Is it necessary to go to church?
Your words about why you’re leaving the church have been ringing through my mind and heart ever since we spoke.
I know how deeply disappointed you are with the church. Church can hurt.
And I fully understand why you want to walk away from the church and organized religion altogether.
Nothing more has challenged my call into ministry than those who claim to be followers of Christ. I mean, generally speaking, people are draining. But church people? Many are draining and exhausting.
Why do I need church?
You explained that “you and God are good” and then asked, “Why do I need the church?” It’s a legit question.
I’ve never stopped questioning the institutional church and things about the institutional church: like the ordination process. We spend far too much time making sure we are good company persons; persons who not only toe the line of the institution but uphold and defend it. We’re asked questions on how we will help keep the institution alive rather than asking things like, “When was the last time you extended grace?” Or “When was a time you shared the love of Christ in a transforming way?” We seem to care more about saving the institution than “saving souls” (for a lack of better phrase).
I’d be lying if I told you I never thought about walking away from the church. I’d also be lying if I told you I never tried. But...
Two thoughts always kept me anchored. The first one is: I’m not perfect either. I know that I’ve been a terrible witness to the ministry and presence of Christ. I, too, am deeply in need of God’s grace.
The second thought is like a quote from Dorothy Day: “As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.”
Oh — the other thing is that I can’t shake off the fact that God has called me here no matter how hard I tried. I guess that’s three thoughts. This is why I’m a preacher, because I can’t math well or English well.
Look. People are broken.
In a community that is supposed to be built on love, grace, and mercy — we simply, always get in the way because we’re broken. and our brokenness is contagious. We’ll always be imperfect, at best. Which is why I totally understand when one is disappointed in the church. Which is why I totally understand people walking away from the church. Which is why I feel so helpless when people carry deep wounds given to them by the church.
Why do I go to church?
I, personally, can’t throw in the towel and wash my hands clean of people who routinely misplace grace for merit. The thing is we’re not meant to be on the faith journey alone. From the get-go, community has been embedded in our DNA. We put trust in a God that is Three-in-One; a God that is communal.
Our community was disrupted when Cain dared to ask God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer, as a disciple of Christ, is always and profoundly yes! We don’t grow without community. The church provides tensions within us that push us, tests us and challenge us. Something as beautiful as a pearl isn’t formed without tension and pressure.
When we go on this faith journey alone we may never fully be who God intended us to be. There will be no one to hold us accountable, or to help shape us or to push us to be better. The “it’s just me and Jesus” and the “me myself, and Jesus” mentality stunts our growth as disciples because we never live out the 1B part of the greatest commandment: loving our neighbors as ourselves.
We truly love our neighbors — not from afar — but in community; doing life with one another. Likewise, if we consistently surround ourselves with people who think like us, talk like us, vote like us, dress like us — there will be no real growth there either. Diversity pushes our boundaries further.
Community — at its best — teaches us to embody the love of God and reflect the diversity and inclusivity of God’s kingdom. And I still think that’s worth pursuing, though we fail over and over again. But with and by the grace of God, we try again. Because there is beauty in the broken.
When we get it — when we work towards building God’s kingdom and not our own — we are a force that is both unstoppable and irresistible. Can we practice faith without the church?
An incomplete one, yes.
But the Spirit always and continuously ushers us into the lives of others. It calls us to do faith and life together. When we attempt to do faith alone we stunt our impact: we make our world smaller and we limit what God can do through us and in us and with us. God’s miracles always happen in the context of community.
Remember. We are not merely baptized for just our salvation. We’re not baptized to live isolated lives. We are baptized into the community. We are joining the community of other Christians.
It is impossible to isolate or privatize Jesus if we’re following him faithfully — which is why I believe that church and community not only matter but are vital. Which is why I’ll always work on building the kingdom of God here, together with others. And I hope, one day, you’ll partner with God and God’s people to do the same.
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.