Mike Elliott doesn’t go to church
Not every Christian thinks following Jesus leads through the church doors
Early in my high-school years, I realized that I wanted to be a pastor. I still maintain my love of Jesus. But five years of Bible college, one ordination and two pastoral roles later, people are often amazed that I will not attend church.
I feel like churches have lost their way. I read the Bible and I see love, compassion, forgiveness and grace. When I look at churches, I see a very different picture. I hear messages that rely on creating guilt in the churchgoer over their shortcomings. I hear sermons that use hell and suffering as motivational tools. I hear Bible verses taken drastically out of context to better fit into the preacher’s point.
In the context of Christianity, the Old Testament provides rules, a standard of living, if you will, that God expects. The New Testament then becomes God’s love story for us, an account of how, now that we understand both God’s standards and the fact that they are unattainable, God sacrificed his son Jesus so that we could have forgiveness for our shortcomings. True, we should still strive for a good life (forgiveness is not an excuse to do wrong), but there is a delicate balance, which most churches have lost.
It starts with a pastor’s honest desire to shepherd his church members away from sin, so the pastor teaches about rules and consequences. Then the pastor starts teaching to avoid those little things that could tempt one to sin as well. Before long, the list of dos and don’ts is insurmountable—and largely not included in the Bible. But with the right measure of guilt built into Sunday’s message, the seats stay relatively full.
Unfortunately, this usually ends one of two ways: Christians either become hypocritical, putting on a front of perfection when they arrive at church while living entirely differently the rest of the week; or they buy into it so hard that they pull away entirely from anything that is not Christian, even down to the terms used: Christian and non-Christian.
Churches become bubbles, always pulling inward, never looking out at the world to which they are called to witness. And what sort of witness is left? I don’t like to say it, but it’s mostly intolerance and hatred. This is not what the church is supposed to be!
In fairness, many do have a healthy spiritual life as a result of attending church. But many, such as myself, quit attending, a decision that has taken a toll on me. There is much to be said for surrounding one’s self with people of the same beliefs, of having a regular time to study the Bible. But I feel I do have that in my personal life with the friends I’ve surrounded myself with. And honestly, I get more questions and opportunities to share with “non-Christians” than I ever did when attending a church.
When I read about Jesus, I see a gentle man, a man full of understanding, a man who reached out to others on their level; a man who not only saved a naked, crying prostitute from being stoned, but helped make sure she was cared for; a man whose angry outbursts were against the religious leaders for their misguided teachings and hypocrisy, not against those who did not believe. Jesus understood that a person can’t be expected to live up to a measure they have not agreed to take on, and he understood that even the best of people will fall short.
Why don’t I attend church? I guess I’d have to say it’s because I am a follower of Jesus, and I think Jesus’ vision for his church was far more grand than its current condition.