Why I Struggle With Church Attendance

You want to know something? I haven’t been to church in two weeks. For some of you, this may not seem like a big deal; for others, this could be shameful. This would typically bring about the question of what I would need to do in order to maintain proper fellowship with my church community, and believe me, I’m working on that. However, I’ve recently been bothered by how much Christians focus on church attendance alone, rather than the importance of fellowship and continually building our relationship with Christ.

Growing up, my mother did a great job of ensuring I was going to church often. Now that I’ve had to take on my own responsibility of making sure I’m going to church, I don’t go as often as most people think I should. There are actually three main reasons for this, and to be clear – I’m not using any of these as excuses to not go to church, but rather helping people understand where my struggles lie.

To start, I’m an introvert. What does this have to do with church per say? A lot actually. I generally struggle socializing for too long regardless of who the person is and in a church setting, socializing can be a big deal. Everyone wants to say hello and catch up on each other’s lives. I love that church communities do this; it just happens to overwhelm me sometimes.

On top of this, I believe it’s important to have a day of rest. This is typically supposed to be on Sunday, and with how scripture tends to phrase it – I’m supposed to find rest with the Lord. Finding rest in the Lord can be very helpful with a church community; for myself, however, I sometimes need to find rest in the Lord in the quiet of my own home. This is typically due to weeks that are heavily loaded with necessary social situations, and by the time Sunday rolls around, I’m completely out of energy to properly socialize and discuss faith with my peers. In times like this, I tend to be more rejuvenated through a personal study of scripture.

Lastly, there was a point in my life where I was fairly consistent with going to church regularly. Then I realized that I was having a hard time gaining anything spiritually. I was just going through the motions of the week. Go to work Monday through Friday, do something with friends or family on Saturday, attend church on Sunday, repeat. I wasn’t really thinking about anything. It was like I was a robot

I used to feel ashamed for not going to church regularly because I felt it so necessary to be there every single Sunday. Then at some point I realized that I should be more ashamed for not building my faith and my relationship with the Lord more.

So the question is: Why was I so focused on being ashamed for my church attendance? Well, depending on where you’re attending, church attendance can determine everything. It can determine how involved you’re allowed to be, if you’re qualified for leadership, etc. It’s understandable why churches focus on it; more often than not, it’s primarily to check how many people are at church each week, and they may not want someone to get involved so quickly and then leave. However, in an indirect way – it determines your faithfulness to the church itself. In my desire to be a leader, I wanted to be sure the church understood that I believed my attendance was important when the reality was that it shouldn’t have been my focus.

Our faithfulness shouldn’t be directed towards the church. It should be directed towards God. Yes, the church helps maintain the faith, but you CANNOT rely on the church to give you faith 24/7. There’s a lot of personal work that has to go into that as well. When you direct your faith at the church and focus solely on the church, you run the risk of making the church your idol.

We’ve become too comfortable with the regular. Do I think church needs to end? Absolutely NOT. I think church is a wonderful tool for fellowship. The problem is that many of us are fine with just going through the motions every week, or place our focus on something that we’ve grown up believing is important when it might not be as important as we think. However, we have to remember what is most important – the Lord. If you read this blog regularly, or if you’re looking for a challenge: I encourage you to find new ways to develop your faith, whether that be in a social setting or a personal setting.

This week, I don’t leave you with a verse, but rather a worship song I was reminded of. It’s The Motions by Matthew West. I found it to be rather fitting for this week as I was meditating on the subject of church attendance.

 

Uniquely Made: A Reminder

“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.'”

-Genesis 1:27-28

For those of you who do not know: I’m pregnant. In fact, I’m currently in my final trimester. As the due date of my baby nears every day, I have been constantly wondering what she will be like, what traits she will have, and what goals she will set for herself. This in itself has reminded me about how uniquely made each of us are; and looking back on my last couple posts (which can be read here and here), I have been thinking more about leadership in the Christian society as a whole – specifically, what traits make up a leader.

Growing up, I always had the belief that everyone was created differently, and that regardless of one’s personality, they were still made in God’s image. I can’t recall if this was ever taught to me, but it was my general thought process for quite some time. Somewhere along the line, it appears that I either forgot this thought or completely disregarded it. I think this was due to my growing desire to be a leader in the church because I had noticed that there had been an increased idea of what traits make the best leaders.

It made sense at the time, as any group that continues to grow eventually moves towards a different model of efficiency. As Christians, we desire to be equipped with the best tools in order to grow spiritually, and how can we ensure that we were equipped with those tools? With the best leaders, of course. This, however, has lead to a lack of variety in our leaders. It has also, unfortunately, lead to the forgotten word that shows how God called the “unqualified,” for he in fact made them qualified – just maybe not in how we believe people should be qualified.

Take a look at Moses for example. While speaking with the Lord at the burning bush, Moses was unsure of himself. Specifically, in Exodus 4, Moses begs for God to send someone else to help the Israelites as he is not an eloquent speaker. While God did provide Aaron as a helper, He still managed to work through Moses through the course of getting the Israelites out of Egypt, and throughout their time in the desert.

Let us also look at Jeremiah. In the first chapter of this book, God speaks with Jeremiah and appoints him to be a prophet. Jeremiah, however, does not believe he is qualified due to his young age. Yet the Lord encouraged him and told him not to worry, as He provided the words and visions that Jeremiah was to prophesize.

These are just two examples of God qualifying the “unqualified.” We may think we know what is best for us as Christians, but the reality is that we don’t. Only God knows that. Some of you may argue that God only uses people like Moses or Jeremiah to throw things for a loop, to show that He can use anyone for what He needs but doesn’t do it often. I just don’t think that is the case. In fact, I feel as though God does this more often than we tend to believe.

I leave you with this verse today:

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

-1 Peter 4:10-11

While it may be more efficient to have specific traits or personalities in leadership, we have to remember that God has an infinite amount of traits, gifts, and personalities to give and is more than able to use those to shape a capable leader. In fact there are likely trait and gift combinations, personalities we have yet to even see or fathom in this lifetime because He is likely waiting for the right time to use them. We are made to be in his image, and I think that requires a need for humans and leaders to be different.

For those of you who are current church leaders: Please remember that while you may think you know what is best for a church, God may bring something else entirely different that is necessary for change. Do not allow yourselves to be stubborn.

For those of you who feel called to leadership, but have yet to secure a position: Don’t give up. If this is God’s calling for you, He will get you there. Do not forget that there will be trials and continual growth. You may be like me, and don’t match what most churches want, but God will use you in the way that He sees best.

Hearing the Call…And Then Not

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”

-Lamentations 3:25 (ESV)

In my last post, I spoke briefly on the need for young leaders in the church, and more importantly for there to be more mentorship for these young leaders. However, if I am being honest, there is some personal bias in my thought for that need as I had felt cheated out of plenty of church leadership opportunities for quite some time…and now it appears that I’m in a conflicted position – I am no longer hearing a call towards anything in the church.

At one point in my life, I felt that God was leading me towards worship ministry. I found out in high school that I had a decent singing ability, and began participating in my church’s worship team soon after. The reason I felt the calling to this ministry specifically was due to how incredibly connected I felt to Him as I worshiped, whether I was singing with the team or not. As I continued to work with the worship team, I decided to make my desire to become a worship leader known and ask if I could lead one Sunday in the future. That was when the excuses began.

“You’re not quite ready yet…”

“You need to read your Bible more first”

I get it. I was young and still needed to grow more, and yet I felt stuck. I think the worship leaders saw this, and they eventually began a worship leader training program. It was wonderful and it did allow me the opportunity to try leading a few times. Unfortunately, it did not last due to some changes my home church decided to make. It seemed to be poor timing.

I went on to study music in college at a Christian university, and eventually switched to a different major as I felt like I was not getting the right kind of training I really needed. However, I managed to get involved with a campus group that sent out teams of worship bands to churches who needed them, and that was a wonderful experience. My desire was continually renewed with each church I went to, and yet it appeared my desire was only allowed so far.

When going to college, there is a good opportunity to visit other churches in general. I visited a few but nothing truly stuck. My heart felt like it belonged back at my home church and yet every time I went back, I was told to try more churches by many members of the congregation. I felt like I was being shut out. On top of this, my college had a chapel service that would allow those interested to help lead these chapel services. I was only invited once, and with each passing year, the chapel service became more performance-like; a worship setting that I did not have a desire to be a part of.

After college, I attempted to work with the new worship leader at my home church so that I could have some mentorship and maybe learn a few things, and it yet it did not feel right; it felt as though it was an obligation to him. I do not think that was his intent and I do not blame him for it. I did attempt to apply for a few worship leader positions in other churches, and of the ones that got back with me, I was turned down.

So here I am. Defeated. In fact, I feel no call to anything.

I have no clue what God wants of me. I keep trying and trying, only to get pushed back down. I had no solid mentor. I had to push on my own and yet it feels like I’m right back at the beginning. I’m at a point where I don’t feel much connection now, and I’m constantly asking myself:

Am I meant for something else?

Why am I not feeling this calling anymore?

Am I losing my faith?

Some would say that it sounds like I’m losing my faith. Some would say that it’s God preparing me for something greater. However, I would argue that I am in a place of waiting. Despite the fact that I no longer hear the call to lead worship, I don’t hear a call elsewhere at this time either. In fact, I believe I was put in this predicament because God is telling me to wait. I don’t know what for, but I have chosen to accept it. It wouldn’t be the first time God has made people wait.

Noah and his family were on a boat for 40 days and nights. Moses and the Israelites walked in the desert for 40 years. Jacob had to work for 14 years to be with Rachel. I could go on. Until I hear something, I will simply continue to work on my faith.

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”

-Micah 7:7 (NIV)

Millennials and the Church

I once had an older peer tell me that all Millennials want in a church is entertainment. As a Millennial, I was a bit taken aback by this statement and spent a good deal of time processing it. This was not the first time I had heard this from an older peer, and I had to ask myself: Is all I want is entertainment? Is that all I set myself on when I go to church each Sunday? For myself, the answer was no; but then I had to relay the question to my generation as a whole.

As a general note, I will say that there are likely those in the Millennial generation who seek entertainment, or the “good stuff, not the hard stuff” when it comes to church culture. However, I also want to point out that there have been plenty of churches who focus on entertainment and solely on “the good stuff” before the Millennial generation began. So while there are likely those in my generation who seek that in a church, it is also likely that there are groups of people who have sought that in other generations for quite some time.

So why does the Millennial group get this much flack from churches today? Personally, I think it is a combination of misunderstood actions and assumptions. It’s true, we go check out a church and then don’t go back if it doesn’t meet our needs; however, when someone doesn’t come back, I think many church leaders and/or community members have assumed that those who are younger and do not stay is because they aren’t being entertained enough due to the association of how much my generation grew up during the tech, cell phone, and video game boom – which has lead to the belief that many of us consistently need or want something to do. Despite this, there are couple key factors that I believe church and community leaders aren’t seeing or asking about.

For one, there seems to be a different desire for what Millennials are seeking in the church. We don’t want to just settle in ANY community; we’re not necessarily looking for a church home that matches the church affiliation we grew up in; and there isn’t a desire to agree with everything that a pastor preaches on. The big thing that matters for us is authenticity. This has to be found in both the church community and the church leaders.

For some, this requires the building of a deeper relationship but what we want to see is how real are you going to be with us on the forefront. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but if we step into a church that only believes Millennials will want entertainment, are you going to be willing to try and build a relationship with us? Most churches I’ve gone to are very friendly when I first walk in, but there’s a lot more to that initial layer of hello’s and how are you’s. In fact, it can be pretty obvious how you really feel based on your body language or how you choose to phrase things. When you act one way and feel another, it can be obvious and therefore we don’t want to stay because it’s clear we make you uncomfortable.

On top of this, there is a bigger desire to discuss deeper topics to further spiritual growth. I’ll be honest, part of the reason I get tired of church sometimes is because I feel like I’m hearing the same stories or the same sermons over and over again; or I feel like the sermon is getting ready to hit this big point where I’m going to be like “Oh snap, I really need to get myself together”, and then it doesn’t. Yes, it’s great to have reminders (as humans, we often need it), and I certainly don’t expect there to be a deep discussion of faith every Sunday, but if I’m leaving most Sundays without something of substance to chew on, what do I do? Continue focusing on that devotional that’s so easily applicable every day of every year? Sorry, that doesn’t do a lot for me either. Some of you may say: “But Whitney, that’s what Bible studies are for!” Sure, Bible studies can be great to really delve into that deeper focus I’m talking about, but churches shouldn’t be relying solely on Bible studies to do that for their community either.

Lastly, there appears to be a fear in a lot of churches. It’s the normal fear of gaining new church leaders, as it can often cause a major shift in a church. Plenty of churches now have leaders that are of older and wiser age, and lately, I’ve been noticing the difficulty of young leaders coming into the picture. There are so many teens, and so many that are just out of college, who have a desire to take part in the church in a leadership format and certainly have the potential to do so, but are then shut down. Some of the arguments I hear are:

  1. “Well, we just can’t pay them.”
  2. “We don’t think they’re ready for that kind of responsibility yet.”
  3. “Oh, they need to go and experience other churches first.”
  4. “They need to grow more spiritually first.”

So, hold up. You’re going to hold them back for the reasons above? One, most of us understand that we can’t be paid in a church setting. Secondly, if we need more experience or need more growth, then work with us on that – mentor us. Help us learn what we need to in order to become a good leader. We can understand if we’re not quite ready yet but don’t expect someone else to be the mentor because that “someone else” might not really be there. If this continues to be the mindset for church, the church will eventually fall out of existence because they were unable to continue the growth that is so necessary for any of us.

I leave you with a passage from Romans, as I hope you may keep it as reminder for yourself, whether you are young or old. We are all part of a community, and while we do function differently, we need to be able to work together.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more high than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these member do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the the others.”

-Romans 12:3-5 (NIV)

Listening to Your “Gut”

Have you ever felt like God was telling you NOT to do something? Did you ever begin to prepare for something, and all of a sudden this feeling in your “gut” just tells you stop and do something else? Yeah, that happened to me today.

You see, I was supposed to have a job interview today… and I didn’t go. Why? Why would I not go to something that could benefit me and my family? Because from the moment I received a call and accepted an interview, something in my gut kept saying “no.” I have never gone back and forth so much about going to an interview until this moment. Sure, there have been plenty of times where nerves simply got in the way; but this was different.

When I’m nervous, I usually try and pull any excuse I can think of to not do something, but eventually end up doing it. In this instance, I didn’t try to pull any excuse. I did my research on the employer – they’re fantastic; quite literally, they have five-star reviews, a good pay rate, it’s close to home, and it’s in a field that I enjoy working in. And yet, I still felt my “gut” tell me to not go.

I continued to feel this way all morning as I prepped myself. Eventually, it occurred to me that I needed to spend some time in the Word; I’ll be honest…I do not tell myself that very often, so I knew this was serious business. Well, go figure – I left my Bible in the car. So instead, I decided to open the Bible app on my phone and hoped that the verse of the day could shed some light on the subject. And what I came across was this:

“I have tried hard to find you – don’t let me wander from your commands.”
-Psalm 119:10 NLT

Now, I’m sure this could be interpreted in many different ways and I had to sit on it for a minute. However, I think I knew what it meant from the moment I read it. My biggest difficulty in my faith is not having full control over my life. Recently, I made a commitment to let God lead and to listen to him more often instead of making my own outright decisions. In this moment, despite all that would be good with this potential job, I think God was telling me not to go; or in the case of him leading me – “commanding” me not to go. Why? I have no clue. The best I can tell you is that He has something else in mind.

(I know, I know – cheesiest answer in the book, but that’s all I got for ya.)

But there could be another answer to this question of why He would tell me not to go. You see, I’ve been fighting myself on creating this blog for quite some time. It’s something that I have felt God pushing for me to do for awhile, and I never felt like I had a justifiable reason to start it. And yet today, I felt God saying “it’s time.” I don’t know if not going to the interview and creating this blog instead are actually connected, but as of this moment, they appear to; and I think it was one of my first challenges in this new commitment I made.

If you’re still reading, please know that I fully intend this blog to be harsh at times in the future; but also know that anything I post is simply my opinion and interpretation of how I see God working in myself and/or other areas of the Christian world. I do not expect everyone to understand my thought process, but I hope that you are willing to listen and have an open-mind.