Church & Religion, They’re Not for Everyone…

I distinctly remember the first time I ever tried it.  It was my mom’s idea.  She thought it would be enjoyable for our family.  She was wrong – it was far from enjoyable.  In fact, it was all I could do to muddle through it, longing for it to be finally finished.  In over thirty years, my opinions about it have only become even more disapproving.  And now, it’s become an on-going issue between myself and my mother-in-law.  My life was just fine, even better, in fact, without it.  I don’t need it in my life.

Miracle whip.  What good is it?  Everything tastes better with mayo than miracle whip.  Ah, it’s the age-old clash between mayo and miracle whip….pretty unimportant in the whole scheme of things.  But what if church and religion were actually at the heart of my dilemma and dissatisfaction?  I bet some of you could relate…maybe you’ve heard similar sentiments from friends and family, or have even uttered them yourself.  And if that’s the case, you’re really not alone.  While 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, only 20% even attend church regularly.  And here in Glendive, that church attendance figure may even be a little high.  According to Barna Group, a leading research organization focused on faith and culture, people who are not connected to a local church are less optimistic about the future, much less likely to feel they are making a positive difference in the world and much more likely to feel stressed out.

But church and religion – they aren’t for everyone, right?  That depends.  Eighty percent of all Americans reportedly pray weekly.  Even one in five people report reading their Bible weekly.  Clearly the interest is there for many, and the potential benefits are high.  So, why do so many people stay away from church?  Barna asked that very question and discovered people avoid church because of painful past experiences with church.  Others stay away because it doesn’t seem relevant or meaningful, it doesn’t fit their life or work schedules, or people just don’t feel like they “fit”.

Let’s be honest, though, about those of us who do regularly attend a church.  How many of us would be honest enough to admit that we all, at various times and to various degrees, “fake” church.  We go through the motions, doing and saying what we know we should.  We volunteer, teach and lead with a  great outward show of faith, but underneath aren’t sure we do so with the right motivations.  We “skip church” because something better comes along.

Some of you may remember Balaam – a foreign sorcerer in the Old Testament who had the distinct privilege of being talked to by his donkey.  Wouldn’t that have been something to watch?  At any rate, many of us would have to say we’re an awful lot like him.  Balaam put on a good show of spirituality, but on the inside he was conflicted and uncommitted.  He was ready to obey God as long as it benefited him.  In fact, another Barna study found the lifestyles of born-again Christians aren’t noticeably different from the rest of the world.

So where do we go from here?  A majority of people outside the church looking in, not seeing anything that speaks to them.  Many of us in the church wearing spiritual masks that sadly taint and label “Christians” as hypocrites and fakes.  So where do we go from here?

We refocus on God, pray, learn from our mistakes, ask for forgiveness, forgive others, resolve to live intentionally, and keep trying.  We realize “church” isn’t about a building or denomination, but about people committed to seeking and following Jesus.  We recognize our noisy neighbors and challenging work colleagues aren’t all that different from the “model family” at  church.  We’re all hurting, needy people who desperately long for that ache, that hole, to be filled with unconditional love, significance, grace and mercy….the love found only in a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

If you are looking for a community to explore ideas about God’s grace and mercy, or even find out who God and Jesus are….if you’re wanting a relaxed, friendly environment and real encounter with God…if social justice, poverty and radical, revolutionary living intrigue you…if you’re curious whether and how the bestseller of all time, a 2000 year old book, is relevant to your life today…we invite you to The Bridge.  Whether you’ve never attended church before, are actively involved in a congregation on the weekend, or anything in between, you are warmly invited.  Whether you are just beginning your spiritual journey or have much wisdom and experience under your belt, you are warmly invited.

Every church, each with its own unique style and format may not be for everyone.  Religion, laden with rules and expectations, definitely is not for everyone.  But unlike trying miracle whip, truly following God and getting to know His son Jesus – that will be the most enjoyable, beneficial, and challenging decision of your life.