Debates surrounding the validity of church membership/attendance have raged for as long as there has been a building designated for worship. However, the question about attendance/membership is a silly conversation until you correctly define the term, “Church.”
As a believer, and even as a minister, I had intellectually addressed the idea of church attendance, and had concluded that I must go for a number of reasons.
1. Scripture indicates that fellowship with other believers is important. (Hebrews 10:25)
2. It is the best place to be encouraged in my faith.
3. It is the best place for me to encourage others.
4. I get paid to be there.
But I still struggled to make myself go. I wanted to go, but only because I assumed it was my duty. So I drug myself to that pile of bricks almost every day. The more I drug myself to a place I didn’t want to be, the more I became a person I couldn’t stand to look at. Sometimes I could only be there for a few hours before I wanted to burn the place down; which seemed to be an odd reaction for a person in my position, so I’d just leave.
I never lost a passion for the work I was doing, I only struggled with the demand that I go…So I did the only thing I could think to do. I quit going.
Really! I quit going. I made the decision while driving to my parent’s house one day, and I never went back to a church again. Ever!
I know what you’re wondering, “How are you employed by a church if you never go?”
Great question. I’m glad you asked.
That trip to see my parents was a watershed moment for me because it began a process of healing in my heart and mind that I never saw coming. I was listening to a podcast when my eyes were finally opened to the truth. (It was either Matt Chandler, Ravi Zacharias, Eric Mason, or Charles Stanley. I can’t remember which one it was, but those are the podcasts I listen to so it had to be one of them. If I had to put money on it, I’d say it was Chandler, ‘cause it sounds like something he’s say, but I wont put any money on it because gambling is a sin…I think.)
There I was, driving east toward my childhood home, when my ears caught on to some of the most freeing words I’d ever heard. In a single moment, the Lord used one of his servants to free me from an obligation that had wrecked my happiness, and stripped my ministry of potential fruit. Honestly, I can’t even remember what the rest of the message was about, because I was so stunned by a single statement in it.
“It is theologically impossible to go to church.” – Unknown*
I almost had to pull off the road for a minute because of the overwhelming sense of relief I felt. I realized that I was pressuring myself to do something that was impossible.
I never went back to church after that. I realized that my membership in the body was, as it had always been, determined by my relationship with Jesus Christ, and rested solely in the fact that Jesus had made me a new creation. My born-again nature had grafted me into the church.
I couldn’t go to church, because church wasn’t a place.
For example, I can’t attend human, because it’s not a place; it’s a word that describes something that I already am.Church is the same way. It describes who I am, not where I go!
Oh, but it doesn’t end there…everything began to shift. I couldn’t go to church, nor could I leave church!
Being that I am a member of the church, regardless of where I am geographically, my ministry and calling are just as permanent. I can’t stop working for the church, because my calling as a minister is also an identifier, not an occupation.
Wow!!! I was free!
Free to pursue ministry in a way that wasn’t confined to a location. Free to minister as an agent of THE CHURCH instead of just ‘my church.’ Free to move in and out of my office as an ambassador of our local gathering.
I didn’t have to justify my attendance at a basketball game, One Act Play performance, or even taking stats for our high school football team. I didn’t have to try to convince people that I was really ministering when I met kids at the school while substitute teaching. I didn’t have to persuade my local body of believers to continue to allow me to do the things I felt called to do as a minister, simply in an effort to comply with a job description.
Now it was evident to me that to do anything other than what I felt called to do, in the way the Holy Spirit called me to do it would be a disservice to the dedicated attenders of my local congregation. They called me to lead them in student ministry, as well as worship ministry. They called me to lead them. And up until that point, I had been a reluctant follower. But now, I began to realize the freedom I had to lead. Lead in passionate ministry. Ministry that was more than hours at a desk, more than songs on a Sunday morning, and more than lessons on Wednesday night.
I was free to minister!
If you want to experience that same kind of freedom, then stop going to church.
Be the Church!