Yours in Christ,
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Why Be a Christian? Five Ways the Church Improves My Life
You can leave your preconceptions of this entry's title at the door: this post is not about my own salvation, or going to Heaven, or being saved, or any of the other terms that we Christians tend to use for being in right relationship with God.
Indeed, this is not even really about having faith at all--this is about performing faith.
After all, as James writes, "You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves." (1:22, CEB)
And while I have written an awful lot here about what the church could be doing better, I have also written about what keeps me coming back to church, I haven't done so in any real amount of depth. Here are five ways the church has improved my life; each one corresponds to one of the 20 entries on the list I link to in this paragraph, so if you want to, click on it to pull up that list and follow along:
1. The church gives me a sense of purpose and meaning
Corresponding "20 Reasons" entry: 1. When I was baptized, I made a covenant with God to dedicate my life to Him. I cannot bear to ever break that covenant.
The other four entries on this list all stem from this one. It has not been--and is not--enough to simply know that I am created in God's image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). I always felt the need to act upon that knowledge. Like I said--this entry won't be about knowledge of faith, but the acting of faith. Knowing is simply not enough, and it never has been.
Which isn't to say I would be a nihilist/cynic/misanthrope/libertarian (kidding on that last one) without the church. But when it comes to providing opportunities for someone to serve others, the church is still one of the very best at creating such opportunities for putting faith in action. And we should be--we've had nearly 2,000 years of practice.
2. The church is a unique community centered around selfless praise of the Other
Corresponding "20 Reasons" entry: 15. I can't imagine a week being complete without being able to take time away to be in worship, whether on Sunday morning, or at Bible study, or in preschool chapel, or in the everyday hustle and bustle of life.
I purposely use "the Other" to refer to God in this particular instance because while it is important to recognize God's imprint upon us, I believe it is equally--if not more--important to recognize the external God, because at the point where we see God simply as within ourselves, it becomes much easier to, well, worship ourselves and not God.
Which is the whole point of Christianity's uniqueness--worshiping God as revealed by Jesus Christ. My senior pastor in Concord, Russ, told me that it is what we can and should do best. After all, if all someone wants is fellowship, they can join the Elks, or a chess club, or go golfing, take your pick. If all someone wants is education, they can take a class at the local community college. If what someone wants is to do service, there's the Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, and a legion of other amazing organizations to volunteer for.
But...if what someone wants or needs is to be in worship--or to do any of the above activities in a worshipful way--then the church is there. And we are the only ones who are. At our sacred best, we discourage selfishness in favor of praising both others and THE Other.
3. The church offers an emotional safety net in an era of increasing social isolation
Corresponding "20 Reasons" entry: 6. The church has always been one of the strongest supports for me in providing fellowship, community, and accountability. As an introvert, those things don't always come easily for me. Without church, I would probably be a fairly lonely person.
That may sound like a brutal self-assessment, but it is pretty true--I'm not the most talented person at cultivating and maintaining friendships. I'm reluctant--if not outright uncomfortable--to be in large social situations, I suck at keeping up with major events in peoples' lives, and I have to remind myself to check on people.
And those are just my innate traits--traits that are exacerbated by a time when everything takes place via text message, or Facebook, or email. I'm not a curmudgeon demanding to go back to the days of handwritten letters, but like many in my generation, I live alone, and so it means a lot to me that, say, I am invited to my congregants' holiday parties. Thanks to my church, I have not spent a major holiday alone since moving here. Even as an introvert, I need that social embracing--it reminds me that I am cared for here.
It may be in my comfort zone to do much of my work from behind my laptop, but it isn't necessarily best for my psyche, it certainly isn't best for my church, and it is thankfully limited by the care that a church provides not only to its pastor, but hopefully to any and all of its members.
4. The church encourages me to give back
Corresponding "20 Reasons" entry: 11. I cannot imagine being as heavily invested in making the world a better place if I did not have the church.
I know, I know...the cliche is that we Christians are supposed to be in the world but not of the world, and that this home is temporary and fleeting.
You know what? Nope.
Yes, James says to remain unstained by the world, but in the exact same verse, he says that true religion "that is pure and faultless before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties." (1:27, CEB)
So I cannot take on face value the idea that God would not want us to continue to improve His creation--Earth. Indeed, verses in Scripture that command us to serve one another and to aid the poor and sick number in the thousands.
In turn, I am grateful to the church for obeying God's command and giving me many chances to serve in my local community--at the next-door elementary school, for the battered families' shelter, for local community gardens...and to say nothing of the two times I have gone on international mission with the Disciples, to Africa in 2006 and to Mexico in 2010.
Being church means being servants together. And it's great.
5. The church empowers me to think critically
Corresponding "20 Reasons" entry: 5. As an ordained pastor, I'm actually paid to study and teach the Bible stories that fascinated me as a child and that inspire me as an adult. I still can't believe how good I have it.
It always saddens me to hear someone say, "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!"
Because that doesn't settle it.
I'm as Bible-loving as they come--my seminary friends would rib me for my sola scriptura worldview--but as Galileo Galilei (he of the earth-revolves-around-the-sun fame) wrote, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."
So, finally, to that end, I am grateful for a church that has, for my whole life, nurtured my curiosity and my exploration and has provided an outlet for my voice and my writing. I do not delude myself into thinking that I always have something important to say, but on those occasions that I do, I appreciate the church for equipping me to articulate it.
And those are just five reasons in just one area (the "doing" of faith) of how the church has improved my life. Which isn't also to say that it also hasn't hindered me at times, either. But on balance, the church has done great things in my life.
How has the church helped or hindered you in your life?
Yours in Christ,
Yours in Christ,