by Austin Maxheimer
“Why Church when it seems so lame?”
This question forced me to revisit why I believe in the Church so deeply now, when that certainly wasn’t always the case. There was a span of 5 to 6 years when I not only thought church was lame, but that it actually harmed society. I felt embarrassed of my churched background and sought to distance myself from that upbringing. Now I work for a church planting organization and truly believe the Church is the hope of the world.
Why? What changed? Why this drastic shift in viewpoints?
Well it is impossible to recount the journey in its entirety in a blog post, but I want to share just three—of many—of the biggest perception busters that helped me move from skepticism of church to a proponent of church.
Important Clarifier: This is picking up in my personal story after I had already reconciled issues of the Christian faith itself. That is a different conversation and journey.
Lame: Cultural Christianity
Now: Living Christianity
While 74% of Americans claim Christianity as their faith, recent research shows that as few as 9% of Americans hold a biblical worldview and are an active part of a church. Why this discrepancy?
A great read by Christian Smith argues that the actual worldview of Americans should rightly be called “Moral Therapeutic Deism.” Summed up briefly: God exists and created all this, but doesn’t interact with the physical world and has no bearing on my day-to-day life. I just need to live a good life and do good things. But if a crisis happens or if I’m confronted with something I don’t understand or fear of death, then I can turn to my “faith in God.” To this definition I would add “superior” between moral and therapeutic. My view of what is right or wrong—and life in general—is superior to yours.
This is not a Christian worldview. It is an American cultural phenomenon that when people are pressed to name their faith, they mistakenly call it Christianity. And it is lame.
That was my experience; Christianity was part of the collective culture and the people in churches were just playing an expected part. Early on in my journey back to church, I was exposed to people I loved and trusted and spent intimate time with who lived out their faith in every aspect of life. When their faith rubbed up against cultural expectations, instead of synthesizing, they lived counter-culturally. Above all they were obsessed with Jesus, tried to love others the same way he did, and they absolutely loved their local church!
This lifestyle was so consistent, authentic, credible, and observed over such a long period of time that—despite my skepticism—it forced me to inspect their view and involvement with Church.
Institutions are characterized by rules and procedures, quotas, slow decision making, predictability and security, tradition, change is dreaded, etc. If that is your perception of church, then no wonder you think it’s lame. However, history has shown a very different church, one that revolutionizes cultures in a way that places infinite value on all people, creates magnificent works of art, and spurs on groundbreaking scientific innovation.
The Church has transcended time and culture in a way that has been completely unique in human history. It tends to get lame when it has bent too far toward an institutional model and aligned itself with political bureaucracy. We are all too familiar with that narrative here in the Western world. But that is not the current story of the Church worldwide where it is exploding in the Southern Hemisphere and parts of Asia. There the Church is still a Movement with a capital “M.”
Once you experience Church that is vital, vibrant, and moving, you begin to see the transformative power of a body of people coming together, unified and spurred on by the sacrificial love of a sacrificial Savior. The question begins to shift from “Why Church?” to “What else could make this sort of an impact?”
Lame: Building for Social Club
Now: Family for Mission
If I could snap my fingers and change one perception of “Church,” it would be to switch people’s mental imagery of church from a building to a people. Even though I had heard that the church is the people my whole life, functionally it operated as a building where people went. The problem with this is manifold, but the biggest detriment is that it conveys: “These people in here are in, and those people out there are out.” It becomes little more than a glorified country club.
The dominant biblical image for the people of God is a family. How different would our perception of the Church be if we applied to it the characteristics of a family—unconditional love, self-sacrifice, unwavering commitment, respect, radical grace, valuing each other for who we are instead of what we do, etc. That is how the Church is supposed to act! Not churches but the Church. All Christians. One big family.
There is this beautiful passage in Ephesians (2:12-21) about how the dividing walls have been broken down. There is no separation between God and humanity or people against other people—just an invitation into a family. And here is the clincher: the family itself is not self-serving; they get to take all the above internal characteristics and share them with everyone. That is the mission! It brings meaning, purpose, and direction to all things and every moment. It takes the Good News—there is a fix for what ails the world, you are eternally loved and infinitely valued—and puts it into the hearts of people and into action in the physical world. At that point, there’s nothing I’d like to be involved with more.
Again, I don’t pretend to claim that this answers all the issues you could raise against the Church. Nor does it give a full glimpse into the power and beauty of the Church when it is working the way it’s supposed to. These are just three things that helped me along in my own journey. What has stopped you from becoming part of a church? What would you need reconciled to make that move? What lingering questions do you have?