This year, I’ve decided to stop going to church. A bit of a shocking statement, especially as I grew up an Adventist and am currently employed by the Adventist Church. But 2017 was a year of discovery and development, and I came to realise that going to church wasn’t helping my spiritual, emotional, mental or physical health.
This realisation can happen to the best of us. We force ourselves out of bed on a Saturday morning, grumbling about how that sleep-in wasn’t long enough. We show up to church—maybe Sabbath School, if we’re lucky—we listen, we sing, we give offerings and we bow our heads for prayer. We shake the pastor’s hand, we may stay for potluck lunch, we go home. And then we do it all again the following week.
They say repetition is good for the soul but this was crushing mine. Coupled with the burden and expectations of being a new pastor’s wife, there were days when I’d cry just thinking about having to go to church. It got so bad that I even started questioning the need for church.
In the process of soul-searching, I came across a quote by Charles Swindoll that solidified my decision to stop going to church:
“This may shock you, but I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude. It is more important than my past, my education, my successes or failures, what other people think of me or say about me, my circumstances or my position. Attitude is that ‘single string’ that keeps me going or cripples my progress. It alone fuels my fire or assaults my hope. When my attitudes are right, there’s no barrier too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, no challenge too great for me.”
Everything changed after that. You see, I stopped going to church, but instead, I started being the church (or trying to, anyway).
I’ve stopped viewing church as four walls and realised that the only wall that mattered was the one I was building in front of my heart. Removing that barrier allowed me to be more open, less uptight and to focus more on what’s important. That’s church.
"Going requires effort; being requires heart."
I’ve started caring, really caring, about fellow church members and their lives. On mornings when I feel like throwing a hand grenade at my alarm clock, I push myself out of bed, knowing God can use me to be a blessing to someone that day. This isn’t easy, especially on days when anxiety rears its ugly head. But more often than not, it’s on those days when I’m on the receiving end of the blessings—a kind word from a church member, a hug from one of the children. That’s church.
I’ve tried to stop blaming. To point my finger less at Church administration. Instead of accusing, “They should be doing this better”, I point the finger back at myself, asking, “What can I do to make it better?” That’s church.
I’ve changed my language around youth retention. We talk so often about the ones who leave but what about the ones who stay? Yes, we need to recognise, address and reach out to those who leave. But we also need to celebrate, encourage and disciple the ones who stay. Because we’re here and we’re ready. We believe in this Church and we want to see it grow. That’s church.
Deciding to stop going to church was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. No matter how young or old you are, I challenge you to take a look at your attitude when it comes to the Church. Ask yourself the hard questions. Pray. Connect with your local conference—a lot of them have great ideas on how you can be the church. It’s not easy sometimes, but with a little attitude adjustment and a lot of prayer, we can live out church how God intended. Just going requires effort; being requires heart. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.