Nearly a decade ago I stopped going to church.
Not really intentionally or all of sudden, but rather gradually over time.
You see, Emily and I had just started attending a new church. We had recently gotten married and moved a thousand miles away from our hometowns. So change was abounding.
This new church seemed to be a natural fit. My sister and her family (the only people we knew in town) went there, it was fairly close to our apartment, and worship service was held in a gym. For a guy who loves sports, the basketball goals seemed to hang in the air as if they were a sign from heaven.
Initially, it appeared to be just like other churches.
Let’s just say I knew the routine. After all, I had been going to church for years. I mean, I believed in God and knew that’s what I was supposed to do. So I made it a point to be in a pew on Sunday mornings.
I often settled in the back away from those weirdos who raised their hands in the air during certain moments of a song or yelled “Come on!” in an effort to affirm what was being said.
I would sit through the opening music and then give the pastor 25 minutes to entertain me.
If I was bored or “didn’t get anything out of it,” it was a wasted trip. After all, I had given up an opportunity to sleep in!
When we started at this new church, I slipped into the same routine. I showed up on Sunday, sat through service, shook some hands, and then rolled to lunch as quickly as possible in order to be home for kickoff.
But, something happened a few months in. I stopped going to church and started becoming a part of it.
Because I learned that church isn’t a place you go to. It’s not a movie or a ballgame. And, though the pastor may have a PhD, it’s not in stand-up comedy or acting.
I learned that church isn’t full of a bunch of spiritually elite that meet on Sundays and give each other some secret handshake that I wasn’t privy to. Rather, the church is made up of imperfect misfits, just like me…people who don’t have it together, who make mistakes…people who get angry and jealous…people who stick their foot in their mouths…average Joe’s.
I learned that the church actually isn’t a building, and a 25 minute sermon on Sunday mornings doesn’t define it either.
I learned that God doesn’t want just my attendance: He wants my participation.
You see, somewhere along the line, I realized that church isn’t about what you get out of it. It’s about what you put into it.
In other words, I learned that the church, His church, is a living, breathing thing. I learned that I am the church.
And, something dramatic changed. I began to have a real relationship with God instead of being a spectator. I realized that before, I didn’t even know Him.
I started serving in a few capacities, and I felt engaged and connected to God and people like never before. I felt as if I belonged. I started going because I wanted to, not because I thought I should.
I finally began to understand what He meant by “love your neighbor.” And, in order to do that, I had to run towards those “weirdos” instead of away from them.
So, this week, stop going to church. Trust me, your pastor will be glad you did.
Not attending church right now? Don’t be discouraged; be encouraged and just go. I never would have been able to change if I hadn’t at least been present for all those years.
What do you think? Do you need to engage in a local church? Do you have a similar transformation story?