I don’t go to Church

Yep.  I am a missionary and I don’t go to church.

I have lived in Georgia, the heart of the Bible belt for about 2 years now, with no luck in this area. And I have tried again and again to find a church that I feel like is made up of real, broken, desperate lovers of Jesus.

But it’s a lot harder than I thought…

As I sat in church on Easter Sunday, I thought…”this is why I don’t go to church.”

I want to be careful about how I talk on this subject.  Because I love the church, and I so badly want to be a part of a group of people just living out the gospel (outside of where I work).

I don’t want to go to a concert.  I don’t want to have to wear sunglasses because of the multi-colored spotlights. I’d rather not choke on the smoke that fills the stage. I don’t want to watch We Bought a Zoo (oh yea, that happened). I don’t want to sing a verse, then a chorus, maybe a bridge, and then stop. And if I am going to fall asleep, my bed is much more comfortable than those padded church chairs.

I just want to sing a song of how much I love God, from the depths of my soul. And I just want to be real.  I absolutely do not expect perfection.  I would just really like genuineness. I’m sure people intend well and have good hearts, but that doesn’t change the emptiness that pervades the room.

I’m craving authenticity.  And the supernatural…I mean this is GOD, we’re talking about! And it’s frustrating to look again and again for a church that actually looks like Jesus…a man fully submitted to the Father and filled with the Spirit of God, yet find slim to none.

I love structure to an extent and I value order. But I wonder what it would be like for a group of people to gather together with no other expectation or agenda but to meet with the living God that we claim to follow. Does that really look like 3-4 songs, 30 minutes of preaching, a closing song and the offering? He’s got to be more creative than that!

If I can find that, I will start going to church.

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51 thoughts on “I don’t go to Church

  1. This is good. I love your heart, Bethany.

    I’ve been going through a similar thing. Not so much about not going to church or not, but rather where I am most useful and/or can grow the most. Since being on the WR, I have a strong conviction about being in church, because I read things like this post, it hits a place in my heart, and then it makes me realize, that’s why I MUST be in church. We’ve experienced so much that others need to experience. I feel that I am cheating others of a blessing by not going and being part of it, regardless of how alive, dead, staged, or blah it is. Which can be TOUGH sometimes, LOL.

    Maybe it’s time we do get back into the American church and help cultivate and share what we’ve experienced.

    Thanks for posting this 🙂

  2. i love you! i’ve lived in the continuum of finding a church for the past few years as well and its been difficult. In many ways I’ve found my church meets on Monday mornings…a little less than traditional, but it meets a lot of what i’m looking for in church. xoxo

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. My husband and I have been in the same situation (and worse) for the last 4 years. We’ve been so hurt by the church and so put off by the “performance”. There are many of us in this boat together!

  4. Two things… I often feel that way during the service. But when I’m active in the church, that’s when I see where God is really working. It can be through Lifegroups or serving all together. It sounds like you’re not serving within the church. But I do get how you feel that sometimes it doesn’t feel ‘real.’ If your church is intentional, then they are going in the right direction. If they aren’t, they they need to be told.

    • Thanks Liza! It’s true, I’m not serving within a church and because I serve within the sphere of my job, I often find it difficult to find places within a church to serve.

      I’m not saying I shouldn’t have to go to church or that I don’t need to. I definitely want to! 🙂

      • I completely understand. As an independent missionary in D.C. hungry for God, it’s difficult to find an authentic church. Sometimes I don’t want to go and am not sure about the church’s intentions. But then I learn to be intentional about going and serving (even leading). I agree with the waiting on someone to find me to serve, it doesn’t always work that way and was more successful in jumping right in.
        At the same time, we all have different set of gifts we should be using to bring to the church (not just a place of worship).

        Thanks for all you do. 🙂

      • As a missionary and getting ready to be with Youth with a Mission (YWAM) this summer, I get where you’re coming from. But then I started thinking (and praying) about authenticity this week. What does it really mean? The more I prayed about it, the more I realized the closest authentic thing you’re going to get is God.
        You cannot expect churches or even people to meet your expectations. A friend once told me before I went to Uganda; “Expect nothing but anticipate everything.” I think that holds true to everything we come across in our life. If we let go of the expectation and make it theirs and God’s expectation instead of ours, we hold true to God’s promises of digging deeper in our churches.
        And you don’t have to necessarily serve but simply start by building relationships with people. Maybe then, you’ll know how authentic they are.

  5. The question isn’t so much ‘why aren’t you going to church’ but ‘how are you BEing the church?’ If these are the things that you want, are you offering them to other people? Or, are you waiting for someone else to take the lead? If so, why? If you are not BEing the church, then you are robbing the church of what God intended you to share. [But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man *to profit withal*. 1 Cor 12:7]

    (This is the jest of what God has recently shown to me in my personal life. The conviction of this lesson has changed my life. I hope it helps yours.)

  6. Thanks for writing this. I stumbled across this from a shared posting. As someone who has been in your position, every ounce of me wanted to ‘find an authentic church’ over a year and a half ago. The church I was attending at the time did not fit my need for what I was looking for. I think we are always looking for our needs to be met, whatever those needs may be.

    However, I’d like to respond to your claim and perhaps shed light and encourage you in this way (and please let me know your thoughts on this as I don’t often make any comments online): If you, myself and others do not ‘attend church’ because we find it to be a performance and not authentic, then by our claim we are likely implying that we ourselves ARE the authentic ones AND desire authenticity in others. In that case if there’s anyone who needs YOU and ME more, then it’s those very churches we accuse of being unauthentic! We can’t make a claim that churches are unauthentic and then not balance out that belief by connecting with those churches and showing them a better way! It’s no different hearing from a person who argues, “I wish this church had a better kid’s ministry.” than hearing from another person arguing, “I wish this church was more authentic.” If God has placed it in our hearts to be passionate in a certain area, we shouldn’t criticize others from a distance but serve side-by-side. We need to recognize what desires God has placed in our hearts and be compassionate (meaning, do something about it).

    Michael Ramsden says it best, and I mean this by way of rebuke and encouragement for me and for everyone else who professes to be Christian: “Compassionate is a word that means to make a moral judgment about something AND then be moved in the depth of your being to do something about it. You have compassion in the face of a social issue such as poverty and you make a moral judgment by saying “That is wrong!”. But then you’re moved in the depth of your being to do something about it. If you’re not moved in the depth of your being to do something about it you don’t have compassion; you have moralizing. God is not interested in moralizing. He’s interested in compassion. He looks into every human heart and says “That is wrong!” and then he is moved in the depth of his being to do something about it. That is the cross!”

    Jesus LOVES his church and actually wants to build his church. We need to recognize this truth. Furthermore, if we do not agree with a particular church’s methodology and say “That’s wrong.” we are saying that our way is right. Then again, whose way is truly right? If the Koreans worship one way that’s different from the Kenyans, and if the Kenyan’s worship in a way that’s different from Americans, where is our argument on methodology really landing? The American church is pretty typical perhaps because we do things a certain way in America when it comes to worship and music. You don’t see many Presbyterians dancing during service, but you will see it in a Messianic Jewish service and you for sure will see it in many African churches.

    If you and I don’t agree with certain methods, let’s remember that those differences are secondary to primary issues such as salvation and bringing the Gospel to the unsaved. I say all of this because I, too, get discouraged when I see our typical American church play the performance but not talk about Jesus. My encouragement would be to stay focused on Jesus’ mission for his bride and please serve where God places you. If you do home church and not typical church in a big building, that’s okay! But let’s not allow our words to lie still in a circle of moralizing, but let’s show compassion and express our faith through love by telling others about Jesus and re-place him daily at the center of Christianity. You might be saying to yourself “I already know and believe all of this.” but my point simply is to remind us all, like the Apostles would, of the Gospel and the joy it brings. I pray you personally find a church for you and your family that serves the way you like. If all else fails, I hope God uses you guys to start a church plant and get people connected with God serving for the forward progress of the kingdom 🙂 And where our universal church has failed us, I would say sorry on behalf of them. We are all family in God’s kingdom, and I love my brothers and sisters in Christ no matter what. We are not perfect but for those of us who are truly in Christ have a common goal that will lead to our greatest joy, namely to be with God in eternity and to see Jesus face to face one day.

    • Thank you so much for this comment! I appreciate your passion and you bring up many good points!

      I am not at all against different methods of church, or the church as a whole. Really, I LOVE the body of Christ. I guess what I want is to partner with people who genuinely are following God. I know it exists and it’s not so much about worship style or anything, just about real people going after an encounter with a real God.

      I wonder what it looks like for those leading churches and starting churches to be the authentic and genuine ones.

      Thank you for your prayers for me!! I hope to find a church home as well! 🙂 I’m not okay with not doing anything about it, or just sitting around waiting for someone else to do it.

  7. Hi Bethany! I am a friend of Ashli Blackwell’s. She shared this with me today. I am very moved by your heart & search for authentic, raw believers. it is very scarce in our culture. growing up in South Mississippi, as a pastors kid, I know first hand all about the institution (the name I use for organized worship in the bible belt, and elsewhere). After I married in 2005, the Lord shook me to the core by leading my husband to leave the sunday/wednesday crowd after questions of “is this truly the way God intended the church to look?” what ensued was a journey I never thought would have come my way. but it’s been the best thing to EVERY happen to me. I am going to message you on facebook more about this journey of finding an organic expression of community. a real believing Body. my husband and I have studied this topic for many years now. we have many resources. hope we can get to know each other as Ashli talks VERY highly of you!

  8. I love this. I too was/am a missionary. I was on Psquad of the World Race and I now live in Montgomery and haven’t gone (regularly) to church since I moved here. It is really sad and discouraging to look for a place that you connect and continually be let down. I hope you (and the rest of us) find a place where the church is home, not just a building!

  9. Do you think you/we will ever find a church like you described?

    I struggle with going to church lately because I get so distracted during any type of corporate worship. I’ve been a little selfish and wanting my quiet time with God.

    • Hugh! That is a big question that I have been asking the Lord. I jokingly told Hannah that I wanted to start a church. HA. That scares the poop outta me because how do you freaking do that?

      But I struggle with it too. clearly. 🙂 ps- i think you’re awesome. thanks for sharing your curry with me today.

  10. Fo’ real. That’s why I love my church…because I’ve found that there. Genuine people. A pastor that’s kind of a lovable jackass. A bunch of people with screwed up lives who still have hope for peace. Weirdos, millionaires, drug addicts and recovering addicts all hanging out together…mostly not at church too!

    Oh, and our “offering” is more of a social break where there’s free Tootsie Roll pops.

    It’s the jam. Mostly because it’s a bunch of people who love Jesus (and a bunch of people who go because church is a good thing to do…) And people are who they are…good and bad and frustrating.

    Also…they let me wave flags even though it weirds them out and most dudes think it’s pretty gay.

  11. I would agree with you 100% on this. I have struggled with finding a church here (in Iowa) and when I lived in Ga. People are just there as a duty and that annoys the crap out of me. Where is the fellowship and community that Christ talks about? I know that there isn’t a ‘perfect’ church, but there needs to be less structure that WE plan. Thanks for your post!
    Bekah- H-squad gen1

  12. Wow .. I hear a lot of pride in these words. Jesus died for the broken church…. and you are rejecting it because you don’t feel as if it is authentic enough. Look around at the broken church… see the faces… yeah, Christ died for them. Most all of the churches – Paul wrote to needing rebuking for one thing or another yet he loved them and was a part of them. You claim to be a missionary.. but your words sound like a consumer as none as measured up to what you want. If you are a missionary.. as we all are who follow Christ… then we go.. we share.. we pray… and watch the Lord transform no matter where we are living. James 4:7-11 might be a good read. I think I read that when I was in my upper 20’s and felt like you. Praise the Lord that He slapped me with it.

    • As much as I sympathize with you, Bethany Ann, I think julie above hit the nail on the head. And I do soooo sympathize. There are Sundays that I think if we don’t find another church, a church more so to match up to who we really are, I am just going to die! We go to a Southern Baptist church…there is so much in that statement for me personally. We are more Reformed Baptist. But then God slaps me upside the head and lets me know that THIS is where he has my family and me to worship and to SERVE. I cannot imagine a better place to be a missionary than the American church.

    • I am sorry that my words sounded that way to you. It is not my heart. I am not rejecting ‘the church’. Like I said, I love the body of Christ. And I am more aware of my brokenness and imperfection everyday…so I don’t expect it to be perfect. I’m rejecting the idea of getting dressed up to pretend that we are all ok just to put on a show for God.

      Honestly, this blog is mostly about my process and discovery. I am not claiming to have all the answers or be right all the time. I am just in process like everyone else.

      Again, I am not at all against going to church…I just think that too often we have rejected the commandment of God in order to establish our traditions, just like the religious leaders that Jesus rebuked in Mark 7:9. And our traditions of going to a service, singing 4 minute songs, listening to a sermon, giving a nice smile, etc. has replaced the greatest commandment of loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul.

      my biggest prayer is to not sit in a seat of judgement but to discover what a church after God’s heart would really look like.

  13. Search ekklesia Hattiesburg in iTunes podcasts. You’ll hear the most authentic ‘talks’ I’ve encountered from a 5 year old church of varied backgrounds in South Mississippi. The ‘talks’ are but a small component of the ‘church’ of Ekklesia, w/emphasis in serving our local community and living as a community. Not perfect, but genuine.

  14. I’ve experienced the same thing my entire life and was convinced that there was no church who would ever meet the expectations of being real and genuine, then I visited a friend in Georgia and I went to their church and it was awesome. So since you live in Georgia you might be able to go there (depending on where you are located).

    Here’s the church website; http://www.goriverside.com it’s in Colbert (near Athens).

  15. You have a searching heart, and that is perfect. I have lived in Georgia before and seen the confusion about which church is Jesus Christ’s; the one he set up during his ministry on Earth. I know that Jesus Christ lives today and is very active in our lives. He leads us to truth and helps us recognize it. It seems that is what you are seeking – truth that will satisfy your soul and strengthen your relationship with God. In Ephesians, Paul talks about the foundation of the church Christ established (Eph 2:19-20); “…Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” That church is here today. That is what you are looking for Bethany. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is lead by Jesus Christ through a living Prophet and 12 Apostles that hold the power to act in God’s name on Earth. At the Sunday worship service, people assemble simply to worship the Lord. It isn’t about a show or a performance, it is about feeling the spirit of the Lord and strengthening your relationship with God. After reading what is in your heart and what you long for, I couldn’t help but share my testimony that I have a witness from the Holy Spirit that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the only true and living church on the face of the Earth. I promise you will know for yourself if you attend the Sunday service and pray about it. You can learn more at http://www.mormon.org. That is a great place to start and find a meetinghouse close to you.

    • Dear one: your sincerity is most evident, as is your zeal. But if Mormonism is the “only true and living church on the face of the Earth” then your perspective of Christ and His kingdom must be enlarged. Jesus’ simple litmus test for being a member of His family was faith in Him, love for God and people, and obedience to His commands. The world is filled with such saints, yes, who do not subscribe to Mormonism.

  16. Bethany,

    I really grab your authenticity and your true heart for seeing the Messiah revered in his rightful position-awe-inspiring in every way and worthy of our entire existence, Monday through Saturday and also on Sunday. You and I know that we have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Amen?

    A few years ago after some time away from God (still grieves my heart, but also has brought me a depth of intimacy with Christ I would never exchange), I decided I really wanted to get Philippians 1:21 tattooed on my arms, “To live is Christ, To die is gain.” I wanted everything from withing me and on me to identify me with Jesus, so that anyone who saw me would know this guy is different.

    What I found after coming back to the Lord (his humble acceptance of this wretched prodigal), is that I felt like a foreigner in a foreign land. my heart burned for God’s Word, the power of his presence, the renewing of my mind and the fellowship of other disciples who were going as hard for Jesus as I was. Yet, I felt alone. I ached and groaned with the Spirit because I saw the politics, and as I began serving and volunteering I saw more things at this megachurch than I was physically ready for. Yet, what I could not reconcile in my spirit was those people, friends of mine, who told me about all the things wrong with our church yet did nothing within the power of the Holy Spirit to change the DNA of that church. As early as it was in my time with God (speaking to many people who had not had a time “away” from God), I felt a deep conviction that I would not accept them telling me the “unbiblical” or “messed up” things about the church unless they shared with me what they suffered through to redeem it.

    To this day I hold the same conviction. I knew then it was only God’s heart aligning my heart with his to admonish His disciples to do the work to realign Christ’s church with his mission and mandate. Not only did I speak to those people in love without getting on a “soapbox” (I hope you like that reference 🙂 ), which they respected me and heard the heart of God behind it. I wound up on staff full time with those same convictions, walking with and entrusting my ministry to Christ’s Spirit to affect the change I grieved to see. I find it far too easy to search for a church that fits my personal wants. But if every one did this, I wonder how maturation would happen.

    Honestly, on the other side of the spectrum, I would challenge more people like you who love Jesus and have a heart to see others experience the fullness of God’s love through his redeeming work in us, a broken and sinful and nasty people, to endure at those churches to see the beauty of God’s Spirit doing what you thought could not happen.

    Tre

      • Tre,

        I would love to get into a long discussion with you because believe it or not, we are probably more on the same page than you think. I actually love Bethel and Hillsong and a lot of other no name churches in Cambodia, Honduras, Romania and many more. Again, I LOVE the church.
        However, conversing about this in a comment may not be the best way to discuss our thoughts. Please send me an email address or another means of communication and I’d love to continue this conversation.

        Thanks!
        Bethany

    • Thank you for your comments and your thoughts. I think you’re doing a great thing by responding to the voice of the Lord. Thank you for following him with your whole heart and praise Him for the success you have seen.

      • Thanks for sharing your journey. I’d ask you to consider, as a missionary, what your purpose is. Whether I serve Jesus as a pastor at a local church or as a barista at Starbuck’s, I ask ‘God, what is my purpose?’

        I wonder if the Lord would speak the same thing to you if you unabashedly went before him (as I imagine you have) and said ‘I will build YOUR church’. Whether they have $10,000.00 projector screens or $20.00 Tube TV’s, whether there is smoke and colored LED’s or old people’s smell with the hint of the sweat on the carpet for the church that was built by hand 75 years ago, every church you walk into is full of broken people. Just as we make concerted efforts to serve the poor, we do (myself included) a terrible job of serving the rich who are often more depraved than the poor. I have heard it said better to die physically than to die spiritually.

        I wonder what you would think about attending a church that has highly skilled musicians and TONS of people who are in love with Jesus in a smoke filled church setting (Bethel or Hillsong, Australia).

        Though you don’t know me from Adam, I wonder what it would look like for you to go back to one of those churches that felt like a concert, bright lights and all and who held to a pretty tight schedule and ends at the same time every week. I wonder what God might do in you and through you to bring this passion you have to see others have what you claim to have. 3 month commitment? 6 month commitment?

  17. Pingback: To work in church or To not work in church | inspired by love

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