The following is a column I wrote for the St. Albans Messenger's "Faith and Community" page. If you are reading this here, chances are you are already participating in the life of our church. I still hope this is encouraging to you. If you aren't part of our church (or any church), this is written especially for you.
For many of us, the new year brings fresh energy and resolve to make life changes. Maybe you got a membership to Planet Fitness. Maybe you set a career goal like higher sales numbers, a promotion, or continuing education.
But let me suggest another resolution that, I believe, will have long-lasting benefits reaching into every part of your life: go to church. Here are three things I believe you (and I) need that the church has:
1. Relationships. Our culture has overdosed on individualism. Church has the antidote. To some degree in every church, you will find community. Not just an affinity group, but real community: people from different walks of life with whom you find unexpected kinship. People to share your sorrows and celebrate your joys. People who challenge you and people who annoy you. People who show up with their truck when you move and with soup when you’re sick. In short, family. That’s why writers of the New Testament call fellow Christians “brother and sisters.” If you are feeling lonely or disconnected, you need the church. If your life revolves around your nuclear family, you need the church. You need the rich relationships that a church provides.
2. Something bigger than yourself. What draws all these different people together? One word for it is a “metanarrative.” That is, a story that makes sense of all reality, including our own lives. For Christians, this metanarrative is the story the Bible tells—that a good God created us to love and be loved, that we have all gone horribly wrong, and that God came into history in the person of Jesus Christ to make us right again. The church has been the keeper and proclaimer of this story through history. In the act of gathering each week to sing, pray, and listen to the Bible, we remember that we are part of something much bigger than our own lives. And this, we believe, is the key to a healthy, flourishing life.
3. Opportunities to serve. While there are many organizations through which to volunteer your time and talent, the church is unique because it is more than a service organization. It is a school for love. As we remember how God has sacrificially loved us, we learn to love others (1 John 4:19). Therefore, service in and through the church transcends volunteerism; it is soul-formation. And, paradoxically, as we learn to give ourselves away for others, we discover more about ourselves. Whether your gift is teaching, building, music, administration, encouraging, praying, giving, or something else, your gift is needed in the church.
As a pastor, I talk to people almost every week who tell me things like, “I’ve been meaning to get back to church, but life is too busy,” or, “I went to church when I was younger, but then I drifted away.”
There are many reasons people don’t go to church. What’s yours? Maybe you just don’t believe. Why not give the story of the Bible another hearing? Maybe you left church because you were hurt by people in the church. Why not give people another try? Maybe you think that you have many more important things to do on a Sunday morning. I suggest that you reconsider.
I know I’ve painted a pretty glowing picture. As a pastor, I can tell you that the church rarely lives up to her ideals. The church will disappoint you, and you will find plenty of evidence that people are not perfect. Yet this is exactly the reason we need the church so much. At its best, it is a place where broken people like you and me can find a greater love.
So, for your sake, try church. And maybe in the process you will realize that it’s about something much bigger than yourself.