Five Reasons Why I Want to Go to Church… and Five Reasons Why I (Often) Don’t

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This is what Sunday morning looks like at my house these days. In fact, this past Sunday, miraculously, I got to sleep in until 10 AM, for the first time since I can remember. If that’s not worship for a new parent, I don’t know what is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about church lately, probably because I’ve been following Rachel Held Evans’ blog series on church abuse, and also because I’ve had several recent conversations with a handful of people I consider to be spiritual giants, and I’ve been surprised to discover that these people (whom I frankly thought were WAY out of my league, faith-wise) have the same struggles with churchgoing that I do.

So I’m feeling a bit braver now, a little more ready to talk openly about my ambivalence toward church – and I’m curious to hear about others’ experiences in the context of their own faith traditions.

Five Reasons Why I Want to Go to Church…

1) I want to be part of a close-knit community.

This, first and foremost, represents the greatest value of church for me. It’s not so much worship, because I feel like I can do that anywhere. Worship, for me, is not just singing songs, but more about trying to cultivate a spirit of awe and gratitude on a daily, even momentary basis, to get back that childlike sense of wonder we adults learn to function without. The real appeal of church is all about community, about sharing purpose and brokenness and sorrow and joy with like-hearted folks. And pooling our resources to help one another, as well as those in need.

2) I want to encounter the sacred.

This has always been true; I have a ravenous mystic’s heart. I want to see God, to look straight at him/her while my eyeballs light on fire. And I do catch glimpses – often times NOT in church, actually. But there is something to be said for stepping into a place that is set aside, a place outside the hum and buzz of daily chaos, a place where people gather to be Christ to one another.

3) I want to get better at this whole faith thing.

Doubt comes naturally to me. I speak fluent skeptic. The faith thing, though, takes some work. Don’t misunderstand – I don’t think my doubt is stronger than my faith; both forces are alive and at work within me, constantly. This used to cause me quite a lot of anxiety, until I began to accept their interconnectedness, to accept that the tension between them is hardwired into me. My head is prone to doubt and over-analysis, but my soul is like a loyal, dopey golden retriever who is constantly looking toward God and wagging his tail hopefully. Being part of a life-giving church community could help me be better at faith, to choose to keep hoping and looking and wagging, to not get swallowed into my head all the time, to better maintain that crucial balance between the needing to know and the being okay with not knowing.

4) I want my son to experience being part of a faith community.

The question of religion springs to the forefront as soon as you have a kid. You’re no longer just responsible for your own spiritual wellbeing; you’ve got a malleable little soul on your hands. I know that Julian will ultimately decide whether or not he wants to be religious, but I want to do everything I can to prepare him for that decision. I want him to grow up experiencing the positive aspects of a life of faith, without feeling scared or shamed into it. I want him to develop a spiritual sensibility, an awareness of the numinous, an orientation of service and compassion toward the world. The little old lady who can pinch his cheek and give him wet kisses, those other kids who can wreak joyful havoc with him among the pews – I want him to have those people in his life, to be surrounded by a community that loves him and is invested in his welfare.

5) I feel guilty if I don’t go.

Enough said.

… And Five Reasons Why I (often) Don’t

1) I am too tired.

Okay, I know people with babies go to church. I’ve seen them, back when I used to go to church, back when I didn’t have a baby. But by the time I’ve floundered on terrible, patchy sleep throughout the entire workweek, I am beat. I am done. Even when I start to psych myself up on Saturday night – Totally going to church tomorrow! Totally doing it!!!! – when I am actually faced with the temptation of sleeping late and sharing my baby’s mid-morning nap, I am not strong enough to resist. Sleep has become a drug, and I am an addict, always jonesing for more.

2) I have high expectations.

I admit it. I’m the Goldilocks of churchgoers. I have a long list of demands. I want a church that welcomes absolutely anyone – in practice, not just speech. I want a church where women are actively involved on every level, including leadership. I want a church that loves children and doesn’t believe they should be seen and not heard. I want a church service that is more than just over-produced worship time followed by a long-ass sermon. I want a church that sees worship as more than just singing along with a rock band whose mics are turned up so high that the voices of the people are drowned out. I want a church that doesn’t have a mean theology. I want a church that welcomes a spirit of questioning, rather than imposing a spirit of certainty. I want a church like the bar Cheers, where everyone knows everyone’s name. And, most importantly, I want a church that doesn’t keep you locked in the foyer if you have to go to the bathroom during the sermon. WTF?

3) I am introverted.

Going to church can be really hard if you’re introverted. And church HUNTING is a complete nightmare, which is pretty much the mode I’ve been in for the past two years. (Did I mention I have high expectations when it comes to church?) Not only is there, in many churches, a pressure to perform by emoting publicly and praying out loud extemporaneously (ideally while using the word “just” in as many capacities as possible, i.e. Lord, we just thank you for bringing us here, and we just ask that you would just), there is the added pressure of somehow getting to know the sea of strangers in front of you, who may or may not be that welcoming. This dynamic seems even more daunting for the introvert with a young baby, a baby who could start crying or pooping or want you to take your boobs out at any minute and attract the eyes of said strangers. Sigh. As you might have gleaned by now, church tends to cause me no small amount of anxiety, and when I imagine bringing a baby along, the list of possible shame-inducing events exponentially skyrockets. (At this point, if you’re a regular reader and saw this earlier post, you might be beginning to wonder if I have a phobia about taking my baby out in public. I think you might be right.)

4) I am tired of feeling guilty.

This might seem paradoxical, but feeling guilty for not going to church is another reason why, on principle, I don’t make myself go. I’ve been trying, in my life, to free myself from the never-ending onslaught of shoulds and oughts. I ‘should’ on myself way too much, to the point where I pretty much constantly feel inadequate and ashamed of something or another. So it’s been healing for me to realize that, as an adult with a driver’s license, I can go to church because I want to be there, because I might actually have those experiences I long for. But if guilt is the only thing that will get me through the door, I’m not going to go.

5) I’m not sure I need it.

This is scary to say out loud. Even scarier to write in black and white and post on the internet. But this is a question I struggle with – do I need church? I happen to teach at a university with a strong religious commitment, which means that, during the week, I’m constantly engaged in vibrant conversations about God. You know that close-knit community I was talking about? I have that at work, surrounded by like-minded colleagues who are also good friends, people who challenge me to live authentically, people who are Christ to me on an almost daily basis. When I’m talking with a student about her spiritual longings and frustrations, that feels like church to me. When I manage to facilitate a lively class discussion on The Book of Job or Flannery O’Connor, that feels like church to me. When a ragtag group of colleagues/friends come to my house on a Saturday night to share food and wine and fellowship, that feels like church to me.

There is part of me, then, that feels like whatever church is and should be, I am already experiencing that in my life. There’s another part, though, that is bothered by the selfish tenor of this whole inner monologue, which tends to focus on what church can do for me, rather than what I can bring to the table. Or the potluck.

***

So, here I am, left feeling ambivalent in the true sense: torn by strong, conflicting emotions. Why do I care so much? There have been seasons of my life in which church has been incredibly life-giving – and there have been other seasons when I’ve been damaged by church, when I’ve felt silenced and shamed. That’s why I’m taking the whole idea of where I go on Sunday mornings so seriously; I know what’s at stake. I know how church can heal, and I know how church can wound.

But I’ll end with some hope, a little sprinkle of fairy dust for those of you who read through to the end. Toward the last half of my pregnancy, I began attending a local Quaker church, and until exhaustion and impending childbirth knocked me off the churchgoing wagon, I was beginning to feel like I’d found a spiritual home – a little church that is a healing place, a place for doubters, mystics, and introverts, for nomads of the soul.

Of course, going there still means getting up on Sunday morning, so… baby steps.

***

[Tell me, how do you feel about church? What makes you go? What keeps you from going?]

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77 comments

  1. Deja

    This is also very much in my brain right now, and sacrificing sleep to get to church is so not trivial. It is hard. It’s the hardest thing I do all week. And I’m really trying to figure out why I go. A lot of it is habit, 30 years of habit, which adds up. And I guess, when I step back, though I speak fluent skeptic too (love that), I’m a believer. So I keep going. But that doesn’t make it easy. Sometimes it makes it harder, honestly. But I love this list, both lists. Thank you for writing them. I had not yet thought this clearly.

    • Abigail

      You know, I was actually thinking about my LDS friends while writing this. I didn’t want to make the post too long, but I considered talking about how I sometimes envy my LDS friends, and my Catholic friends, who aren’t bombarded with a giant menu of possible churches to attend. We Protestants are spoiled for choice, almost to the point where it’s paralyzing. And I’ve seen, from the outside, how tight-knit LDS communities are, and how they seem pretty good about making church about the people.

      • Deja

        Wow, I’m so in love with so many of these comments. You’ve got a good crop of readers! And the comments are reminding me of more reasons to go, so that’s a bonus.

        Yes, we LDS folks don’t have much of a menu of choices, which is both good and bad. It’s nice to have that decision made, and some profound things happen when we go where “assigned,” rather than where we choose, but sometimes I really wouldn’t mind hearing a band at church, and sometimes I could use a Quaker meeting, and I have no idea how to support my husband with his Catholic faith, since just participating in mine is honestly exhausting. It’s three hours long! I think about backing off and only attending every other week and attending Mass with Sam on the other Sundays, but it’s so hard to go halvsies with Mormonisn.

  2. Odd-toed Ungulate

    Good thoughts, pro and con. And I definitely agree with the sea change in your own spiritual life when you suddenly have primary responsibility for another! That, more than virtually anything else, it what spurs me on to keep chasing, learning and (when I get around to it) disciplining myself.

    In addition to your reasons to go to church, I would add a few more for myself. My church is very racially diverse, and somewhat generationally diverse as well. In my “normal” life (work, commute, home with the family), I don’t have much interaction with more than a sliver of the diversity of the population. My job is pretty self-contained with minimal personal interaction, my commutes are two hours of train-hypnosis, and at the end of the day I just want to spend time with my wife and kids. Our church pushes me outside of the routine, and gives me weekly refreshers in the life outside my own day-to-day. The kind of community I find at church (whether I want it or not, sometimes!) is unique, and helps me grow. It’s not just the community aspect that matters (I had a great Christian community of mostly white 20-somethings in college), but the diversity of that community that helps me learn and grow.

    I also go to church because it gives me an opportunity for truly meaningful service and leadership. My “real” job is good, meets our financial needs and has good flexibility, but it’s not a job where I’m making the kind of difference I want to make in the lives of real people. My church gives me that opportunity, through working with the youth group and teaching the teen Sunday school class, and through music. I don’t get these opportunities anywhere else at this point, and I value them tremendously.

    Of course, I also recognize that my church is pretty unique and awesome (best church I’ve ever been a part of), and I’ve had experiences with more demanding or frustrating churches as well. I was a youth pastor at another church for a while, and the pastor and I often didn’t see eye to eye on lots of issues, leading to long debates and some frustrating conversations. But my pastor and I both learned through those arguments as well and remain good friends. I still wouldn’t trade my time in that church away for anything. I think that the struggle and the frustration is often a means for God to teach, challenge and grow us, and that’s a main reason why I still agree with whoever that guy is who wrote the book of Hebrews, that we should never give up the habit of meeting together, but should stubbornly stick together and hash things out, challenging and loving and encouraging one another.

    And all this being said, new moms and dads need all the rest they can get. No need to feel guilty for grabbing rest whenever you can, including on Sunday mornings.

    • Abigail

      Your church experience does sound awesome. It’s stories like this that keep my expectations high — I still believe I CAN find a life-giving faith community, because I see so many that do. And thanks for giving me a pass with the new parent thing. 🙂

  3. Krissi

    Quakers are good for that, eh? Wish I had a Quaker church in Forest Grove. It would take me around 30 minutes to drive to the church I really want to go to if I had a car. Instead, though, it takes me two hours to get there by bus, so that never happens. After being here since Labor Day, I have finally started going to an Episcopal church in town. It remains to be seen if I’ll ever feel a real connection to it. I miss my silence, but I love the sacredness of the liturgy and sacraments. Also, I don’t have a baby, but I totally understand the tired thing! For the first time in my life, I have a job that is really busy and that I love. But this means it also makes me really tired and ready for my weekends. I spend a lot of Saturdays doing community service as required by AmeriCorps, so sometimes Sundays are the only days I have all to myself and sometimes I don’t want to spend half the day getting ready for and going to church!

    • Abigail

      Yeah, the commute thing limits me, too. I have a car, so while I could technically drive to another town for church, I know myself well enough to know that that would discourage me from attending regularly. It’s one thing to amp myself up for a 5 minute drive; quite another for a 20 or 30 minute one! And I, too, feel caught between the Quaker and Anglican worlds. Or a better way of putting it is that I feel at home in both.

  4. Melissa Weckhorst

    You have no idea how much I relate to this. Even though I’m much more of an extrovert, and tend to jump into everything head first (pun intended), the whole ordeal of getting up early, convincing your spouse to get up early, convincing your kid(s) to get up early, and then wrestle them through the service, while everyone becomes increasingly hungry and grumpy is no little thing. Being Catholic, I do love the general acceptance of children. There are ALWAYS lots of children at Mass. And they have these wonderful sound-proof “cry” rooms where you can see and hear and be a part, but no one has to listen to your screaming child (or, in some cases, crying yourself from sheer exhaustion). Going to church with kids is like performing in the Olympics every Sunday. Fortunately, I have found a vibrant, familial, multicultural parish with two evening Masses- on Saturdays and Sundays. It is SO much easier. And sometimes, when we’re just too beat, my husband and I take turns going to church, when we realize the kids are just not going to be convinced to go. And sometimes we JUST DON’T GO. But, I think this is okay. We all find our way, and, in the end, it seems that the work towards faith is more important than the “possession” of faith. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Abigail

      EVENING MASS FOR THE WIN. Yes. If church was at, like, three in the afternoon, I would totally be go more often. Also love the idea of the soundproof cry room. I need one of those in my house.

    • Abigail

      Thanks! And, yes, on those mornings I actually get it together enough to go, I end up being glad that I did. Most of the time. 😉

  5. William Loewen (@wjloewen)

    Thanks for your thoughts. As a pastor who is roughly your age, I’d like to add that even more than you need the church, the church needs you. The people who think they have all the answers need to hear your valid questions. The people who like quiet churches need to hear the signs of life your screaming kid(s) will provide. The seniors whose children have moved away need to see people your age on a semi-regular basis. The young adults (yes, there still are some) need to know they are not alone. The pastor needs you to engage him in spiritual dialogue because he’s trained in that more than the administrative tasks his churchy folk expect from him.

    • Abigail

      Thanks for this, William. I think you are right, and writing this post actually made me feel pretty convicted that I need to begin thinking more in terms of what I can contribute to a church community, rather than what it can provide for me. All my “I” sentences lined up in a row hit that point home for me.

    • Odd-toed Ungulate

      Excellent post, William. The church is not some external institution that exists “out there” to serve our own needs. It is a gathering of people united in Christ, who come together to challenge, teach, love and serve one another. The church is nothing without its members. We are all given unique gifts, talents and experiences, which we then put to God’s use. This takes place within the church as well as outside of it. I look at my experiences within the church over the years, and realize God has used these gatherings to shape and push me in ways I never would have imagined elsewhere.

      And your pastor could always use a dialogue partner, if only for a break from the mundane housekeeping tasks involved in running a church from week to week…

      • Abigail

        How am I JUST realizing that it’s you, Jesse??! So obvious to me now, reading the earlier post. Dum de dum dum. Nice nom de plume.

  6. Ryan Blanchard

    for reason 1 plus the kid thing, this non-believer attends west hills friends. no mean theology, and less conservative than the Newberg Quakers. i don’t think I could handle any other church.

    • Abigail

      You’re the second person to plug West Hills to me today! I hear great things. But I really love the North Valley community, so I want to try and dig in there. I could church hop forever if I let myself.

  7. Anonymous

    I resonate with you all the way. I’m having a harder and harder time knowing why I go to church. but then, I mostly don’t.

  8. Melanie

    Good thoughts, Abby. I resonate with everything you’ve written. I probably would go to church far less than I do if I weren’t married to someone who is an ardent attender. Early in our marriage, I went begrudgingly, esp. because i didn’t feel like I fit in our church home. Having kids started to change that a little; I had such fond memories of my church community growing up, and want the same for them. And lately, I’ve gone because I love the community I discovered at the church, and the opportunity to interact with folks I would otherwise not. I find that community in other places, too (at work, in my book group, with my kids’ friends’ parents), but the community at church is cool, too.

    It’s helped for me to realize that, while I disagree theologically with lots of people at the church, we are all broken people living out our stories, and none of us has cornered the market on being right; I imagine that many folks, even those who confidently express their beliefs with a good bit of bluster, have their moments of doubt.

    It’s helpful for me to realize, too, like Mr. Loewen’s comment above, that the church needs people, too, despite their singular brokenness and their neediness and their introversion and their longing for something the church isn’t giving them. Obviously there’s a lot of churches I couldn’t go or give myself to, but in the case of NFC, once I was able to give up the illusion that the church needed to fill all my needs, I think that helped me feel like it could be a church home to me.

    That’s a lot of rambling in there, and probably what comes off as lecturing from an old timer. All that to say you articulate important stuff here, and I totally understand. Lean in to the seasons of your life. I imagine there might be a time when giving your kids over to the Sunday school teacher for an hour, and sitting quietly in Quaker meeting, will be exactly what your soul needs. 🙂

    • Abigail

      Thanks, Melanie. As always, you speak (write) wise and encouraging things. Weirdly enough, writing this post and the feedback I’ve received have made me feel a bit rejuvenated about the idea of jumping back into the churchgoing fray again. Hmmm… and right in time for Easter. Coincidence….?

  9. Sarah Shipman

    Abi, thank you so much for writing this! I TOTALLY relate to practically everything. I have struggled with the church problem for several years, and have been through times when it was easier to work out and times when it was harder. I waver between giving in to the pressure to attend with my family and trying to figure out how to express my own faith without upsetting anyone too much. I also feel like I get a lot of spiritual input during the week at school, and now that I’m graduating soon I was just realizing that I could actually choose my own church and attend when I need it, as selfish as that seems, at least until I have a better understanding of why I go to church. I have been very blessed to be a part of an amazing church family for the last few years, but lately they have been experiencing some tensions and divisions which have changed the style of our meetings quite a bit. So far I have been too wrapped up in my life issues to be very involved, but I definitely want to think more exhaustively about this and be intentional about deciding how to respond. Also, it seems really sad to me that mothers and wives often bear the burden of a family’s spiritual development. It makes me wonder, are churches failing to engage men and young people? Is there something which could be changed or added that would draw them in? I realize that I am part of the problem at this point, but that only fuels my passion to see amazing things happen in faith communities which would draw together all parts of the Body of Christ.

    • Abigail

      I don’t think that sounds selfish at all, Sarah! I’m excited for you to have the chance to explore and find (hopefully) your own spiritual home.

  10. Natalie Trust

    This is great. I was stifling laughter (sleeping baby) and nodding along knowingly.

    I went to confession a couple weeks ago because I missed mass. Now, considering my spiritual journey, that’s pretty much the LAST thing I ever envisioned myself doing. In fact, even when I wanted to convert to Catholicism I wasn’t sure I would even engage in confession and reconciliation.

    I go to church because I want the Eucharist. I go because my mysticism and my skepticism are able to collide in grace.

    • Abigail

      Yes, I resonate with so much of Quaker practice and theology, but I MISS THE EUCHARIST. Big time. And I’ve never been to confession, but I imagine it might feel pretty cathartic, under the right circumstances.

  11. Erin Wood

    That’s kind of a loaded question. :o) Probably more fun to answer over coffee and dialogue but I will try to give a “quick” answer to why I go to church. I have been fortunate to find some pretty great churches over the years at the different places I have lived. Notice I didn’t say perfect (there have been frustrations along the way as well) because you will never find that on this side of heaven. And I assume we all know that going to church, reading our Bible, saying prayers, etc. doesn’t save us. So my sole purpose isn’t to gain my salvation or be “close” to God. Saying that, the main reason to go to church isn’t (all the time) all about me. My criteria has been that the church is gospel centered in it’s teaching and believes that all Scripture is inspired by God and is Truth.
    I’ve been to churches with different worship styles, more liberal minded, more traditional minded, more conservative minded, big congregations, small congregations, etc. and have appreciated the differences from the people I came to know. It doesn’t mean I always agreed with everyone I knew. But it helped me to question or confirm my beliefs because most of the time I was being pointed to Christ and the Scriptures to sharpen me.
    Church for me is a time to serve others whether that is as little as listening to someone, having someone over for a meal or as big as leading a study or ministry. It’s loving those that are hard to love. It’s reflecting on the character of who God is. It’s setting apart a time for God because he more than deserves my time. Also I’m not very good at doing that otherwise. It’s in gratitude for what Christ has done for me.
    I think years ago I was more concerned with feeling something every time I went to church and if I didn’t I thought there was something wrong with my spiritual life. But those led me to major spiritual highs & lows…based solely on my feelings (which I know can be decieving at times). So I definitely have times of great “Wow, that really speaks to me!” and times of “I had such a hard time focusing today”. But I go back because I know God uses his Word and his people to speak.
    I go because it talks about sin and what it looks like and all the ways I don’t realize it’s there. Not so we feel bad about ourselves but so we can see how much we need a Savior and what a sacrfice He made for us.
    Now those that have been hurt and mistreated by the church, it makes me want to weep and get mad (at the offenders) all at the same time. I have had loved ones that have been hurt by people in the church. And I am sad when it is what keeps them away from ever going back to another church. I totally understand why, but I’m just sad that they haven’t experienced church like I have. Because it should be about graciousness, love, accountability in a loving way, encouragement, sharpening, thankfulness, forgiveness, worship, selflessness, reaching out to the hurting, listening, helping those in need, and so on. But more than likely it won’t be all those things all the time. Sometimes it might need a person like you or me to humbly come in to add one of those character traits to the mix.

    • Abigail

      I like loaded questions. 🙂 And I think you’re right that we can get all wrapped up in the emotional moment as a way of measuring how “spiritual” something is — which probably isn’t the best rubric…

  12. RyanFavale

    There’s always been something special in church for me. Something specific about having a room full of people focused on God for an hour or two. The best has always been the closer times with these people, the discussions afterwards, like you say you get to have at school. But singing together towards God with worship in our voices can be very powerful ( usually 1 out of 5 services for me ). Finding a good church can be very difficult, and especially one that fits your schedule. I’ve noticed in the last decade more and more churches adding Saturday night services. But these usually get filled with only a small crowd, which is really scary for an introvert. Personally, I feel church is important enough to wake up one more early morning of the week for (kind of like making sure you’re working out). Church is a strong encouragement between God followers for their week. It also helps keep us in check whether we are drifting away from God or not. And the support of a church family is worth so much during tough times. But church “should” always be a blessing either to you, or from you to those you meet their. When I miss church I feel like I’m getting fat, like soul fat. Same goes for other aspects of a life with God, like reading his letters, his history, admiring his work, and speaking out to Him regularly. I think it’s a lot like a diet. Church is one of those essential parts of a healthy relationship with God and His people.

    Love the way you write Abbie, and your honesty. We’re all there with you, it’s just no one talks about it. :/

    • Abigail

      “When I miss church I feel like I’m getting fat, like soul fat.” Love this! So true. And I’m rockin’ some serious soul poundage right now…

  13. bellejarblog

    Ohhhhh I can identify SO MUCH with this:

    “I want to encounter the sacred.”

    I have a, errr, complicated relationship with religion. I wrote a bit about it here, if you’re interested: http://bellejarblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/on-faith/

    I’m on the fence about going to church. I feel like I don’t believe in anything enough to commit to that, but I also want my kid raised with religion (weird, I know). So, I’m still figuring this out 🙂

    • Abigail

      Loved your post. Could really relate to the Catholic thing — I, too, feel drawn toward Catholicism, but can never fully take the plunge because of those reasons you mentioned. Most of the devout Catholics I know are liberal and feminist, but it’s a different dynamic to convert to a faith; when you grow up within a certain tradition, I think that makes it easier to selectively criticize it. I feel like I’d have to somehow lie my way through the confirmation process, “Why yes, I totally agree that women shouldn’t be priests…” only to turn around and say, “PSYCH. Totally joking. FREE BIRTH CONTROL FOR EVERYONE!!!!” (PS: And I think, in light of what you wrote, it’s interesting that you named your son “Theo”).

  14. Robin Mohr

    I go to church so that I make time in my week for God and so I connect with the real people who show up when I need them. LIke you say in this post, sometimes church is about theology and sometimes it’s about the covered dishes (either potlucks in the meetinghouse or home delivery to people with new babies, etc.) God can find us anywhere. But showing up at the meetinghouse is good for me anyway.

    I think it’s worth leaving behind your expectations about what you should look like when you get to church. One of the things I value about my Quaker church community is that I have gone in my sweatpants with baby drool all down my back and my hair barely combed and people are so happy to see me (well, really, the baby) show up that they didn’t care what I looked like. I’ve only been to the labyrinth at North Valley, not on Sunday morning, but the people I’ve met from there didn’t seem too caught up in the “dress up for God” syndrome.

    • Abigail

      Thanks for your thoughts, Robin. And I didn’t even address the “Sunday best” expectations in my post! Luckily, you’re right; North Valley is very down-to-earth about all that.

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  17. Nieves

    What I want to say is simple. Every excuse you used for not going to church can be used for other things such as 1) Going to the Gym, going to school, even going to work, etc. I appreciate your honesty, but at the end of the day your excuses are really just excuses, not really reasons. Nevertheless, great blog post. We hope to see you in church soon!

    • Abigail

      So I listened to your sermon, and I honestly think you misrepresented/misinterpreted some of what I expressed here. Especially toward the end of your sermon, when you say that I’m stuck on the idea that church is all about me — when I actually give that critique myself within the post: “There’s another part, though, that is bothered by the selfish tenor of this whole inner monologue, which tends to focus on what church can do for me, rather than what I can bring to the table.” Also, you talk about how church isn’t about the building, but about the body, yet you failed to mention that, in my post, I write about the fact that I am part of a vibrant, Christ-centered community through my work at a Christian college. Instead, you represented me as pretty much uninvolved with the Church (i.e., the body of Christ) at all — which isn’t fair. AND, one last note, I was disappointed that you were so dismissive of my expression of exhaustion at being a first-time mother with a newborn. I hope that you are more compassionate to young mothers in your congregation who find having only one baby nonetheless exhausting and challenging. Anyway, thanks for the link. But I will be honest that listening to your sermon made me feel condescended to and unheard, which might not be the most effective way to attract people like me, who feel this ambivalence toward the traditional church set-up.

      • Nieves

        Hi Abigail, I’m sorry that you felt I misrepresented you. My intention wasn’t to misrepresent you personally, though I can see why you felt that way. I used your blog as a persona of what many people would use as excuses to go to church. And about being a first-time mom, I hear you. I’m a Dad who’s been there with his wife and who’s also seen her struggle through exhaustion, yet has remained committed to the church. Also, there’s first time moms in our church that don’t just come, but come in earlier than the rest to prepare for different ministries. Further, when it comes to exhaustion, I work a full-time job, I’m a pastor, and I have 5 children. That means I work 40+ hours a week, I visit the sick, I have to do church administration, I spend time preparing for sermons, I help my wife with chores and my children with homework. Perhaps your husband can help you if you really want to be a part of the church.

        Abigail we live in a world filled with excuses for everything. We make up reasons and feel validated in them somehow. I’ve been there and I’ve done the same things in the past. Ultimately, church is about membership into the body of Christ. If Christ is truly Lord over your life, church would be a joy, otherwise it can be a real drag and a burden. My hope for you is that you fall in love with Jesus. He’s the greatest thing the church has to offer.

        • Melanie

          Not sure that Abigail was looking for competition in who is more exhausted or who works harder. Is it possible to honor Abigail’s own exhaustion without having to say “Yeah, well me too, and I have even MORE to do!” I hope you don’t provide pastoral counsel that way.

          At any rate, Abigail’s husband is fully committed to “helping” her, as you say. But that language alone is problematic. Why should a husband “help” a wife with chores around the house, with childcare? It’s not like she’s the boss, and her husband is the minion. They are both equally committed to making sure their child is cared for, their housework completed, etc., just as a marriage should be.

          And finally, I’ve known Abigail for about a decade, and work with her now as a colleague in a Christian university. To assume that she hasn’t “fallen in love with Jesus” because she’s not part of church community at the moment? Whew. That’s some kind of judgment for someone you don’t know personally. Abigail is, as she says, part of a vibrant body of Christ at her workplace, even though our university doesn’t look like the “church” you lead.

        • Nieves

          It seems that I hit a nerve. I’m not stating what I do in order to compete, I’m just letting her no that it is possible and I fully understand her. And as I stated before, it should not be used as an excuse. Further, I believe the early church did far more than we will both ever do, still they committed to meeting daily, not just Sunday mornings. God has given us 168 hours for the week, to take one and complain about it seems petty to me. However, that’s just my opinion.

          Even more than all of this, we’re called to be disciples, not church attenders. The ultimate mission of the church is to take the gospel to the world. How will we ever do this if we can’t even devote ourselves to the simplest of all things?

          I’ll leave you with Proverbs 27:6;
          Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

        • Matt

          This thread is agonizing. Too much reliance on guilt as a motivator, too much dismissal of the uniqueness and sacredness of Abby’s story, too myopically focused on church attendance as the greatest of virtues. I actually really like your near-to-last statement: “Even more than all of this, we’re called to be disciples, not church attenders.” I thought you’d reached an epiphany, before then regressing with “how will we ever do this if we can’t even devote ourselves to the simplest of all things?”

          Discipleship is indeed much broader than church attendance, which was your (accidental? intentional?) point, and virtues like commitment, fidelity, diligence, sacrifice–if such characteristics are what you have in mind in your final question about devotion–can certainly manifest themselves in other ways than church attendance alone. Given Abby’s roles as mother, wife, professor, writer, friend, among others, I don’t think disparaging her discipleship (whether Abby would call it that or not) is quite fair, based on her journey with Sunday church gatherings.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if you as a pastor feel a certain pressure to encourage church attendance and have over time come to prize that as an important and measurable sign of discipleship, so I sympathize; but perhaps praising and supporting the more specific virtues/qualities/marks of holiness of individuals is another effective pastoral move that can contribute to the “ultimate mission of the church.”

    • Tara n. b.

      Wow… Just, wow. The condescension in this sermon is just out of control. How can you commend her honesty on the one hand, and then lambast her for what she is confessing? It’s sad and scary that this is how you as a leader form your sermons: you take the confessions and struggles of a fellow Christian, and then mock them and condescend them to your congregation for the sake of a chuckle and some nodded heads. Apparently, Abby, you are only allowed to struggle with things that this particular pastor agrees with.

        • Tara n. b.

          Unfortunately, it changes nothing. Aside from the words themselves that were spoken, the tone of the message was very mocking and condescending at several points, as has been the tone of your replies. You deride instead of encourage and instruct, and that is sad and worrisome to me coming from a church leader.

        • Melanie

          You continue to make assumptions about Abigail based on one blog post. From my personal observation, I know that Abigail is living the gospel every day of her life in her interaction with students, with colleagues, with the community, with her family. She is taking the gospel to the world through the actions of her life, which is what I think we’re called to do; I’m not sure how sitting in church one hour a week will take the gospel to the world in any more powerful a way. Because you don’t know Abigail, her faith or her heart, it’s nigh impossible for you to make these assumptions about her. Instead, her blog post provides a easy fodder for your sermon, and in the process you dehumanize her and others like her who are truly struggling.

        • tarabean08

          And yes, I would say that you touched a nerve. You qualify you “apology” with all of the reasons why you are more tired than she is and she should just get over herself, then you call her “petty” and label it as an “excuse” when she is merely sharing one of the struggles she encounters with getting to church. To top it all off, you throw in some more examples of people who are doing life better than she is when, as an intelligent and educated woman, I am sure that Abby is aware that there are lots of busy people in the world who make it to church. To assume otherwise is condescending.

  18. Ryan Blanchard

    If my pastor spent any portion of a sermon insulting a woman he doesn’t know for BLOGGING about parenthood, that would be my last day in that church. An embarrassing display of leadership.

  19. Nieves

    To everyone here. If we were this passionate about coming and being together for the purpose of Spiritual Growth and gathering up our resources to reach the nations, the Church would be a MUCH better place.

    All the reasons Abigail used can be stated of about almost anything. Do I want Abigail to attend church faithfully? Yes. In fact, the Bible says to do so (Hebrews 10:24-25). Because she’s not there, she fails to encourage other believers. Its about more than one hour. That’s not the point. The greater point is that it’s important and we’re making light of it and putting excuses (or reasons) for not doing it.

    I’m encouraged by every mom that doesn’t put the excuses and actually shows up. Is there something wrong with that? Nevertheless, instead of apologizing further for Abigail, I’m suggesting someone says, “those are all good reasons, but they’re not enough to keep you from going” (that’s true encouragement).

    Finally, here’s a really good post that speaks to everything we’re talking about.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-bruesehoff/parents-kids-church_b_3909085.html

    I encourage you to read it.

    To speak to my condescending tone and counseling practices, I would say; the same could be said of Jesus, John the Baptist or Paul (especially Paul). The prophets weren’t necessarily nice about their message and the people didn’t want to hear them either.

    • Abigail

      My brother (who is a committed Christian and works in church ministry) wrote this on my facebook page, and I’m going to paste it here, because it perfectly captures my frustrations about your sermon.

      “Having listened to the sermon, I’m thinking he just missed the point of your whole blog entry. You wrote an (admirably) honest look at the back and forth in your own mind about the necessity and reality of church and what role it can/should play in your life. It included pros and cons, faith and doubt. You know, pretty much what most people have in the backs of their minds most of the time.

      He read it as “Here are this young lady’s excuses as to why she won’t go to church”, and then argued against the excuses. A more pastoral response (in my opinion) would focus on the person, on the stresses and doubts and hopes of you as a whole person. He missed the boat on that, big time. He had points he wanted to make, and you were just the unfortunate soul chosen as an illustration; you were a parable, to be reformed and retold to make his own point. Which is fine if it’s not a real person he’s then sending links to over the internet. …

      And finally, I’m really annoyed that he didn’t mention the last parts of your entry, about how you actually have found a church, and that you are actually aware of how much of your initial thinking revolves around what church can do for you, instead of what you can do for church. He just didn’t see what the blog entry was actually trying to say or accomplish. And he came across as mean-spirited and condescending as a result.”

      And, in your recent comments here, you’re again missing the overall picture I paint in my blog entry. I remember listening to your sermon, wondering why you weren’t actually reading what I wrote and instead paraphrasing everything, even twisting my words and intention — then I realized that you were creating a simplistic caricature that would be easy to chide and tear down. It seems like you’re unwilling to engage with me or my story in any complex or nuanced way. Maybe that’s because we’ve put you on the defensive, and for that I apologize. But you just keep talking to the “young lady who is making excuses to not go to church.” And, frankly, she’s not here. Because that’s not me. I’m not the person you described (created) in your sermon.

    • Nieves

      Hi Abigail, again I’m sorry for misrepresenting your blog. As I stated before, and I believe you understand, I wasn’t speaking to you directly. I created a persona based on you. Your blog entry was excellent because it highlights some of the most common objections. As I think about it, I’m only sorry that I mentioned your blog specifically. I SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE THAT. (not shouting, just emphasis)

      I’m glad that you joined a church community. However, the last sentence on your entry is “Of course, going there still means getting up on Sunday morning, so… baby steps.” as to imply that it’s somewhat unimportant. Otherwise, you might have taken a different approach.

      What’s fair is fair, I don’t know you personally and you don’t know me. I could only argue with what you posted, not on every aspect of your life. I’m sure you’re a great person, and you obviously have many people who love you.

      Having said that, I stand by my objections. No single reason was a good enough reason to keep you, or anyone, from being a part of the church community. Not even the accumulation of your reasons adds up to a good one. A genuine reason might be that you were bedridden or you didn’t have the adequate resources. Otherwise, I have to stand by my statement.

      I understand that many who came to your defense probably believe I’m a legalist, hateful-fundamentalist, and if that’s how they want to judge me that’s fine. I don’t believe I am. However, it’s discouraging to see apathy within the church as we see the rise of zeal for sin in our culture, and the Bible would agree with me. Revelation 3:15-16 says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. ” (…words spoken by Jesus – no Pastor could possibly be better than Him)

      I’m glad my sermon caused such a stir because we need it. Like your blog, my sermon wasn’t perfect but it was honest. People can give reasons why they don’t attend church, but in my opinion, they’re not really reasons, they’re excuses. I realize that’s not what you (or others) may want to hear but it’s true. There’s really nothing keeping you from church, therefore you should make every effort to go. (Hebrews 10:25)

      If anyone can prove me different, I’m happy to listen.

      Signing off for now,
      The Least Popular Guy on Your Blog Today.

      • Abigail

        I appreciate the apology, Rob. I hope you didn’t feel too “piled on” in the comments here. Sometimes internet conversations can unnecessarily spiral in a negative way that face-to-face conversations often don’t. I’ll sign off now, too. No hard feelings. 🙂

      • Nieves

        No problem. It was actually fun to talk. No problem about getting piled on, it’s what I get for having strong opinions. I’m used to it…lol

        • Mary Lenore Lane

          Dr. Rine,
          I don’t usually comment on blogs, so I hope I pushed the right button to send this to the right place. 😉
          Thank you for the honesty and truth that you speak in this story. You have been such an influential part of my faith journey that I am speechless at the idea of someone who doesn’t even know you criticizing your faith. As someone who faithfully goes to church every single Sunday only to sit and wait for coffee hour where I REALLY feel the love of God, I am interested to hear that I am apparently doing Christianity better than you, tired working mama. I so vividly remember what it was like to go to classes every day on our campus and have my entire learning steeped in faith. Even as a biology major, my days were filled with discussions of God, chapel worships, and small group time. Sitting in the cafeteria and talking theology was more church-like than my Sundays in the pew are now. I was astonished to hear your words so awfully twisted with the “go out to dinner with friends” bit of his rant and no mention of the fact that you are actively engaged in a massive Christian community. I only got 15 minutes in (though I felt like a hero for lasting that long) so maybe he turned it around, but no matter how he ended it, I would never have gone back if I had been in his church. I hope and pray that you continue writing with such heart-wrenching and piercing truthfulness because as always, your loving honesty restores my faith just as slanderous rants like this destroy it.

          I can’t wait to read the next bit of wisdom from my favorite supermom.

          P.S. Thank goodness you don’t have a Dugger amount of children because I would be forced to get on my “global over-population” soapbox. Five+ kids and my imaginary bullhorn comes out….

  20. Benjamin L. Corey

    Great post, Abigail. Thanks for being raw and authentic.

    I’m really sorry about Nieves hijacking your story for his own purposes, stuff like this is hurtful and completely unhelpful in opening up honest dialogue.

    I recently wrote a post about why people leave church (http://www.formerlyfundie.com/10-reasons-why-people-leave-church/), and I should have added an 11th point to address pastors like this.

    Thanks for being real with your story- I’m glad I found your blog.

    Cheers,
    Ben

  21. Nieves

    I wanted to leave this alone and put it in the past, but I can’t help but notice that everyone who criticized me only shared “their opinion” instead of any kind of Biblical teaching on the matter. This only brings me to the conclusion that we’ve elevated our philosophies over our theology, what we think seems to supersede what the Bible actually says.

    We can’t just commend people for their honest stories and walk away. What if I were honest about committing murder, would you accuse a judge for convicting me after being honest? Of course not. So why would anyone get a pass for honesty?

    And in regards to my “mean-spirited” nature, all everyone did was pile on me, outright accuse me (even after I apologized to Abigail). One responder even said that my apology changed nothing. Where’s all the love you’re confessing in that? The only person I can actually speak up for was Abigail herself. I felt as though she and I addressed the issue without attacking each other.

    If someone can prove to me Biblically that church attendance can be excused for tiredness, high expectations, introverts and guilt, I’d like to see it. My presentation may have come off to you as mean-spirited, but it was truthful, and most of all Biblical.

    I’m really curious to hear your response, especially Benjamin Corey. Please tell me where I’m actually wrong (not based on opinions but on Biblical facts). What did I do that the Bible says I shouldn’t?

    Again, I didn’t criticize Abigail personally, I criticized her reasons. I criticized a persona based on her blog post, not her personally. Also, I quickly apologized as soon as she told me that she felt misrepresented. I didn’t mention her by name. In fact, I only learned her name after getting in to this discussion.

    • Tara n. b.

      Speaking for myself, the issue came not from you stating that church attendance is important (which it is) but from the belittlement and dismissal with which you seem to regard her struggles. She never once said that these things completely justify her from ever attending church again, and yet you insist on calling them “excuses” instead of acknowledging that these are things she struggles with that sometimes get the better of her. If you and your parishioners have somehow transcended this mortal plane and found the will to overcome every barrier to perfect church attendance, good for you. Some of us are still working on it. In addition to the derisive tone of your statements, you also pronounce judgement on Abigail, saying that you hope she “fall(s) in love with Jesus”, the implication of course being that a lack of perfect church attendance due to anything other than dismemberment automatically denotes a lack of relationship with Christ. That is dangerous (not to mention unfounded) ground. In regard to your apology, it should come as no surprise that an “I’m sorry, BUT” usually doesn’t sound too meaningful. When you follow up your apology listing all of the reasons why you have it harder than she does, it comes across as petty and (again) dismissive whether or not that was your intention. I appreciate that you recognize the errors in the way in which you represented Abigail and her story. I would suggest seriously evaluating the way in which you communicate with people. A little grace can go a long way.

      • Nieves

        Fair enough. So let’s take the presentation out of the equation, do you disagree with my premise? I’ll admit the tone and tenor could have been better, but I think we can’t dismiss the content. The point to everything I said is that we can try and to give reasons, but most of them are ultimately invalid unless you’re bedridden or lack the adequate resources.

        The Church is about the community of believers that’s committed to each for the purpose spiritual growth, mutual encouragement, and worship. (Acts 2:42)

        Church attendance is not something we should make light of, as I feel Abigail did with her ending statement, and quote – “Of course, going there still means getting up on Sunday morning, so… baby steps.” After reading the entire blog post I felt that she still gave her bed a higher priority, which I don’t think should be the case.

        • Tara n. b.

          I disagree with your all-or-nothing approach. Obviously church attendance is an important and integral part of being a Christian, but to insinuate that missing church every once in a while means that you must not love Jesus or that you aren’t a “good Christian” is above everyone’s pay-grade. Jesus isn’t sitting in heaven making check-marks next to the names of all the new moms in the world who stay home and sleep in sometimes. We would ALL be in big trouble if He was as stingy with grace as that. As to the last sentence of the blog entry, I believe that the applicable term would be “tongue-in-cheek” 🙂

        • R.H. Gray

          I think, Sir, that you have neglected the primary issue. The “tone and tenor” of your sermon is exactly what led people to dismiss the content. I agree with you that church is more important than sleep and that Christ calls his followers to engage in a community of worship and fellowship. But like many of my fellow commenters, I was distracted from your premise because I felt you unfairly represented the blogger and the concerns she voiced. If I, instead of voicing my opinion on this matter with patience, devolved into ad homonym attacks and bitter tirades, my opinion would be of less value. The way you choose to deliver a message matters just as much as the content of the message.

          If you feel that your point or the essence of your sermon was summarily and unfairly dismissed by this audience because of the way you presented it, congratulations, you may now have some empathy for the college professor who you referred to condescendingly as a “girl” and “young woman.”

          If you feel you are being judged by her readers who do not understand your righteous intent, then congratulations again, you may now feel some regret for judging this woman in front of your congregation when you did not fully understand her heart or her situation.

  22. formerlyfundie

    @Nieves: easy.

    “A new command I give to you: love one another…By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

    I’m pretty sure that taking a fellow believer’s story of struggle and using it as a negative object lesson for a sermon, and then having the audacity to actually send that person a link to listen to the sermon, it isn’t in the realm of loving.

    Would have been much better to enter the trenches with her, get a little dirty yourself, and become part of the struggle in a positive and meaningful way– via relationship.

    • Nieves

      @formerlyfundie – I’ve already accepted responsibility for my tone and tenor. Would you say that you extended the same love and grace toward me with your previous comments? Also, do you agree that Abigail’s reasons are good ones?

      How does Abigail’s story match with the call to discipleship? Matthew 10:37 says, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. How would you respond to Jesus, the most loving Christian ever?

      Is it more loving to entice people with what they’d like to hear or is it better to be honest despite the result?

      2 Timothy 4:3
      For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

  23. Nieves

    Let’s start again.

    1st) Abigail writes “… And Five Reasons Why I (often) Don’t”.
    She doesn’t miss out occasionally according to her post, she misses OFTEN.

    2nd) Abigail’s 5 reasons are

    a. Too Tired
    b. I have high expectations
    c. I am introverted
    d. I’m tired of feeling guilty
    e. I’m not sure I need it

    Which of these is a good reason? How would the Bible or even Jesus respond to her statements?

    • Nieves

      I’ve already responded to the tone and tenor and I’ve respectfully apologized. The tone and tenor of others toward me hasn’t been as gracious.

      • renatagray

        I understand that you are most likely frustrated. You have something important to say and people aren’t listening the way you want them to. But while you have apologized for the way in which you initially addressed Abigail’s concerns, your comments are still coming across as a bit officious, judgmental, and dismissive of her and her reader’s struggles.

        The point of the blog was not to provide legitimate reasons for skipping church. It was instead a frank examination of one woman’s struggles with church attendance.

        I am sorry if you feel that others have been too aggressive in their tone when replying to you. But I look at yours and see it as combative and condescending rather than apologetic.

        In one of the many verses which break down the few things God requires of us, the bible states that God asks us to a the most basic level: “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) In Matthew 23, Christ argues that some things are more important than the law, namely: “justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” Or one could simply look at the Sunday school verse: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” Church attendance is important, but our salvation does not hinge upon it. This is a battle worth fighting friend, but not at the expense of alienating decent people who believe in Christ and his church but struggle with consistency on Sundays.

    • Jessica

      I haven’t been involved in this conversation up to this point. I don’t want to “pile on,” but I did want to respond to your question, “How would the Bible or even Jesus respond to her statements?”

      a. To a mother who was tired, I imagine Jesus would say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) In a practical sense, members of the church might say, “Come to the nursery, and I will hold your baby for an hour so you can worship.” However, I know babies/toddlers who cannot bear to be parted with their mamas, even for an hour. Those mamas get called back into the nursery. And toddlers in a church service are anything but restful for the mama looking after them!

      b. Jesus says, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) The church body should reflect Christ’s love for all men and women. So I think Jesus has pretty high expectations for his followers, too.

      c. I admit, it’s more difficult to find a Bible passage that talks about introversion directly. How about this one? “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” My understanding is that introverts are refreshed by quiet spaces away from other people. If Jesus is our shepherd, surely he knows how best to refresh us, be that in church or at home.

      d. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) What is this legalism about church attendance? I grew up with that kind of legalism that says you MUST go to church every week and reject it–even though I go to church at least 92% of the time. (I estimated I lose a couple of weeks to being sick and a couple to being on vacation or otherwise needed elsewhere per year.)

      e. I actually don’t think this needs to be addressed in words other than what Abigail already wrote, which say “during the week, I’m constantly engaged in vibrant conversations about God. You know that close-knit community I was talking about? I have that at work, surrounded by like-minded colleagues who are also good friends, people who challenge me to live authentically, people who are Christ to me on an almost daily basis.” But you said you wanted responses from the Bible, so how about a passage you yourself quoted? “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2: 46b-47a–chosen for brevity.)

      Obviously, I think going to church is important. I love my church and go for many reasons–for teaching, to help support my fellow believers, to worship. But I reject your premise that Christians have a duty to go to church service every week except when sick/bedridden, both because I believe that Christ calls us to freedom, not legalism, and because I believe that the “church” is not just one worship service or building or even a single group of people. Church happens when we are gathered in Christ to worship together, to break bread in our homes or at a coffee shop or when we carry groceries for a neighbor or when we just sit, exhausted, in our chair at home and our friends at church pray for us.

    • Stephen K.

      Nieves,

      First of all, I want to say while I disagree with your methods and approach, I see that you are a passionate minister who genuinely wants to bring people to God. That is admirable. However, the way you are doing it is not. Presentation does matter. The importance of church has not been denied by anyone here, including Abigail. Any even if someone did deny it, there are other ways of coming alongside that person and tenderly show her or him that importance.

      Here is the crux of it: the post is not an argument, it is a testimony. It is a testimony of the author’s life, and as such should be approached differently. She is not trying to convince people to walk away from church. Recall that the title of her post was not “Five reasons I want to go to church… and five reasons I shouldn’t” but rather “five reasons I want to go to church… and five reasons I (often) don’t.” She is not arguing with you, she is talking about her life, expressing her difficulties and desires. She never claimed anything about them being good or bad reasons, she just said they were reasons.

      As a Roman Catholic seminiarian, I know the value of going to church, but I also know that it is “in the tender compassion of our God” (Lk 1:78) that salvation is meant to come into the world. I understand the hard place that ministers often find themselves in when they seek to tend to the people of God with both truth and love. But I encourage seeking to know the other before you accuse the other. Understand that it is only in “baby steps” that we can ever hope to reach holiness, and give those you seek to minister to the grace and time to come into that holiness, for all of us need it. The internet is a hard place to speak with grace because of the very way it is set up, and I understand that, but that is the what we must seek to do. I imagine that in person your methods are probably different as you council people you are ministering to. The same should be for how we encounter people on the internet, empathically seeking God with the other person. I am sure that is what you mean to do, we just have to be careful about how that is expressed online, especially with strangers.

      Peace be with you!

    • Abigail

      I’m finding myself a little confused as to what this “debate” is about… Above, Stephen rightly points out that this blog post is my personal story. It is not a sermon. It is not a parable. It is not meant to convince people why they should not go to church. I’m not trying to assert reasons why people SHOULDN’T go to church. I am simply telling, honestly, my own story of why I sometimes don’t make it to Sunday morning services. Whether or not you think it is a good reason, it is simply true that sometimes I don’t go because I feel exhausted. I give my above reasons because they are true to my experience, but I do not say they are necessarily GOOD reasons, nor do I uphold them as examples to follow. I’m simply honestly writing about what I feel and experience. So, in that sense, it doesn’t make much sense to argue against my reasons, because I’m not presenting them as prescriptive, merely descriptive.

      Also, if your goal is to convince me to go to church, you don’t need to worry about it. Like I said at the end of my blog post, I have found a church community that I like and I do attend.

      I do, however, want to make one point: you seem to limit what the Bible says about meeting and fellowshipping together to a modern, Westernized, American context. Let’s look at the following verses:
      Hebrews 10:25
      Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
      Matthew 18:20
      For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
      Colossians 3:16
      Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
      Acts 2:42
      And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

      I regularly (several times every week) gather with other believers to break bread, to pray, to fellowship, to encourage one another – even sometimes to worship through music, although in Quaker tradition, worship more often looks like contemplative silence. All of this is part of my job, which I honestly see as a calling and a ministry, as a professor at a Christian university. I am consistently, regularly, and deeply involved with a vibrant community of believers on an almost daily basis. My vocation is intimately tied up with the Church (i.e., the body of Christ). You say my fifth reason is simply that I “don’t need church” — but if you carefully read my words, you see that’s not what I’m saying at all. When I write that sometimes I feel like I don’t need to attend church on Sundays, that is because I have been “going to Church” (as defined by these Bible verses) all week long. The Bible does not limit the idea of “church” or fellowship to a modern, American, evangelical concept of the Sunday service. That is not to disparage Sunday church as unnecessary or unimportant – not at all. I’m just writing honestly that my primary interaction with the body of Christ does not always come via Sunday services. You’ve really set up a straw man of what I’m saying on this point.

      You admitted that you created a persona from my blog post, and I feel like you are continue to argue with that persona, even though, as I mentioned before, she doesn’t exist.

      This will be my last word on this, because I honestly don’t know how to better articulate myself than I have done here, or in the blog post above. Also, I’m not sure this conversation is a particularly productive one. Maybe we see things too differently, I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like you’re able to really hear where I’m coming from, or what I am (and am not) saying.

    • Ron

      Nieves,
      I’m going offer you the courtesy you withheld from Abby, and respond to you on the terms you have requested. Since the repugnance of your presentation, the incompleteness of your apology, and the subsequent undeservingness of a response in the manner you have requested have already been well-rehearsed here, I’ll oblige you.

      But don’t expect me to be nice about it, since it seems you think “logic” and bullying are so similar. Much more important, please, please don’t expect (like you) me to try to justify the morality of my condescension by comparing myself to Christ (which might be just a bit blasphemous) or the Apostle Paul (hint, they were a bit better positioned than you to give an objective account of whether their attitude was Christ-like, or in the manner of the Apostles). I’m going to be rude because I’m a fallen, sinful human, not because I’m “a little lower than the angels.” And I’m fed up with people like you making it so hard for us Christians to be known by our love.

      You want logic?

      Abby gives five reasons why she often doesn’t go to church. You say they are inadequate excuses. You’d like a discussion on those terms. Let’s have one.

      Your argument is flawed from the beginning because you inadequately read the post. Reasons and excuses are not the same thing (and use you them interchangeably and with different meanings). Let’s clarify for going forward. A reason implies why a person does or (in this case) does not do X (go to church most Sundays), not whether the reason itself is morally perfect. An excuse implies either a crappy evasion or, in a more literal sense, that a person is entirely and perfectly justified (excused) for a behavior. But of course the ambivalence found in Abby’s post (reasons for and against, the pang of guilt, the celebration of even baby steps toward realization of the goal) suggests that she is not, in fact, offering explanations meant to perfectly excuse her behavior (we’ll call these “excuses” from now on). She’s offering a candid, vulnerable appraisal of the struggle she feels (reasons). Whatever the dictionary says about this, this is what her blog post actually said.

      Sadly, missing this leads you into two basic, logical fallacies, the straw (wo)man (which is fatal to your argument) and the red herring. In the unusual case where someone’s application of logic is actually poor enough to do both at once, it’s sometimes called the straw herring. The straw man fallacy refers to when someone attempts to attack an argument (5 reasons) but actually attacks a different one (5 excuses), despite some glib similarity. You try to appear as if you have refuted Abby’s original argument (5 reasons) by attempting instead to refute another (5 excuses). The red herring is similar. It’s essentially a distraction technique – you are pursuing a line of argumentation that distracts from the issues raised in the post. It’s hard to do both (because most people recognize that issues that distract from the original discussion are actually different than the original discussion), but somehow you have managed to pull it off. Bravo!

      What does this mean? It means you failed to ever discuss the issue raised. You lost the argument at the beginning because you never joined it. A perfectly logical discussion would end here. But now I’ve started being small, and as you well know, it’s hard to stop.

      And I did say I’d address you on your own terms. But it seems now you not only want a logical response, you want me to skip over the part where you didn’t really read the post (reading implies more than saying the words in your head as your eyes pass over the page in this case, and frankly, I’d start working on that with the scriptures you quote too) and discuss on your terms as in, let’s pretend that this Professor, or some other self-indulgent liberal so-called Christian offered these five excuses as an adequate justification of why she sometimes doesn’t go to church.

      You’d be on slightly stronger ground here, of course, which is why you didn’t bother with what she said. While you argument here will be open to much dispute and criticism, it wouldn’t clumsily crash into the rocks at the beginning, as your real argument did. I can see why you might like this.

      So, I could be generous and pretend this is the argument you made.

      We’ll change your language to “excuses” here, just to make this a bit clearer (clarity helps, when you are trying to establish the truth of the matter). Although you’ve already fictionalized her enough, let’s take it a step further and rename this woman Allison. She makes the following claim. “I Allison, frequently fail to go to church. I believe I am totally justified in this, because as a young mother I’m too tired, my high expectations are consistently dashed, I am introverted, I’m tired of feeling guilty and I’m not sure I need it.”

      The best version of your case would conclude that no single one of these single reasons serves as an adequate excuse. A harder version (but of course the relevant one, as implied by someone listing five) would conclude that these five reasons all put together fail to excuse. It’s up to you to decide which you meant. It seems that all five together weren’t enough for you, which implies you have a harder argument to make. Given your track record, I would start panicking.

      Oh, but before address the five reasons you’ve got another premise problem. I know, I know, get to the five items already! But that’s just it. You wanted logic, and unlike what you have implied, logic is not always that simple. I wish you had gotten to an actual argument too!

      You’ve hidden an assumption in your question about whether these five things serve as adequate excuses. That’s that anyone who calls herself a Christian must prioritize attending a church on any given Sunday so highly that missing that church service is only morally justifiable in extreme circumstances (such as bed-riddenness). These excuses must nearly parallel what is called the necessity defense in criminal law (“yes, I steered the truck into a pedestrian, but it was that or a crowd and a cliff.”). Perhaps your standard is slightly lower (some bedridden people could actually get out of bed for an hour or two if they had to, after all). But the hidden bar is extremely high.

      Unfortunately, that’s debatable. Worse yet, you made this argument against a person (Allison, remember, not Abby) who thinks these things serve as excuses. So it’s pretty obvious she disagrees with you there. You not only missed a key premise, but a controversial one. In some sense, an argument about whether sleepiness excuses absence from church is an argument about how paramount church services should be in the life of a particular Christian. And if your answer is they are too important for X to serve as excuses because they are super important, you sure better defend that (unless you want to be accused of making a circular argument—I’d want to avoid any more fallacies if I were you; you’re racking them up pretty quickly, given that we haven’t even gotten into the part where you listed your reasons.).

      So now I have a difficult task. If I were to set aside your incorrect reading, your straw man, your red herring, and just assume your (controversial, incorrect, almost circular) premise, then your argument might fall into line (at least it becomes a reasonable one). But we’d be talking about something not really relevant to any of the original discussion.
      So a dilemma. Do I try to address it on those terms? I guess I’ll give it a (short) go.

      Let’s say that attending church services is extremely important, and missing them is thus bad, except where an excuse arises. What qualifies as an excuse? Necessity, as discussed above. What about a conflicting Biblical admonition? I get the sense that you like proof-texting. What if a passage seems to point in the other direction?

      Perhaps if Allison’s husband were to demand that she not attend church (“Wives, submit to your husband, as to Christ”), or were to ask her to engage in sexual activity (“do not withhold yourselves from one another”) that would qualify, would it not? Surely her five reasons will suffice.

      So, for fatigue (tired), if say Allison had become aware that fatigue was eroding her health and she then read that her body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit,” wouldn’t fatigue qualify as an excuse? What if her introversion (introvert) caused her social anxiety, which we know produces cortisol and damages our organs (worse yet, what if Alison was pregnant, and she was thus damaging her child?)? If she decided to avoid church, wouldn’t Christ celebrate this preservation of the temple, or at worst throw up his hands in just a little frustration, but with the recognition that “the spirit is willing but the body is weak?” – as He did with his disciples? In fact, He might just be more concise and say, “baby steps.” Fortunately, Allison has an out, since she will be “saved through childbearing.”

      Wouldn’t the Matthew 5 instruction that we not approach the altar before we have reconciled with our brother bear on both #2 (high expectations) and #4 (not wanting to feel guilty)? It sounds like Allison’s high expectations have contributed to what is an interpersonal problem with some people or people’s habits in the church. What if reconciling with these people requires time, is a process, that can only be fulfilled in “the fullness of time” and one she is actively engaged in? Wouldn’t that require that she stay away from “the altar?” What if she shares Amos’ (and by extension, God’s) concern that justice isn’t yet flowing like an ever growing stream? Wouldn’t Amos make good company when she concluded that only then (when that justice rolls down) is the LORD interested in letting having our praises rise high? What if these unmet expectations (like, I don’t know, preachers paying absolutely no attention to Christ’s critique of the teachers of the law) cause her to burn with anger against her brothers? Shouldn’t she “flee temptation”?

      Or, in a similar vein, what if Allison observed that the church was failing to “expel the immoral brothers?” who in this case yoke people with heavy burdens, like the Pharisees (the guilt she mentions)? Would she be wrong in noting the corrosive effect of that guilt and shouldn’t she ensure that “no bitter root grew up” inside the church body? What if it wasn’t in her power to do so, because she is a woman and doesn’t get to make decisions in your church? Should she associate herself with this? More reasons for guilt to keep her away.

      Lastly, Allison isn’t sure she needs it. Here she has made an important, but subtle point. She has contradicted your hidden premise, where you assume church services are necessary.

      Your little five step argument never really takes this up, as I’ve mentioned before. But she has explicitly raised the issue here in number five, and you instead assumed it was wrong, and this assumption was so critical to your conclusion that it practically was your conclusion. Your borderline circular argument is getting less borderline here.

      Ah, but I haven’t used the “sword” of scripture yet on issue number 5! And that’s the only proof that counts, right? And shouldn’t I use it against you, since Christ came to “bring a sword,” dividing even families? As James teaches us, if we know the good and fail to do it, it is sin. But what if we don’t know? Roman’s teaches us that God views us in our context –that the gentiles were a “law unto themselves” and that “sin is not taken into account when there is no law.” What if the “law written on [Allison’s] heart” doesn’t tell her that church services are the same thing as prioritizing God?

      Any of these admonitions could undermine your Hebrews quote, and certainly all together they suggest that Allison should never darken the door of a church.

      Now then, perhaps you are fuming at my cavalier treatment of scripture, ripping passages from their context, and borrowing biblical language to mean whatever I want it to mean like a tabloid journalist. You would be right to do so.

      And in so doing, you would have stumbled on part of my argument, a way of exposing a flaw in yours. It’s called a reductio-ad-absurdum argument. Basically, you show that X is wrong by showing the kinds of stupid conclusions it could produce. (Don’t even get me started on whether women are allowed to braid their hair or go hatless in your church). The absurdity I’ve shown is that you can pretty well get a book as big as the bible to show whatever you want to it show if you forget what it means to be literate when you read it and quote it.

      Why did I do this? To undermine your supporting argumentation—your (misuse) of Proverbs and of references to Christ and Paul’s boldness to justify actions that look much more like the ones Jesus condemned, for instance. Or your lazy assumption that the writer of Hebrews 10, written when the church was a tiny remnant in an unforgiving empire, is a clear statement that a person whose life’s work is in an institution oozing with constant and very Christian “meeting[s] together,” would condemn that person for not setting Sunday aside when she has already set Monday through Friday aside for service and for “meeting together.” And so on. Proof texting isn’t arguing effectively, even for those of us who believe scripture. So your supporting arguments don’t really support.

      This of course, leads us back to the underlying question—is it extremely important for Christians to go to church services on Sunday? All Christians? Every Sunday possible? Are there individualized answers that extend beyond extreme things that excuse people? Does God expect exactly the same thing from everyone, or does God meet each person where she is, and appreciate her baby steps (as CS Lewis said, God delights in our baby steps, even when not satisfied that we are done stepping)? How much does context matter, like whether a person spends most of her week in church or doing everything found in church with other members of the actual Church?

      These are hard questions that deserve honest reflection. Which is exactly what Abigail did. If only you had done the same!

      I openly acknowledge that I’ve been smug and self satisfied here. My reason is I don’t like buillies. But that doesn’t excuse my behavior, even if it explains it. .

  24. Nieves

    Abigail, I feel as though you’re the only person I’ve been able to communicate with. Most everyone else just viciously attacked me and committed the same sins they accused me of. I’m very happy that you have a community and, in some ways, I hope our talk has encouraged you to further appreciate them. That’s what it’s all about. My goal was exactly that.

    When I first read your blog, I understood the confessional, but I also heard someone who seemed laid-back about changing anything. My greatest concern was that people would read your blog and feel validated with their own reasons. Given the fact that you’re a professor at a Christian University, you most certainly have influence over people. I believe that fact holds you to an even greater level of accountability. If my professor is laid-back about Church attendance, certainly I can be as well.

    Personally, I truly LOVE the Church. I look forward to our worship meetings like a girl waiting by the phone for that special someone. Sometimes, I wish more people were as passionate. Yet, the lack that I see is truly bothersome. I think you said it best when you said, “there is something to be said for stepping into a place that is set aside, a place outside the hum and buzz of daily chaos, a place where people gather to be Christ to one another.”

    Surely, we can meet in a variety of forums, at all sorts of times but the Church getting together on a Sunday morning makes a statement to our society. It says we’re committed to God and each other and nothing will break that commitment. It’s not legalism, it’s faithfulness.

    Thanks for your thoughts, and thanks for engaging in a conversation with someone who admittedly did not start right.

    God Bless You My Sister.

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