Guest post by Jasie Peltier Boyd
When my dear friend Renea invited me to guest blog about why I go to church, my first instinct was to look at it theologically and expound on why I believe we should go to church. But as I pondered the question and thought through the reasons I actually go to church, I realized that, as it so often does, the scriptural imperative is there because it serves a very practical purpose: People need people. God created us, He knows our deepest needs, and He knows that our very deepest need is for connection. It goes both vertically and horizontally: we need connection with God (through Christ) and connection with others. And those two connections consistently reinforce one another when we are “doing church” correctly.
The popular argument I hear is that, frankly, we are just not doing church correctly. And I know that in some cases, that is absolutely true. There are corrupt leaders and bad theology aplenty. I personally took a decade-plus long break from the church, during which I adopted the “I’m spiritual, I’m just not religious” stance. I loudly denounced organized religion and was quick to point out all of the problems I saw contained in the church walls. The hypocrisy, the judgment, the lack of love. You know, all the usual suspects. It felt pretty good, to be honest.
But the truth was that I was not taking a higher path. I was just practicing an incredibly lazy form of spirituality. By embracing the church without walls to the exclusion of the church with walls, I was not escaping the hypocrisy of other people – I was escaping having them reflect my own. I was not escaping an endemic lack of love – I was failing to practice it. I was not escaping judgment – I was exercising it. You get the picture. My spirituality was quite convenient and undemanding. It was very easy for the god of my non-religious spirituality to become, simply, myself.
So now I go to church, and I am part of a messy, fleshy, sanctification-in-progress community of people trying to follow Christ together. And I love it. And it’s HARD. It is HARD to give up my own needs, resources, and time for the sake of the needs of my church and the people in it. It is HARD to listen to and do life with people who sometimes say and do things that offend me greatly. But there is also JOY that dwarfs any hardship. So why do I go to church? I guess the reasons fall broadly into how I define church: as a local, organized community of believers.
It is local. I know the people in my church, and they know me. We run into each other doing errands, and we serve together inside and outside of the church walls. The locality of the church allows us to weave into each other’s lives an tangible ways, dropping off food to new parents, fellowshipping together, and loving on each other in general. Proximity ensures that they regularly see me without my make-up, both literally and figuratively. It also means that when life and I get into a catfight (or: my self-will has taken control) there are people who see that, and often reach out to support me without my having to even ask for it. There is no gift more precious than being known and loved by people who understand you well enough to recognize when you are tanking and who are willing to risk speaking truth and encouragement into that.
It is organized. Having a few good local Christian friends is not the same as having a church. I know there will undoubtedly be some pushback on this one, but I believe it’s important. The organization means that we will meet regularly to worship together and that there is accountability for all leadership. This is a valuable failsafe to keep orthodoxy and orthopraxy in check. Organization also means that we can serve the broader community in really targeted and meaningful ways that are challenging, if not impossible, to do on our own. This is one of the most important things to me in a church: that they are inwardly nourishing but outwardly focused. As an organized group we often have a structure and some resources that allow God to use us to do really big things for His kingdom when we look up from our navels and ask Him to.
It is community. At church this morning my husband and I served in the children’s ministry and had the opportunity to nurture a bunch of two year olds and tell them how much God loves them. We also got to help teach them about how to show love and respect for other people, which is not something that comes naturally to most toddlers! Our kids had the same thing happening to them in their classes, and when church was over I listened to my son singing “Jesus Loves Me” in his car seat. Every night when we pray together he prays for the kids and teacher in his class (unsolicited!). The men in our church regularly take a day to do odd jobs for the widows in our community. Those same widows teach those of us that are younger about faith’s endurance. The church at its best is a diverse community that allows us to hear the voices of a range of ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds and see how God is powerfully at work in all of them. It is a community that is working together to seek God’s best for each other and the world.
Finally, it is believers. I worship with my church, and we lift our voices to the same God, and affirm the same core beliefs about who He is and who we are. It doesn’t mean we agree about everything, but we agree about the important things: Christ crucified, resurrected, and coming again. We may not agree about HOW God created or how long it took, but we agree He created. All those secondary issues that the church sometimes divides over can instead be a tool that God uses to help us sharpen each other, to better understand and critique our own positions so that we are drawn towards holiness. The church is a great place to have those conversations and debates, when they are seasoned with humility.
So, that’s why I go to church. It sort of boils down to Connection and Community. I desperately need both of those things to be who God created me to be, and to follow Christ in any real sort of way. As Augustine said so long ago, one can’t have God for a father without having the church for a mother. And I suppose, after having fought the sentiment for so long, I now wholeheartedly agree.
Jasie Peltier Boyd is the Director of Programs and Training at The Women’s Home in Houston, TX. A lover of God, family, policy, reading, learning, social work, justice, people, dogs, language… and sarcasm.