Six months ago I moved to Guadalajara, Mexico to teach preschool at a Christian school. New country, apartment, language, job/career, and a brand new set of friends. It was a LOT to take in so believe me when I say that I am more than thankful for those new friends. One of them being Nikki Bacon. (Come on! What’s NOT to love about a girl named Nikki Bacon!?)
I connected with her right away. We could be real and honest and we walked through some of the hardest moments of this huge life transition together. We say a lot of funny things and also a lot of hard things and somehow we end up laughing either way. And when Pumpkin spiced lattes didn’t make it down to Mexico this year, this gal made it from scratch so that my birthday would feel whole. What else is there to say? It’s my honor to have my relatively new but already dear friend, Nikki Bacon sharing with you on The Pearl Press today! Hold onto your seat ladies because if I know Nikki, it’s about to get super honest up in here! But also, you are going to walk away challenged and refreshed!
Growing up, I loved going to church. In fact, I thrived in church, because I was the classic "good girl;" I read my Bible every day, memorized all my verses, helped out in the nursery, and probably stacked about a million chairs by the time I graduated high school. If I'm being totally transparent with you, my nickname may or may not have been "Goody-Two-Shoes."
But I actually hated it. I was terrified that my goodness wasn't enough to appease God's anger. I became a legalist, depending on my own attempts at righteousness. I had a doubt for every stacked chair! Praise God, I'm past that now. I saw the folly of my self-attempts, and realized that Christ's death and resurrection are the only "attempts" worth trusting in. My dependence on the rituals and conventions of "church" had died, by God's grace!
However, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Now I struggle with going to church at all, because I see people hiding like I once did. Somehow, church has become a place to put on your mask and pretend your life is perfect. All I see on Sunday morning is hypocrisy and dead faith and judgment, where God instead intends us to find vulnerability and encouragement and growth. I sicken myself with this confession: I enjoy going to church the most when I am neglecting my relationship with God, because it's the perfect place to camouflage my sin and call it righteousness.
Because of that, I have spent the last few years rejecting "church" as most of us practice it. I've allowed it to become a useless ritual that catalyzes my spiritual deterioration. In reality, a lot of our church culture stems from Scripture, but has morphed into a mere program that no longer requires sincerity. This has created an environment that can, at many times, discourage growth rather than produce it.
Please forgive my pessimism; it's a very real struggle for me. In the recesses of my heart, I've always known this viewpoint was hurting me, but it's been a challenge discerning how our version of church could possibly glorify God or help people grow closer to Him!
Is going to church really mandatory? Is this what God intended it to look like? Can it actually help me flourish in my walk with God? Am I throwing out a diamond ring because of a bad setting?
The Apostle Paul wrote lots of letters to lots of struggling churches. One church had so many problems that he wrote four long letters of God-breathed instruction to them throughout the years, addressing and admonishing their sins. In my struggling relationship with "church," I've been drawn to the first of those letters to the Corinthian church, and want to share what I've been learning with you. The entire book could be cited for this topic of discussion, but for the sake of an appropriate word-count, here's just a tidbit from chapter 12:
... And a chunk from chapter 14:
The short answer to all of my questions is: I need other believers to grow! Of course, the Lord needs no help in my sanctification, but His first tool of choice is the believer right next to me. We are meant to compliment each other, to use our perfectly differentiated, God-given gifts to minister to one another. Our purpose to gather is to build each other up!
When we look at the first church in Acts 2, we see them devoting themselves to the teachings of the Gospel, going to the temple, giving their possessions away to each other, praying, and eating in each other's houses often. They did life together.
What a perfect model for us to follow! Church is meant to be life-on-life, constant relationships growing and changing. It's not just the pastor's insightful lectures; it's a coffee date with my girlfriends to discuss the passages' application to our lives. It's not just a weekly Bible study; it's an ongoing "Whatsapp" conversation that adds depth to my conviction and passion. It's not just a few hymns on Sunday morning; it's a song that my heart is constantly singing, and the Holy Spirit speaking to me through music.
It's me spending the afternoon with an older woman who will speak wisdom into my life.
It's inviting other believers to my house for Game Night.
It's letting my friends be there for me when I'm hurting.
It's me holding onto the heart that is behind the convention of church.
There is more to "church" than the routine. When I embrace it all as mandate, I hold myself and others back. When I reject it wholly, I disallow God to use fellow believers to change me, and me to change them. Because to err is human, a gathering of humans will include error. But because the Body is of Christ, it is worth holding onto.
Ultimately, a diamond is a good reason to keep a tarnished ring.