It’s Sunday morning and I’m not going to church. I used to feel guilty for that. I remember my freshman year of college at Abilene Christian University. Everyone would get up and go to church then either go eat out or come back to the cafeteria on campus. The days I slept in and skipped church, I’d still get up and put on my Sunday best so when I went to the cafeteria I’d look like I had been to church.
But, I don’t care as much as I used to. I’m not going today. In fact, I haven’t been in a while. But something is happening. I think I’m finding Jesus. How is it that I can be finding Christ outside of church? Maybe because I’ve had it wrong. Maybe church has it wrong. Religion definitely has it wrong. We wonder why millennials are leaving the church. An article on CNN (yes CNN, don’t write it off just because it’s not FOXNews) last month highlights a study on the matter. It notes, “In the meantime, almost every major branch of Christianity in the United States has lost a significant number of members, Pew found, mainly because millennials are leaving the fold.” Click here for the article. What if people are leaving because they’re finding Christians instead of Christ? Yikes, could there be a difference?
Citing what I think is the same study, Andy Braner wrote Tired of Religion? Me Too. He said, “New churches are popping up all over the country, and each new pastor thinks he has the answer to this free fall of people leaving the faith. And what’s crazy…each pastor looks exactly the same, with the same old wineskins, and the same old style.” I agree with his sentiment.
What if it’s not about getting people back to church and preserving our paradigm? What if things are going to be different? What if things are meant to be different? What if church isn’t about maintaining a massive and complex infrastructure, managing attendance, layers of leadership and breadth of programs?
Maybe I need to undo my long habits of doing church. Maybe Jesus got mad at the religious of his day for reasons we’re intended to notice. Maybe Jesus kept reminding people of who they are to be and not what they are to do.
I’ve been hung up on a few of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5. And I wonder, what if I just learned what it means to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be gentle, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be a peacemaker, to be persecuted? Look, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never had much to do with these things. I’ve easily been harsh, detached, unmerciful and anything but peaceful, but being outside of church I’m finding Jesus as maybe he intends for me to find him. And here, outside the walls of the church, I’m learning and changing.
What if Jesus was serious when he quotes Hosea 6:6 saying, “I desire compassion [or mercy], and not sacrifice”? He said this in response to the religious of his day who got upset with him for eating with those they considered outcasts (Mathew 9:10-13). Or when he says it again, “I desire compassion [or mercy], and not sacrifice” when the religious get bent out of shape that Jesus and his followers are not following their religious rules (Matthew 12: 1-7).
What if we’ve had it all wrong?
What if Jesus isn’t about religion?
What if Jesus isn’t about preserving our Christian subcultural paradigm?
What if Jesus isn’t about the way we’re doing things?
If Jesus got so upset with the religious of his day, how would he respond to us in our day?
What if we owe our world a living apology for the way we’ve huddled together in homogenous environments and evaded Jesus’ call to his likeness in the world around us? How would we live that out?
So, no, I’m not going to church today. But, today, I am learning more about Jesus growing one step closer to unlearning a lot of bad habits, warped perspective, routines and rituals. And, I’m one step closer to the person and way of Jesus.