then, I’m faced with another dilemma. There’s a tendency for some believers who have left the system to bash the institutional church. Before I continue, let me say that this isn’t a problem with those who comment on my blog and it isn't a problem with other believers that I’ve connected with through online groups such as the Free Believers forum.
However, I have seen this tendency on other online groups that I frequent. In conversations, those of us who attend are sometimes challenged about our participation. Comments are made and the result is that believers who understand grace but still attend are considered to be fraternizing with the enemy and are made to feel guilty.
At times, I’ve wondered myself why I still attend since I get nothing out of the sermon and don’t particularly enjoy the other parts of the service. I wonder what’s wrong with me that I haven’t gotten fed up and left. So, when talking to those who have left, unless I know them well, I’m always careful to come up with a good excuse for why I still attend.
Recently, I received an email from a friend who has been in a similar situation. He was going for family reasons but recently made the decision that "enough is enough" and it was finally time to make a break.
As I thought about what he shared, I began to see my own situation more clearly. I had to be honest with myself. The bottom line is . . . I go because I want to. I enjoy being around people even when I don’t actively interact with them. Laurie Helgoe in her book, “Introvert Power” talks about this desire of introverts to be alone among people and it’s true in my life. When I’m home alone for too long, I tend to get depressed so I do better emotionally if I’m around people even if we never talk. I can drift off into my own thoughts and do just fine.
So, I go Sunday mornings and pay no attention to what happens on stage. If I feel like singing, I do. If I don’t feel like singing, I don’t. I don’t raise my arms or clap when they tell me unless I feel like it. When the lecture starts, I tune out. I either look out the window that’s across the room or I watch the people and enjoy them.
As a free believer, God has restored to me choice and I’m now free to make my own decisions and to relate to him in a way that's natural. Of course, I’m not talking about freedom to sin but in the nitty gritty decisions of life, I’m free to choose. As far as church is concerned, I’m free to go and I’m free to not go. The decision is entirely mine.
I don’t know what the future holds. There may come a day when I decide that “enough is enough” but for now, I understand that it’s just not time for me to leave. If that time ever comes, I’ll know it and then I’ll leave but, until then, I have the freedom to go because I want to and I don’t have to feel guilty because I do.