I grew up going to church. It’s what my family did. Church on Sunday mornings, youth group on Wednesday nights. My entire life, church has been a constant.
That said, I have a strange love-hate relationship with American churches. I know plenty of people who are fed up with them, and for good reason. At their worst, churches can be Houses of Hypocrites; a social club for the holier-than-thou; a group of people more concerned with outward appearances than the states of their hearts.
But churches can also be beautiful. Done right, they can be a community — a family — of imperfect people. Imperfect people who KNOW they’re imperfect, but are trying as best they can to teach the word of God while living and to loving people like Jesus did.
I’m at my current church precisely because I see it like that. It’s a place that cares deeply about God and deeply about Christ’s heart for serving others. And it’s not all talk. They back up that conviction with actions.
But even with all that — it took a long time before I felt connected at my church.
I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I adored my pastors. I loved my church’s mission and heart of service. We made volunteering in community a priority: feeding the homeless, serving at cancer treatment homes, you name it. And the people seemed nice enough, I just didn’t know them very well. Three years in, and I’d occasionally still get people asking if this was my first Sunday. Uh …. nope. I’ve been here a while. Thanks, though.
In total, I sat around my church for a good four years wondering why it took so long to get to know people.
Four years. It took four years before I realized my church might not be the problem. I might be the problem.
What I’ve discovered — and to be honest, you might not like this — but here goes. Church is not meant to be a spectator sport.
It’s not meant for you to come on Sunday, sing some rockin’ worship music, listen to a rousing sermon, laugh at your pastors’ jokes, slurp down a latte and go home.
This isn’t the Seahawks. You don’t just dress for the occasion, chat with a couple people over free food, cheer at the appropriate times, then complain for the next few days if the guy up front made a decision you didn’t like.
Church is a community of believers. And community is something you take part in, not something you observe.
Here’s the thing, no one is going to force you to participate. (God definitely won’t smite you for sitting in the sidelines.) In fact, you won’t earn cosmic brownie points for participating, either. But don’t expect to get the full experience of an epic, life-enriching Christian community if you treat Church like a spectator sport.
Not the Bible study leader type? That’s fine. No one said you had to be a Bible study leader.
I make lattes. A couple Sundays a month, I forgo my God-given right to sleep in on weekends and show up at (gasp!) 8:45am so that I can hand out free lattes before our 10:30 service. It’s early. But I love coffee. I used to work for Starbucks. Pulling shots of espresso is a skill I have. And, apparently, it’s something I can use for God’s kingdom.
I know making lattes sounds silly. Its pretty frivolous, actually. On the list of Things that Matter to God — getting Katie and Tom their morning lattes (with kids hot chocolates for Sara and Jimmy) is probably ranked pretty low. But I also make the Sound Guy a grande mocha first thing. He doesn’t ask for it, it just appears. Name anyone who arrives early to set up for the service, I probably I know how they like their coffee.
(In fact, our worship team considers their morning lattes their “pay”. They signed up for a volunteer position, and they see my silly little lattes as a sort of compensation for all their time and energy.)
Okay, so I’m not advocating that everyone should go volunteer at their church’s latte stand. I’ve volunteered for child care, I’ve lead yearlong Bible studies, I’ve served meals to homeless women. I don’t consider lattes to be the pinnacle of Christian service.
But it is a type of service. My point is — if you want to get involved at your church — you can find something you care about. Something that won’t feel like work.
- If you like to sing, join the choir or worship band.
- If you like holding babies, work in the nursery.
- If you like playing wacky games with teenagers, get involved with youth group.
- If you like making lattes, volunteer at the espresso stand.
- If you like praying, join your church’s prayer ministry.
There are so many ways to get involved. You don’t have to dedicate your life to service. But you can find simple ways to get involved.
Not because you should. Not because you’d be a better Christian if you did. Not because you’re going to earn favor with God. He doesn’t work like that.
But he did make us to be in community. As you’ve probably noticed: Church people are imperfect, flawed humans. They make mistakes. They have bad days.
Some of them think they’re better than everyone. But that is their problem, not yours. And their selfish, hurtful actions are not representative of God’s heart.
Personally, I connect best not with the pious church superstars, but with everyday Joes who are imperfect-but-willing-to-serve. The ones who don’t have life figured out any more than I do, but have decided to show up.
To block off time in their calendar. To set their alarm clock. To walk through the door. To say, “Here I am, God. Use me however you will.”
The more I find ways to show up at church, the more connected I feel. I get lunch with an ‘adopted grandma’ who lives near my work. Or to go out for dessert with an ‘adopted little sis’. I’ve asked people in church leadership how I can be praying for them. I’ve looked for opportunities for my church to volunteer with local nonprofits I care deeply about (and I’m more than willing to spend an evening buying supplies to make it happen).
I still don’t know everyone in my church. But I know a lot more people than I used to. And I’m not the most-committed, most-service driven person in my church. Not by far.
But I show up. I volunteer in ways I enjoy. I’ve started focusing more on relationships. I am an imperfect person making a point to hang out with other imperfect people. And we’re all trying — as best we can — to learn more about God and actively find ways to show his love to others.
We’re not dressing up in Seahawks blue and green and watching from the sidelines. We’re suiting up, grabbing a helmet, and rushing out on the field. We might not be Russell Wilson. But we’re showing up. We’re ready to learn. And we’re going to give it our best.