If you want to know the truth, after I met Jesus at 16, I hated going to church even more than I had before then.
I hear a lot about people not wanting to go to church because they were hurt by people in the church, because the congregants or leaders were hypocritical, etc. That wasn’t really the case for me. Yes, there were a few hypocrites that drove me crazy, and hypocritical tendencies were there from time to time in my small-town, Southern Baptist church. However, as someone who was there every Sunday from the time I popped out of my mom’s womb, I can tell you, most of the members of the community were very loving, caring individuals. Especially the ladies/my fan club from my mom’s Sunday school class. They always have on cute scarves and make me feel like a celebrity as they tell me how much they enjoy seeing all my posts and pictures on facebook. They tell me I am “so funny!” Which is true. I am quite hilarious.
But I digress.
So it had been puzzling me, as a junior in college, why I stay as far away as possible from church when I come home for breaks or for the weekend (except when there are church dinners–yeah, I’m that shallow). To my parents, who let me decide now that I’m out of the house, I would use the excuse that there isn’t a college-aged Sunday school group, while I secretly would feel relieved I didn’t have to sit through a sermon or Sunday school class.
But why? Why do I find myself bored or even resentful in church? Over this Christmas break, I finally put my finger on it. I was missing my campus church–which, I didn’t intend to seek out a church with much hope that I would find one… but God pretty much laid it in my lap the summer before my freshman year–and wondering why I missed it so much, but yet still wasn’t willing to attend my church back home. I began comparing the two.
My church back home, like I said, is a small-town, Southern Baptist church, with maybe 100 people there every given Sunday morning. My campus church doesn’t even have a building so we (about 16 or 17 regularly) meet on campus every Sunday night. While my church back home does have more members, it’s not like it was some sort of mega-church where you’re just a face in the crowd. Both churches have the appeal of a tight-knit community. Both meet on Sunday and I don’t think the time difference is that big of a deal for me personally. My campus church, aside from our pastor, is made up of college students, while my home church is multi-generational. If anything, that’s the one thing I miss about my home church. At both churches, we have a time of worship followed by a sermon made by a godly pastor.
And then it hit me. The reason I like going to my campus church and not my church back home is that in one I’m encouraged to ask questions and think critically and in the other one I am not.
What I mean is, my campus pastor is always challenging after he preaches, like “What do you guy think Jesus meant?” or “What do you think that could look like practically for us?” or “How could we serve the university the way Jesus or the early church did in this sermon?” And he’s always practically begging us to ask questions while he teaching. I met with him the other day, my campus pastor, to ask a lot of questions I have about the Bible. He didn’t give me parrot-answers that had been hammered into his head his whole life. He answered my questions honestly and calmly, as someone who has looked at the historically/cultural context of books of the Bible and has really examined the fuss about Jesus and came to the conclusion he thinks Jesus is the real deal. He told me it was good that I was asking these questions.
Back home, I didn’t ask questions about the validity of the Bible, or evolution, or women in church leadership, etc. Because those kinds of questions are only made by sinful doubters in danger of falling into the hands of Satan. Ask why we should take the gospel-writers seriously? What you will get is looks of pity and fear for your soul and parrot answers rattled off by someone who hasn’t actually researched the issue him/herself. Then no one will ever look at you the same, and you can bet they’re wailing to their prayer groups about the condition of your relationship to our Lord and Savior Jesus.
After I met Jesus, and stumbled upon the writings of Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo, etc, I had so many questions about following Jesus. I wanted to examine and discuss the implications of just about everything he said. For example, at one point he tells this guy to go sell everything he has and give to the poor. I was told that that was just for that man in particular, because his possessions were his idols, and that it only means we can’t get attached to our material things. I think in a sense, the people who told me that are right, but I always think it’s pretty easy to escape any responsibility to obey Jesus when we write stuff off that fast. But then, one teacher in particular, would go on and on about how horrible and greedy millionaires are, I guess ignoring that fact that compared to most of the world we are the millionaires. Or another example, Jesus is friendsies with all the wrong people. And when I would bring this up, we sort of celebrated Jesus for minute, and then the teacher would go on a big lecture about not hanging out with sinful people because you might be tempted and the reputation it gave you could “hurt your witness.” (HA!).
Being a church kid, it’s kind of like being held on a leash by someone who is pointing fingers everywhere. The leash keeps you from thinking outside of the box of traditional American Christianity, keeps you from questioning what Jesus meant or why you should trust the Bible to begin with (YOU SHOULD TRUST IT BECAUSE IT IS THE WORD OF GOD, END OF DISCUSSION). Believe and think what you’re told. At the same time, it feels like the people in charge of you at church are pointing fingers at the dangers and villians all around, like non-Christians,evolutionists, liberals, or–heaven forbid–Catholics! (You get the idea.) But you’re never challenged (in fact, it’s discouraged) to think critically about life, or the “villains,” or scriptural text. You interpret stuff how they said to, because they say so. It’s annoying and for people like me, the church basically just becomes a source of community at best.
I think that might be why so many kids stop going to church when they get to college. It’s not that they suddenly know how to live life without a leash, without someone telling them what to think; the leash has just shifted from the religious authority back home to the secular, seek-personal-pleasure authority at college. Suddenly, the new person holding the leash is pointing at you, the church, scoffing at you and your beliefs, holding up facts and philosophies that seem to contradict the Bible. Too bad your kids were never taught how to think for themselves, how to think critically, how to examine new ideas without accepting them. What a shame they only learned how to listen to the loudest, most powerful authority in their lives. They don’t even need church as a source of community anymore, because they’ve met lots of new friends at college. So they get the heck out of the church.
In light of how crazy Jesus was, I would think that church would be the most creative and challenging place I could find myself. But it’s often not. Often it’s the one place where I feel like I am being suppressed from really seeking the truth/thinking for myself. I get really resentful about that, and after I graduate college, unless I find a church like the campus one I attend now, you will most likely never find me in a church. Luckily, my parents are critical thinkers themselves and taught my brother and I the importance of doing that, as well as how to do that. If it weren’t for them, I would have deserted Christianity as soon as I could have.