This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with the potential fallout. But after reading Kevin DeYoung’s The Scandal of the Semi-Churched I thought it was a good time to do so.
Our Life as Part of the Semi-Churched
I think we would be called the semi-churched, but not necessarily the way that DeYoung characterized them. We greatly value the body of Christ and know we need to be in healthy fellowship with other believers. We want to use our Holy Spirit bestowed gifts in meaningful ways. David and I have both been in churches in the past where we were fed meat, used our gifts, and found true fellowship. We know the great upside to finding a healthy church situation.
But despite our firm commitment to Christ’s body, our little family (David, Sallie and Caroline – age 7) has struggled a lot with regular church attendance for about eight years. There have been so many reasons why. And just when we think we get a grip on one, another one appears.
Although I don’t think DeYoung necessarily meant to come across this way, his post left me feeling like I would not feel comfortable going to him as a pastor with my struggles. Reading through some of the snarky and cold comments, I said to a friend, “I would never want to be in that person’s church if he/she is representative of its view on this topic.” Maybe their life is just very black and white. Maybe they’ve not struggled much. Maybe they
think know they have all the answers. But I know that there are many valid reasons why people struggle with church attendance and coming at them with a hard-hitting list of heavy questions is simply going to add to their pain. After reading the post and comments, I kept thinking, “Where is the grace? Where is the gentle call of the shepherd to get the sheep to return to the fold?”
We’ve struggled with new baby exhaustion, theology changes that necessitated denominational changes, business burnout, and church members who put a knife in our hearts and then twisted it. We’ve struggled to overcome the pain of spiritual abuse. We have struggled with long-term health issues that make it difficult for us to attend at times. I could write a post about each of these challenges. We have REALLY struggled with church attendance, membership, and feeling like we matter.
There were days as an introverted woman I simply could not face being in church. Honestly, I think most of the men who commented positively on DeYoung’s blog post would mock this or sneer at the very idea. Would DeYoung understand the comments of these hundreds of women? I don’t know. I don’t think I would want to tell him if he were my pastor that as an introverted woman I feel overwhelmed or invisible or unwanted in church.
Depending on God, Not the Local Church
I believe the overriding lesson in all of this for David and me has been to recognize that we are dependent on God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not a church family, not other believers, not a building, not a program, not a great preacher, not a warm Sunday School class, but Christ Alone. We need our Savior. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We need the tender love of our Heavenly Father. God has allowed us to be without these “essentials” much of the time in order to focus on Him.
We’ve had to depend on God because so often there was nowhere else to turn. The body wasn’t there for us. In struggling with a high-need baby/toddler who took every ounce of our being to understand/manage/raise, we were accused of all sorts of things (including making her an idol). There were a couple of times we did humbly go to the body for much needed help and were left humiliated and embarrassed.
We’ve learned to not ask for help again. And we won’t. Truly. It is far worse to be rebuffed and humiliated than it is to suffer alone.
But we’ve clung to each other and we continue to soldier on. We still believe that being with a group of believers is important. We still believe that Jesus wants us to be in fellowship with others.
Questions if You Struggle with Church Attendance
If someone struggles with church attendance, the questions I would ask are quite different than what DeYoung asked. This is what I would say to them.
1. If Christ is truly your Savior and Lord, do you know that your church attendance does not make God love you any more or any less? Ever?
2. Do you know that Jesus knows the pain you have felt because of your church issues? Do you know that Jesus weeps over this pain? Do you know that He desires to carry you lovingly as a shepherd would carry a lamb?
3. If you avoid attending the church you are currently in because of an unsettled feeling that something is not right, is it possible God is using that discomfort to move you on to a different place?
4. Is God trying to get your attention through your church struggles? Is He calling you to greater dependence on Him rather than depending on a pastor or other group of Christians?
5. Have you asked the Holy Spirit to convict you and tell you if your church attendance patterns are dishonoring the Lord? Perhaps you expect more of yourself than your Heavenly Father expects of you.
6. Are you willing to see God move in a fresh way in your life? Are you excited to see what new opportunities He might have for you? Is there a new way or place to use your gifts? Is He trying to get you to think out of the box?
7. Could God be calling you out of the traditional/institutional church and into a more organic church body? A home church? Is the restlessness you feel a sign that the Holy Spirit is moving?
Being semi-churched does not necessarily mean that someone is adrift in their faith. Being semi-churched may be evidence that God is at work in a meaningful way. Throughout my life God has often brought a restlessness when He was preparing me for a change or a new work. Perhaps God is ready to do something new in your life as well.