In today’s ever-changing culture, it seems that people are finding meaning and community, even spirituality, in places other than the church. Churches notoriously struggle with attracting “millenials,” young adults, and families with children. Church has become in irrelevant, hypocritical, and a place with not much to offer, according to much of the population. So, why do I, as a 35 year old woman, wife, mom (and yes, a pastor) still see church as vital and central to my life?
I confess to you that there are times when I wonder why I remain in the church as a clergy person, especially when it seems that at times we are always fighting uphill battles or arguing over the color of the carpet, type of worship music, or lately, arguing over human sexuality rather than doing the actual work of Jesus Christ. I know that I am not alone when I ponder what else I might do if I was not in the ministry.
But then, I realize that there is something about the church that calls me right back. Even if I was not a pastor, I don’t think I could stay away from church. I don’t think that I could stay away from God. Like that prevenient grace that we talk about in our United Methodist doctrine, the grace of God is constantly going before us, drawing us back in, reminding us that we cannot go far from God’s presence and love.
And that is why church. That is why ministry. Church is the place where we go to experience God (perhaps for the first time) and to be in the rich fellowship of other human beings who are also walking through this complicated and messy thing called life and who are asking the same questions we all are. We don’t always agree, we worry about unimportant and petty things, we have lots of meetings, we feel at times that nothing changes, yes there is pain and brokenness…yet we “do church” because we feel called to places where hope is preached and practiced, where the weight of the world is lifted, if only for awhile, where healing is possible, where people share our deepest pains, where we extend a hand of hospitality, where we pray for one another, even though we don’t really understand how it all works.
We “do church” because people love on our children, watch them grow up, and sneak them their favorite cookies. Church will tell them about Jesus through songs, lessons, and hopefully by modeling the kind of love that all children deserve. We “do church” because ideally, it is a safe space for children to explore, ask questions, and be a part of an extended family. We “do church” with our kids because even from an early age, they are listening. (Our 2 year old already asks about going to church each week- PK success!)
We “do church” because we need to be reminded that there is peace in the midst of war, healing in the midst of pain, and calm in the storm. We “do church” because we are reminded of the stories of Jesus, who even in death, showed us the way to life. We hear stories of how God redeems and welcomes the lost, heals those who are broken, and who brings even dry bones back from the dead. We come to hear music that moves us, words that challenge us, and friendships that bring us back to where we need to be. Church is home. God is home.
I read an article several months ago about how “your church does not need to put in a coffee bar to attract young people…just preach the gospel.” What a concept. Preach the good news in a world full of bad news. Give them Jesus. The real Jesus. Not the judgmental, closed-minded, and closed-off Jesus. Give them the Jesus of radical love, who challenged the powers and political scene of the day to make room for a message of grace and peace, who lifted up the poor and oppressed, who healed the sick and anointed the lowly, and who died for the cause. Give them that Jesus.
I know I will strive to live up to the calling that has been placed on my life, as it is a profound privilege and responsibility to “preach the gospel” and “give them Jesus” in today’s ever-changing and broken world. I challenge anyone who says that the church is irrelevant, because how is a place that is preaching peace, hope, and love out of place today? We need these words now more than ever. We need these stories now more than ever. Will you be a part of it?