Arthur’s post about Christian belief vs. practice raised a discussion about how we understand belonging to a church community. It got me thinking about why I’ve persisted with church. Here’s one reason I’m part of a church: for the inconvenience.
It sounds counter-intuitive. We often choose a church because we like the music/preaching/people/demographic/suburb/pastor/style/theology, etc. There’s a rightness to considering those things. But in the end, each of us can probably get those from other sources too. Buy a Tim Hughes CD; listen to a favourite preacher online; hang out with Christian friends; get a mentor; read a theology book.
Doing so will probably be pretty spiritually nourishing. We may even feel more nourished than we do at church. And it’s heaps more convenient than church: less opportunity for hurt/messy relationships/wrong emphasis/heresy/boredom/hypocrisy. But I think that’s actually a loss.
I go to church because it forces me to hang out with people I don’t like that much; to listen to preaching I don’t always agree with; to sing songs that don’t do it for me; to listen to people who annoy me. Of course, that’s not all that church is, there are good things too! But this added dimension of inconvenience does something to me.
Being hurt gives me the opportunity to forgive. Messy relationships teach me my part in hurting others. Wrong emphasis or heresy compels me to choose what is or isn’t worth fighting about. Inconvenience might not feel nourishing but it does grow me. It forces me to love people, and not just people I like, but people I don’t like, who hurt me.
Going to church doesn’t make me better than Christians who don’t. To tell the truth, I’m with them. I’d rather not! Perhaps we could argue that we can learn these lessons elsewhere. But I wonder whether doing it with other Christians reminds us that we’re following Jesus who chose to love the un-lovable and inconvenienced himself right out of heaven to do it. And I wonder whether it’s part of his grace to me that he invites me to follow him in doing so, even though I am also a great inconvenience.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.