Why I still go to church (A response to Donald Miller)

If you follow Donald Miller, you know this week he stirred up some dust when he wrote about why he rarely attends church. (Read his post here http://storylineblog.com/2014/02/03/i-dont-worship-god-by-singing-i-connect-with-him-elsewhere/) Let me being by saying I often find Donald Miller insightful. But I don’t always agree with him.
The other day he dropped a blog post about church. He linked to the post with these words, “Here’s why I don’t go to church every Sunday.” In the post he said, “So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest. Like I said, it’s not how I learn. But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe. I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith. I worship God every day through my work.”
He is not alone in those thoughts. Many people don’t feel like church is for them. They don’t get much out of the sermon. They don’t get much out of the worship service. They have a Lone Ranger, independent streak in them. So, why go?
But if I could ask Donald Miller one question, it would be the question I ask every Christian who is absent from church. Here it is:
What if the church needs you?
Look, I get it, you don’t need the church. But what if it needs you? What if there is someone in that congregation that needs a word only you can deliver? What if the local body of Christ is suffering because they do not have your hands to work, your mouth to speak, and your heart to love? Who is missing out because you are not there?
One thing I know for sure; if you are not present and interacting with others, you will never make a difference.
And, if could, I would ask one other follow up question. Here it is:
What if you need the church more than you realize?
What if there is someone in that church that is going to teach you something no one else can? What if you meet someone who is difficult to live with and God wants to grow your patience and love by continually ministering to them? It is too easy to grow a Christian community of people we “like” (people who are just like us and we enjoy being around). Being involved in a actual church demands much more form us than hanging out with our Christian friends.
What if God plans to open up new opportunities and avenues of life by your constant interaction with people seeking to move forward in their relationship with God? The people who have influenced me in my Christian walk are not necessarily “Christian friends.” Instead, I have been shaped by old people, young people, difficult people, anxious people, angry people, patient people, eloquent people, and some of the greatest love I’ve ever seen.
If I was the one picking and choosing all the people who compose my Christian community, I would miss out on so much. I would stick with people who are like minded. I would stick with people who like coffeehouses. I would stick with people who have my sense of humor. I would stick with people who contribute to me.
And I would be worse off for it.
I understand church is a difficult commitment. There are times I have shaken my head and wondered what I was doing there. I’ve struggled with the music (in fact, my two best worship times came at concerts, not at church). I’ve struggled with the messages (throughout my life, I’ve gotten far more from conversations and reading books than I have from sermons). I’ve struggled with the Sunday School classes, discipleship programs, and everything else the church does.
I am a pastor now, so you can write me off if you’d like. But I grew up in church. And there were plenty of opportunities for me to abandoned it long before I became a pastor.
But in the end, it really is like marriage. The benefits far outweigh the pain of growing together.

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2 Responses to “Why I still go to church (A response to Donald Miller)”

  1. Mark Miller says:

    Wes, this is really good. You’re spot on.

  2. Cory Isakson says:

    Donald Miller states “the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe”.
    Wes, you then make an assumption before going into your questions. “They have a Lone Ranger, independent streak in them.” Actually you make a few assumptions about how Donald and others actually live out their faith. I think that is why you have questions.

    I would like to answer and perhaps clarify, but maybe not.

    “What if the church needs you?”
    I think this question and the subordinate questions you asked are great, but you should also answer them. I think most of us who hold to a broader view of church, “the church all around us” have similar questions. It is not that we are un-interested in meeting the needs of others. Far from it! We want to encourage them, weep with them, fellowship with them, love them, and all of the one anothering we can lay hold of. We simply do not have a need or desire to confine that to a single congregation. So your congregation is part of our church, but we enjoy the ability to be with Jesus and His people elsewhere also.

    I have observed that many local congregations, the type of thing Donald isn’t fond of attending, often fail to see or meet the needs of the larger church around them. They end up focused on themselves even to the point of exclusion from the larger body of Jesus. So, who is missing out on your contribution to the body?

    “What if you need the church more than you realize?” “Being involved in an actual church demands much more form us than hanging out with our Christian friends.”

    Some more assumptions here. I have to say that your second round of questions really needs reflection back to local congregations more than the first set. Local congregations definitely have their share of “difficult to live with” folks, but that gets to be an even bigger challenge in a broader context. Local congregations tend to be the most like each other. It is easy to see that when you try to mix a Pentecostal with a Baptist or a Fundamentalist. Or throw a public school family and a home school family together and have them discuss child rearing. When each of those folks is with the “doctrinal friends” in their local congregation they tend to get along much better than in a mixed context. I am convinced we need the perspectives of the differing denominations, cultures and styles. We need not be limited to those that think like we do. We have the most to gain by mixing without people outside our comfort zone who love Jesus but may have some ideas we don’t “like”. You acknowledged that you have been influenced, I assume positively, by not necessarily Christian friends.

    We are currently attending an International Baptist Church because we love that it contains 33 different nations of people and that it accepts people who don’t hold to the exact same doctrinal distinctions. The group down the road however restricts itself to KJV readers only. The KJV group needs a lot of us I think, but they reject us with our “false” translations at the door. I think that group reflects exactly what you assume Donald is doing.

    Do you really think Donald Miller only sticks with people he likes or that like you, he is choosing only people who like coffee houses? I certainly don’t do that in my “Donald Miller-like” life. I spend time with people who want to know Jesus of all flavors. I will meet them wherever they are at. Love is always about others! I have friends that are pastors, ex-pastors, Catholics, Baptists, non-denoms, para-church, local-church, free from church, and so on. Perhaps you assume incorrectly that those of us who prefer life in Jesus outside the local church are looking for an easy comfortable ride. That really is not true at all. George Barna wrote an entire book to address that fact (Revolution). His conclusion is that many have in fact left local congregations to go deeper in their faith than the local congregations would allow. I believe Donald Miller likens them to Universities and mentions that for some it is like they have graduated. I personally have very few Christians in my life that think like me. Most of them are people more like you who favor traditional models of church. I long for more likeminded brothers, but at this time in my life I am happy to be with those that Jesus has me with instead.

    OK, that is about all I want to say at this point. I have run into this line of thought many times and it comes down to deciding if the Bible demands participation in a local church as you would define it or if perhaps it needs redefining or at least acceptance that there are valid alternatives. But please do not make the mistake that Jesus followers who don’t want to attend church are lone ranger, selfish, my way or the hi-way type people. Sure, some may be, but most are not. We have the same desires as you; we just express them in a way that is harder to put a name or a label on.

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