Church isn’t for everyone, even those with a pure heart, decent morale, and good intentions. There is another place where some belong, under the title ‘Spiritual, but not religious’ or ‘Religious, but not Churchgoer’. People who feel connected to something greater, in a spiritual sense that transcends all areas of life, but choose not to be affiliated with any particular brand of denominations of church on the market. I find myself residing here with significant numbers joining me.
We’ve tried our best, frequenting several churches to find a “right fit”, only to become increasingly apprehensive of the church going experience. Some say we’re too picky or perhaps we just want to feel something. In fact, the churchgoing experience seems to get worse the more we try to fit in. We even lose a little faith every time we see what it means to be Christian. It also makes me wonder how following God begins with and depends on a church. Some would say if you don’t go to church, you must not believe in anything of the spiritual or religious nature. I say, ‘that’s too bad’ and I’m here to expose the truth of why people have lost church, but hopefully not God.
My message is intended to inspire those who can’t find the right church for them or can’t go or don’t want to go, yet can still find a way to believe and communicate with God. It took me years of giving up on church and God before I realized I don’t have to go to church to have God in my life. Nobody is less of a person for not going to church.
1. Missed out on Church 101
Nervously thumbing through the bible, pretending to know where anything is as my pew neighbor practically turns right to the exact page blindfolded with a smug grin, began my initial distaste for church. Was there a test I didn’t study for- how come I feel so ill-prepared? Why do I always feel like an idiot going to church, worried about impressing the devouted followers and the pastor or preacher, but where is God in all this? Then someone makes a reference to a bible story and I’m lost all over again. Everyone around me begins talking of terms I’ve never heard, as if trying to outdo each other with saintly knowledge of the bible. If only they knew they lost me at the first thou shalt….
Many of us are feeling left in the dust when we go to church. Guess I forgot to study before I went, maybe I was too busy those years studying to get my college degree. “The dog ate my bible pastor/preacher.” “A whale, a burning bush?” Are you talking about a Sex In The City episode?
When it comes to basic bible knowledge, those initially trying out church for the first time without prior knowledge are in over their heads. For them, it becomes too overwhelming and discouraging when other church members seem to look down upon people who are not well versed. When I’ve gone to church it seems everybody is quoting a verse from the bible. For some reason I can’t remember a bible verse any better than I can remember a funny joke I was told just a minute ago.
2. Spiritual Versus Religious
As I mentioned in the intro, an increasing amount of people are labeling themselves as “spiritual”. I should probably not differentiate between the two because there is only a fine line. However, in some formats people have attributed certain differences between the two such as “Spirituality tends to be more personal and private while religion tends to incorporate public rituals and organized doctrines.”
As I have found personally, there are numerous distractions in the church going experience that lead me away from God. “Go to elaborate churches to worship, told what to pray and when to pray it. All those factors remove you from god.”…as one source has put it. I compare it to writing a paper. I’ve always considered myself a writer and do it for a living now, but my writing pieces, even as a child, are remarkably different/disengaged when I have set guidelines and told what to write. When I am free to write on the topic of my choice, the outcome is better.
I always come home to the Bible, but just not how I am supposed to interpret it or when to study what. Those that consider themselves spiritual are part of a larger group- it encompasses and transcends all religions. It is bigger.
Just recently I attended church and there was a guest speaker who was wonderful, but to my dismay he was not a pastor or preacher, just a man with spiritual experience. He spoke of truth- our truth, the people’s truth. There were gasps in the church at some of his points which made me realize some regular church goers are accustomed to, and expect, a certain message. One that stunts their growth. Growing is something we can do inside ourselves with God residing there, whereas people can get emotionally and psychologically stuck in a rut at church hearing a message that seems to be a one-size fits all.
3. Day of Rest
Didn’t someone say Sunday is a day of rest, but you want me to get up early anddress up? I want quality time with my pillow and not think twice about my bed head. The thought of getting the kids ready and cheerleading everyone to church is exhausting. We want our day of rest. I don’t want to get out of bed extra early to look extra churchly and put on my saint act and wear my best smile when 10 minutes ago I was yelling at my kids to put their socks on. I put on “fake” dress-up clothes that fashionably go with the “fake” attitude I feel like I have to put on too.
Really, the physical exhaustion is nothing compared to the brutal mental preparedness that goes on to create and maintain the proper definition of a churchgoer.Which brings to mind, does God think me less honorable for not dressing up for church? Maybe if we came as we are, then we would act like who we really are instead of putting up a fake appearance and attitude. Would it mean I’m less devoted if I wore jeans and a ponytail, wouldn’t God want me to come as I really am? If God is inside us, why would he be concerned about what is on our outside?
4. Conflicting Evidence
There are a lot of good people who don’t go to church. We put in a helping hand when needed, we participate in random acts of kindness, and we don’t pretend to practice what we preach. Have you ever seen the devout in public at any given time, especially on a day other than Sunday- or even Sunday afternoon after church? They have two lives, one in church and one definitely outside of church.
Church has left a bad taste in some of our mouths from people who have purposely hurt us or wronged us and claim to be godly to the fact that there is conflicting stories and interpretations among religions and even within a single church. If a Monk can uphold almost impossible religious rituals without question to his faith or to make others feel less worthy, then a Christian can uphold general principles of Christianity without arguing the Book among each other and other religions. They can also be a good example within their community, instead of turning people off to their church by the way they act.
I’m simply saying that people should not seek church to feel as though they have done their good deed for the week, and they can act inconsiderately the rest of the week. Church should not be a sanction for them to feel better about themselves for having done numerous wrongs Monday through Saturday.
5. Thou Shall Not Judge
The feeling of scrutiny and judgment lie heavy upon many church goers- why must we have an extra burden dumped upon us? Everybody judges, but it spreads through a church congregation like wild fire. Do you get the feeling not all of your sins have been forgiven when you walk through those saintly doors? If God ever needs help on judgement day, he need not go further than the nearest church. It wouldn’t be a tough recruiting assignment with all those eagerly judging folk. They try to enforce their views, politics, and parenting advice, among other let’s-not-go-there topics.
In the well-known book, ‘The Shack’, a shocking statement suggested we should not even judge a serial killer. Now think about that a minute, but it’s true. We have no right to judge that person because God may forgive him and we probably wouldn’t. God knows our hearts and perhaps the serial killer was acting out of what he learned as a child from previous abuse. God forgives more than he judges harshly so why aren’t any church goers following his example?
A personal experience for me was a time when I was trying out a new church by going to a women’s bible study group. I had never been to the church, but it was where my daughter went to daycare before I was laid off. I told the ladies I was staying home with my daughter and all of them chimed in with ‘good for you, doing the right thing by staying home with your child, good values, that’s the right thing to do.. blah blah blah’ and all I was thinking was I’d still be working if my boss hadn’t cut me loose. But I am a woman of good values, I wanted to work and make a living for my daughter, isn’t that also the right thing to do? They judged before I told them my whole story.
I also remember church when it was taboo to get a divorce. I remember becausemy mom had a hard time finding a suitable church for us to attend when I was a child and my parents got divorced. Sad, but true.
There are many industries that don’t close on Sundays or even weekends. For example, I was a waitress many years and worked on the weekends, especially Sundays because that was when I made the most money- money I needed to pay the bills. Sure, I could have prayed for an extra $100 from God and stayed home from work, but not to sound obvious and repetitive, I needed to pay my bills. I especially enjoyed the bad Sunday church tippers who turned their nose up to me because I didn’t go to church.
Some people don’t have a choice whether to work on that day or not. One job I had in the mental health industry, I was on-call, especially Sundays. Unfortunately that’s life and even when it’s not our choice, as in work situations, we are still made to feel guilty by the righteous mass who faithfully go to church.
7. Church isn’t the Only Place to Worship
Nowhere in the Bible does it specifically state that a believer must go to church. There are places besides church where someone can worship and feel God’s presence within them. I’m sure there is a verse in the scripture stating something similar about God residing within us no matter where we are. The church doesn’t necessarily represent God, the people do, and wherever the people/believers are, he will be too.
Over time, church can dull the individual excitement and spirit of worship. Church is structured with a specific layout. No matter what church you go to, there is a general format that is followed precisely almost every week, following someone else’s ideas of worship and catering little to individuals or breaking away from routine. If church doesn’t get you excited, you shouldn’t go.
8. Creepiness Factor
Why is it the more mentally ill a person is, the more religious they seem to be? I’ve worked with and been around my fair share of the mentally ill and religion can get pretty weird if you listen to their ‘testimonies’ and the way they “talk to Jesus”. The extremely mentally ill, such as schizophrenia and bipolar, are irrationally fearful people and religion claims to ‘save’ people so I believe it is why they are attracted to religion and it’s promises.
What about the catholic priests and the molested boys- some rumor, some not and that is definitely creepy. I think this is a prime example of religions’ restrictions.People feel they have to hide their true selves in order to be accepted by the church, and sadly the restrictions can cause more corruption and lure of the forbidden (sin) behind closed doors.
Religious cults; preying on the vulnerable who may wind up joining a cult.Others are power hungry and opportunistic, and they are the ones that form and/or lead a cult. The two feed off each other and create cultural and moralistic havoc. Any church that offers an escape from reality is not going to benefit anyone no matter how dire their current circumstances may seem.
9. Repetitive or dull songs
While many, possibly majority, of church frequenters enjoy singing, and are uplifted by the experience, there is an equally impressive number of us who don’t enjoy it, or at least the songs. I don’t want to hear myself singing, let alone granny next to me who is tone deaf- really no offense, but she is usually the one singing the loudest.
The hymns in most churches haven’t been updated in God knows how long. If church music was meant to excite everyone enough to participate, then let’s not leave out the rockers and rappers of most recent generations- we just don’t feel included. This doesn’t mean we don’t want to hear others, more qualified, sing- that is very enjoyable. Maybe some of us would just like to sit it out and enjoy the music rather than participate, but it’s taboo to sit out songs.
There are people who go for the sole purpose to hear a sermon and thoughtfully apply it to their lives. If singing were cut to a minimum, then we could sleep in a little later and go for a half hour church session instead. Actually I know people who arrive at church late to skip the singing part- ingenious!
10. Unanswered Prayers
“Every act you have performed since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something,” Dale Carnegie. This is human nature and a mother knows this best when she has a baby- babies are pure wants and needs.Even making a donation and being charitable has a pay off for you- you feel better after you give and you like that feeling so you may do it from time to time depending on how often you want that feeling.
Church gives some people what they want- some go to learn, to socialize, and to get prayers answered. We expect and believe one time or another our prayers should be answered. When they aren’t, some people will justify the reason for an unanswered prayer and others will lose faith. Faith may be intangible (that’s the point) but we all need something to grasp to keep that faith. Enough unanswered prayers or sometimes just one prayer (or bargain) with God if he does just this one thing for you, then you will never doubt him and become devoted to him everlasting. If prayers go unanswered, then there is no motivation to believe if we don’t get what we want.
God isn’t a magic genie. If we believe more in ourselves, that God can work through us then we can help ourselves. Like the saying goes, “Pray to God, but row for the shore” or “God helps those who help themselves” or “With God, all things are possible”. These statements give us personal powerthrough God. It can serve some people well to separate themselves from the church to grow beyond expectations and what God owes us or a feeling God is punishing us by not answering prayers. These are all injected into us from churches.
There are several benefits for believing in a religion and/or spirituality itself. These benefits are reflected in our physical and mental health and have even been tested and recorded in psychological studies. The unanimous verdict is that someone who believes in something, of religious or spiritual nature, show more positive and healthy activity in their brain, which may also help you live longer and happier as well. However, this does not pertain to going to church, so believers can reap these benefits without the hassles of going to church. Often times people give up on religion and a spiritual life altogether just because they don’t want to go to church, but church is not indicative of believing. Church isn’t what makes someone happy, it is the power of believing.
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