Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dis-Churched on National Back to Church Sunday: why I didn’t go to church and I liked it.

Today is National Back to Church Sunday. My family and I won’t be inviting people to “come back to church.” In fact, we won’t even be going to church. Today is actually the first Sunday of a new phase in our family’s life: not attending church anymore, at all. We are five of the 8 million people this year that will leave the church, according to the National Back to Church Sunday website that defines my family and I as “un-churched.”

That’s where they’re wrong. We’re not “un-churched.” We are, what my husband and I have jokingly (but kinda seriously) dubbed ourselves as: “dis-churched.”

Perhaps it sounds like semantics. I guess it’s rather like the naked/nude distinction that was explained to me long ago. “Naked” is when you’re without clothing and you are embarrassed, ashamed or caught unclothed when you didn’t expect to be. “Nude” is when you are without clothing and you like it!

It’s not so much that our family doesn’t have a church (un-churched). It’s that we don’t have a church and we are choosing to not have one (dis-churched).

It’s all rather ironic, though. I didn’t even know today was going to be National Back to Church Sunday until a couple days ago when I was doing research and stumbled across the website. I’ve known for months that today was going to be the first time no one in our family would be going to church. After much thought, discussion and listening to hearts, we’ve decided that we are going to spend Sundays as a family, either here at home or doing something fun and exciting together, out and about, for an indefinite period of time.

Both my husband and I grew up going to church every week and, until the last couple years, we usually went to church together and took our three children with us. Why we aren’t going to be attending church any longer is really not the point; there are dozens of reasons why. The point is that James and I have decided that we want to spend Sundays together, as a family, teaching our kids, being with our kids, hanging out with our kids and generally enjoying one another as we do so.

It’s exciting. It’s also sad. It’s a kind of “end” of one era and “beginning” of another.  The era we’re moving out of wasn’t terrible, all bad or even mostly bad. We’ve had good experiences in church. It’s more that the new era we’re beginning is something we believe is important and positive for ourselves, our children and our family as a whole. It just feels right.

According to the website, though, are five of the 8 million people that leave the church each year. That’s over 150,000 every Sunday. Though we are consciously, soberly choosing to not attend church, according to the website, we are some of the very people Christians would like to bring back into the proverbial fold today.

I remember when I was comfortable in an evangelical church and felt it was part of my responsibility as a Christian to extend the invitation to the un-churched individuals in my life to come with me on Sunday. I felt like it was the loving thing to do, partly because I pretty much assumed that if someone wasn’t attending church regularly, they were “not right with God.” According to my evangelical beliefs, there was a good chance someone like that had not accepted Jesus’ offer of salvation, and therefore would spend eternity in hell. I remember feeling a lot of guilt over feeling too embarrassed to invite them to hear more about Jesus and/or attend my church. I “get” why someone would feel it was loving to invite me.

Now I’m one of those people who is not at church today. But don’t need an invitation to return. If an acquaintance who didn’t know me well invited me to church I’d politely thank them and refuse the invitation, knowing they meant well. However, anyone I know well knows the “why” behind my not attending church; they know that I’m excited about the new adventure my family and I are embarking on together. For someone who knows me to invite me to church would be to simply not SEE me; I am not “not going to church.” I am doing something else besides going to church, by choice.

Here’s the thing, though: when I think about who Jesus was, I just can not imagine him inviting someone to church on National Back to Church Sunday. Maybe it’s because I’m someone that might have gotten invited to church today if an acquaintance was participating in the national event, but I can’t help wondering how someone will feel today, as they sit next to their friend in the pew and receive the news, one way or the other, that today is the day when their friend was “supposed” to invite them to church.

I know how I’d feel if I was sitting next to a friend I’d received an invitation to church from and I heard the pastor say, “Well, look at all the new faces today! I’m so pleased with the wonderful turn-out for National Back to Church Sunday. It looks like a lot of you brought your friends or loved ones today.” I’d feel like a project. I’d feel like a tally mark. I’d feel like a notch in my friend’s Christian belt. I’d feel tricked. I’d feel invalidated. I’d feel not seen.

I’m a person who hasn’t been to church in about two years. My husband went a little longer than I did. My kids have been going with their grandparents until today. I am not just one of the 8 million people who “just need to come back to church.” I am not at home today because I didn’t receive an invitation to church. I am not a “dis-churched” person because I hate God, love sinning, like to sleep in on Sundays, didn’t get the bridge illustration explained to me or had a bad experience.

I’m dis-churched today because I’m a person who has made a very purposeful decision to be that way. There are millions of people who, like me, don’t need or want an invitation to church today, or any day. We want to have authentic relationships with people, including those who happily attend church or who don’t. We want to be seen as the thinking, feeling, conscientious people that we are.

We don’t go to church…and we like it.


Holly- Girls At Heart said...

Yes! And my family likes it, too! Every year that passes, the happier we are with this path! ♥

Melissa said...

I am not sure I completely understand but I know that creative thoughtful people don't need to be completely understood but I also know they should not be judged and I feel a connection to much of what you write.

I participated:

Sharon said...

What a powerful piece! I get it. I applaud your decision. Indeed, I cheer you on!

I feel much the same way and could have said much of the same things, except that I don't have a hubby or kids at home on a Sunday. What I am is a pastor actively serving a church that I wouldn't invite anyone to, no matter what the Sunday was or if inviting was the order of the day. I especially wouldn't invite anyone who is spiritually aware or justice oriented or who wanted their children to catch some of the best of Jesus for their lives.

Today, I am on vacation, so I am in a state, literally and figuratively, far away from the church I serve. I slept in, and I have been brimming with tears since I woke up. I think those tears are for the church (in general) which has become a place that people like you, and like me, find has become a place we would choose not to frequent.

For some reason, and I hope it is a divine one, I still think my life is to serve the church in some capacity. Today, thanks to you, I am considering whether I have effectively been "dis-pastored" and what that might mean.

Thank you! And enjoy!

Cheryl Ensom said...

Wow, Sharon...what a difficult but exciting place you're in.

We just had our very first Family Sunday and one of the things we talked about is the Life/Death/Life cycle, something that I've been reading about that really resonates with both James and I. We talked with the kids about how, even when something seems dead, it isn't. Even when everyone could only see Jairus' dead daughter, Jesus saw life (somehow) still inside of her. Even when it's a seemingly endless night or Winter, there is always morning and always Spring. We watched this together:

The kids totally "got it." There's life, then death, then life again. We've experienced this in a very powerful way this year.

Here's what Clarissa Pinkola Estes says in a book I'm reading, "Women Who Run with the Wolves"(it's in the sidebar if you want to order it):

"We have been taught that death is always followed by more death. It is simply not so, death is always in the process of incubating new life, even when one's existence has been cut down to the bones." (Estes, p. 142)

I think I need to write a whole blog post about this! :) But Sharon, I'm wondering this morning if you are experiencing a death of...? But that is wonderful, when we look at death as something necessary or when we see life as a series of necessary deaths that make room for beautiful life. What is next for you, Sharon? Whatever it is, you are on the threshold of it.

Estes says it well:

"Much of our knowledge of the Life/Death/Life nature is contaminated by our fear of death. Therefore our abilities to move with the cycles of this nature are quite frail. These forces do not 'do something' to us. They are not thieves who rob us of the things we cherish. This nature is not a hit-and-run driver who smashes what we value. No, no, the Life/Death/Life forces are part of our own nature, part of an inner authority that knows the steps, knows the dance of Life and Death. It is composed of the aspects of ourselves who know when something can, should, and must be born and when it must die. It is a deep teacher if we can only learn its tempo. Rosario Castellanos, the Mexican mystic and ecstatic poet, writes about surrender to the forces that govern life and death:

...dadme la muerte que me falta...
...give me the death I need..."
(Estes, p. 143-144)

Sharon, I'd love to follow your journey with you. Keep us posted! :) Would love to email with you, too, if you like.

Kristin T. (@kt_writes) said...

I didn't know about "National Back to Church Sunday" until I heard about it through you, but the idea seems wrong, on many levels. Thankfully, the church (we call ourselves a "fellowship" and avoid the word "church") my family and I are a part of wouldn't jump on board with such an idea, anyway.

But it does point to some interesting realities about church, which your personal story accentuated (and Sharon's story really drove home): If you the church you're a part of isn't one that you'd love to invite people to and tell people about, just as a natural outpouring of excitement for the people and what goes on within your community, then that should be a red flag. If you feel like the one or two hours you spend in church on a Sunday morning are a waste of time, that could be spent in much more spiritually enriching ways (as you seem to be saying), that's also a red flag.

Maybe taking a break from church is the right thing, but maybe finding a better church community for you (now or down the road) is the right thing, too. Having found that better church community for me, and watching my kids thrive among these people, has been life-changing for us.

(Btw, although I didn't get a post written about this particular Sunday, I did write a post last week that examines the "Why Church?" question:

Peter J Walker said...

"I remember when I was comfortable in an evangelical church and felt it was part of my responsibility as a Christian to extend the invitation to the un-churched individuals in my life to come with me on Sunday." Yup, me too Cheryl.

Well written piece. I'm glad you're sharing this stuff. I was annoyed several months ago when Anne Rice publicly came out saying she was leaving Christianity (but not leaving Jesus) because of all the naysaying Christians who chimed in after her: "You can't follow Christ and not be a part of the church. You can't have it both ways. Blah blah blah..."

I think it's very naive and very idealistic to assume that the church is really THE CHURCH even a small majority of the time, and that by participating in its dysfunction we are somehow "in." And those who recognize it's dysfunction, and seek to avoid it for the sake of health and sanity, are somehow "out."

I continue to attend church. I've only been going about once-a-month for the last year. I intend to up that to every-other-week shortly. I do want to be on the inside, because I think it's easier to change things from the inside than the outside.

But I hear you. To be sure, I hear you. I didn't go to church that Sunday either.

I have a post on this scheduled on my blog, but it won't hit till this weekend.

Cheers, Cheryl!

Cheryl Ensom said...

Never responded to these...not sure if those who commented will even notice that I am now! But just in case:

Kristin, I think I wrote this in response to your blog post your referenced above, but I'm frankly kinda jealous of you! Your spiritual community sounds really wonderful. I'd love to hear more about how that all works...the set-up, what goes on, etc. I have read some stuff you've written here and there about it and I know you're in at least one small group that I think is attached to your church in some way? Anyway, I know I'd be fascinated to hear more about how your community works.

Peter, what is it about the spiritual community you're attending that you enjoy? I think I remember you saying during our podcast that it's Episcopalian, which I know is a bit more liturgical than our Evangelical upbringing. Is that something you enjoy or something you overlook? I have some other questions for whoever wants to answer them, but I think I will write a new blog post and ask them! :)

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