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Why Would You EVER Go to Church?

Posted February 17, 2013

Happens all the time. I tell someone I'm a minister, and their eyes dart desperately around the room as they gather their courage to say: "Yeah, well, I don't think you have to go to church to be spiritual."

Agreed! I don't think so either. Some Sundays, I wouldn't get out of bed if they didn't pay me. It is absolutely possible to be spiritual on the golf course or walking in nature or even in a nightclub.

But really, is that serving your spirit?

My only concern for the Spiritual But Not Religious crowd - and I count myself among them - is for those who have rejected religion (i.e. church) but never quite get around to being spiritual.

What is "being spiritual?" It means having a spiritual practice. Meditation, music, reading, writing, singing, painting, talking to angels for heaven's sake - something, anything, you do with the express purpose of connecting with something larger than yourself. It's conscious and deliberate communion with the spirit in you, wherever and however it takes place.

You won't catch me trying to convince you to go to church. I think it's a shame so many groups that were organized around the teachings of Jesus have alienated millions of people with their negative judgments and financial pressure, violating the words "church" and "Christian" to the point they drove people away.

But I have two thoughts about this.

One is that churches may have changed. A great many of them are joyful gatherings of people who celebrate life even as they work through the struggles of daily life. These church members love and support each other and reach out to others in need. People inspired by religious faith are working all over the world to improve the human condition - building, planting, first on the scene after disasters.

Still I hear, especially from young adults, the absolute conviction that churches are full of hypocrites who will tell them how to live their lives, and the preachers only want their money. When I press them for detail, many of the critics who are so sure religion is an abomination, responsible for most of the world's ills, have only darkened the door of a church for the occasional friend's wedding. Didn't grow up in church. Haven't investigated different systems of belief. Only know the cultural stereotype of televangelists and sheep. Oh, and the Crusades.

The churches of today might surprise them, if they're willing to shop around. Perfect? No. Politics? Sometimes. But that's what you get wherever two or more are gathered. We're all just people. Flawed, human people. And that's who shows up in church.

My other thought is that a great many of the Spiritual But Not Religious are proudly involved in spiritual communities; they just don't call them "church." Book studies, 12 Step groups, meditation classes, Buddhist sanghas all have the same intentions as the early church, to be gathering places where people share their experience, strength and hope.

The inspired teaching and community that may seem unique to those informal groups is also happening in many churches, mosques and temples. How sad if the building or the name keeps anyone from accepting the support that might be available for them.

As I wrote in The Five Principles, if I had one wish for the world, it would be that every adult reconsider his or her concept of God at least once per decade. Too many people have abandoned the God of their childhood but have no clue there's another way to think about the divine.

Yet there are thousands of ways to understand God! That's why we have so many different churches. That's why we have so many different religions in the world. That's why bookstores are overflowing in the categories of self-help, spirituality and inspiration. That's why theologians, philosophers and artists have, since the earliest cave paintings, expressed different aspects of the divine, offering myriad ways to understand the meaning of life and the purpose of existence.

Spiritual groups are enormous help in sparking new ideas; in introducing new books, prayers and stories; in guiding each other into deeper understanding. Some of those groups happen to meet on Sunday mornings in buildings with steeples. Don't miss what they have to offer just because they're wrapped in the package of church.

Spiritual? Religious? Semantics. Rip off the labels and find what nourishes your soul.

(I hope you'll share your thoughts. See that tiny blue number to the right? Click there to comment.)

©2013 Ellen Debenport
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