Why church?

Increasingly, Christians are caused to do church in a context in which people reject the idea of commitment to any form of spiritual institution.

It is not that people who reject church are bad people… not even close.

People who find no meaning or purpose in church are often thoughtful, good, moral, highly-principled, kind and loving people. They have not rejected church because they want to live irresponsible careless lives; church is simply foreign territory.They have not actually “rejected” church at all. They have nothing to reject. They have little idea what church might be for or why they might take any interest in such an institution.

So why bother with church?

The first answer to that question is simply, “Don’t”.

If a person feels no inner draw to a communal expression of faith, they should never try to manufacture such a call. The days of institutional commitment for self-interest are, thankfully, past. No one needs any longer to bother with church because it is the socially acceptable thing to do, or because there is any material benefit to be gained from being seen in a pew on Sunday.

So, why do those of us who engage in the often messy business of spiritual community bother with church?

1. We humans are communal creatures. We learn and grow by being together. We need environments that nurture and support those values we believe are the deepest and richest expressions of what it means to be truly human.

2. Although churches often fail in their task, they exist to support people in orienting themselves towards those qualities that make us most truly and authentically human. Church is about remembering who we are. Church challenges us to return to love, peace, goodness, truth, beauty, gentleness, forgiveness, compassion, and respect for all life forms.

3. We need help and support in moving closer to the ideal we hold of what it means to be authentically human. If we feel that alone we are able to fulfill our vision of what it means to be genuinely human, our vision is too small. If we hold the vision of humanity that Christians see embodied in Jesus, it is only honest and realistic to admit that we need support in moving closer to this vision.

4. Many institutions in the world are committed to a self-serving, individualistic vision in which my personal happiness or the well-being of my little tribe are the only worthwhile goals. Church is a dissenting voice. Church exists to encourage us to experience the reality that, regardless of any differences that may appear to separate us on the surface, we are connected and exist to serve all sentient beings on earth.

5. The world is filled with organizations dedicated to the time-bound material tangible realm. People connect with churches because we sense there is something beyond the physical dimension. We have experienced hints of a profound mystery at the core of existence. Anyone who has ever opened to the wonder of the night sky or the deep beauty in the eyes of a small child has probably felt something stir within that cannot be entirely articulated in material terms. Church exists to support us in opening more deeply to this “other” dimension.

6. Church calls us to soften and surrender to beauty and love. We nurture an awareness of the sacred and seek to encourage reverence for the divine inexpressible dimension of life that haunts the shadowy edges of awareness for all who pay attention. Church is a community in which we practice giving ourselves to the possibility that deep mystery can be known more deeply and lived more fully.

7. Ultimately, church is an instrument of love. Love is fundamentally communal. True love always moves beyond itself, to open to more dimensions of life and to express itself in affirming deeper connections. Church seeks to expand the parameters of our lives and draw a circle that expresses more fully the gift of life.

Of course, church does not work for everyone. And we often fail to fulfill the values we most cherish. But, in a world that is increasingly atomized and bound by a reductionist materialist vision, it is not irrelevant that there should be a community that feels called to embody and celebrate the possibility that life is filled with, and united in, the divine mystery of being.