The fallacious ‘myth’ that ‘attending church’ makes you spiritually mature

by dan o’deens

This past week Adam Wyatt @pastor_adam shared this quote in social media. “Church, @disney may very well be coming for your kids but travel ball took a lot of them a long time ago.”

To frame this blog I want to say that I am an ordained pastor and a nationally licensed soccer coach.  I additionally want to say that 2 out of my 4 children grew up on the soccer pitch and played at the highest levels.  One of them played on the number 1 ranked team in the nation his senior year of high school.   I have engaged my now ‘adult’ sons and their comments brought honest and healthy clarity for this blog post.  I pray it gives us a solid perspective.

Jesus became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.  If we want to be like Jesus we have to learn how to ‘incarnate.’  Jesus did not move into the Temple ‘sanctuary.’  In fact He despised the religious leaders of the day who were more about their ‘rituals and legalisms’ than building relationships with their neighbors.  He chose to eat with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes.  He was the ultimate stumbling block for many in the religious system.

Jesus was full of grace and truth.  Common ‘grace’ begins and applies to all of humanity whether they choose to follow Jesus or not.  If we desire to see our friends, family and neighbors experience ‘saving Grace’ then we must be ‘in the world but not of the world.’   Jesus in His last prayer asked His Father if he should take us ‘out’ of the world and the Father’s response was no.   To follow is to fish.   If we are following Jesus He will make us fishers of men.   If we are not fishing for men, we are not following Jesus.  I hear the fishing isn’t that good in the middle of the sanctuary.

Jesus was more concerned about Church health than masses of people and mega ‘churches.’   Making disciples who make disciples begins ‘in the world.’  It begins in our neighborhoods, on our playgrounds and soccer fields and the ‘normal spaces’ of what we call community.

Jesus is the Word.  The Word of God (not the Church) trumps culture every time.  The problem is not with culture or the white house…the problem lies within God’s House.   Jesus said, let your light so shine before men.  Do not hide your light under a ‘bushel/basket.’   Every time darkness is exposed to light darkness is dispelled.   Too often our palatial ‘church buildings’ have become the ‘bushel/basket’ and the light is hidden in obscurity and absent from its mission…to be ‘in the world.’  If the world is dark and it is, the burden of proof is on ‘us’ the Church.

Jesus defines the Church much differently than the definition of the ‘Western Church.’  Acts 2 provides a nice list of what might be included in the Church.  I would propose that the minimalistic essence of the Church includes 3 things…and ALL 3 things!  Community, Worship and Mission.  This would be my definition of the Church.  The Church is a biblical community of believers experiencing the presence of Jesus (worship), sent out as a spiritual family to pursue and implement His mission in the world.  

The mission of Jesus is the Church.  But the Church is not a building nor is it a program.  It is certainly ‘not’ a weekend experience.  The true Church expresses itself 168 Hours each week.  Every one of those hours are as crucial to the 3 hours of planning consumes 80% of a churches resources of treasure, talent and time.

Jesus gave us the great commandment and the great commission.  The imperative is to love God and love people in that order.   He gave us ‘all’ of His authority to make disciples who make disciples.  The mission of Jesus is the Church and that mission is about evangelism, teaching and obeying what we are learning.   Obedience based disciple making is missed by most Churches.  The Western Church is creative and providing great teaching that in most cases lands on the ear that is more concerned about information than moving at the speed of implementation.  We are to be ‘doers of the Word, not hearers only.  The Church has lost her mission.  Jesus is not willing that ‘any’ should perish but that all should come to repentance.

To blame our perverse desires on Disney or culture is nothing short of irresponsibility.  The very nature of darkness is that it will be DARK.   Again, the problem is not with darkness, it is with those of us who claim we have the light.  Jesus said, ‘WE’ are the light of the world.   How can we lead people into the light when we are standing in the darkness.  Our desires and lifestyle almost mimic the patterns of this world.   There may in fact be an anti-biblical voice in the world, but that is no different than any culture found in the pages of Scripture.

I was taught a long time ago to not be guilty of throwing the baby out with the bath water.  To eat and enjoy the chicken while throwing out the bones.  Jesus gave us a heart and told us to guard that heart.   He gave us a mind and told us to use His WORD as the filter for lifestyle.   Scripture is clear.  Meditate on HIS WORD day and night and then you will have success.

The problem is not that our children/youth are choosing ‘not’ to come to Church.  The problem is that they have no authentic relationship with the written and living WORD OF GOD.   We spend little time with God and almost no time doing the mission of God.  We have become the modern day pharisees we see in Scripture.

OK…I will finish with ‘travel soccer.’ (or your chosen sport).  In jest…if you want to be like Jesus then you will embrace Soccer.  Jesus loved the whole world.  The World Sport is Soccer…therefore, Jesus loves soccer…more than any other sport).

This is a question of worldview.   Has our worldview been shaped by the Bible or Western Culture?  Too often if we are honest it is the latter.  Christian Education is a mandate by the heavenly Father to every parent.  Raise up a child in the way they should go and when they get old they will not depart from it.  Proverbs 22:6.  Remember, this is a principle not a promise.

Values are caught not taught.  Parents, you are part of the “experience rich, relationally poor” culture.   We keep our kids busy.  We over-extend our children.   We operate under a poor philosophy of ‘do as I say and not as I do.’   Your children can sniff out your religious hypocrisy.  The reason our children are leaving church is not because they are not ‘going’ to Church.   They simply do not like Church that we have become.

I asked my sons to chime in…remember…they grew up on the soccer pitch.  Here are some of their thoughts…

“Young adults are leaving the church because we are cynical about it and its purpose.  We do not believe in its methodology and the church of today has almost become an idol itself as far as the institutional church is concerned especially related to attendance.  We follow our pastor or their social media feed’s and it seems they are more about mandating attendance than making disciples. ‘Get to Church this weekend’ is the normal Friday/Saturday tweet.   Our demographic due to our cynicism observes pretty accurately when people are not authentic and the church has a lot of non-authentic people/culture.”

“The Church is pretty clear that attending church and participating in all of its activities mostly designed for the already saved, is more important than giving our limited time in being with our communities developing relationships with the hope of not only demonstrating the love of Jesus but also proclaiming that message when the opportunity arises.”   “One thing is certain, if I am not on the soccer field, the light will not be shining there.”

This is NOT an anti-attendance blog.  I think we SHOULD assemble together in large spaces and small spaces and even in digital spaces.   I believe FULLY in the Body of Christ.   I believe in the God of Mission.   Making disciples is paramount to the mission.  Parent, your first disciples are your children.

All of my children love and serve Jesus.   One of those ‘kids’ who lived on the soccer pitch is now a full time youth pastor and longing for the day to plant a church.  Walking with your children in all of the spaces they walk IS disciple making.  Remember the principle, Train up a child in the way THEY should go.  Maybe ‘our’ way is not the ‘only’ way.

Would we not be better and more attractive if we postured ourselves as the learners rather than the teachers?   Would we get closer to the heart of God on issues like these if we sought to understand rather than be understood?

I love the Church.  I love the soccer pitch.  I love my neighborhood and my world.  Jesus does too!  But mostly, I love the Body of Christ  (the Church) and Jesus (the Head of the Church).

Let’s be full of GRACE and Truth.