What role does church play in your spiritual life? Do you feel it’s a necessary component of it, a natural but not necessary extension of it, primarily a social thing, an obligation you could do without, or what?
I ask because last night at a dinner party with maybe twenty people I was chatting with a Christian woman who is easily one of the most compassionate and honorable people I’ve ever known: she has given her life to caring for broken children throughout their lives. Just an amazing person.
In the course of our conversation this friend made a jokey little confession about how she doesn’t go to church as often as she used to.
“Well, I’m pretty sure God’s okay with you skipping church every once in a while,” I said. “Look at your life. You are church, basically.”
With a surprisingly firm grip she took hold of my arm and guided us a few steps beyond the hearing of others. In an urgent but hushed voice she said, “No, I mean I haven’t been to church in three, maybe four years. I just stopped going.”
Loud enough for her alone to hear, I said, “Wow! I’m so surprised. If it means anything to you, I never go. But you! I thought you went at least once a week. What happened? Was there one reason you stopped going, or—”
“I just didn’t want to anymore. Which is really weird since I’ve gone to church all my life.” With an expression of happy confusion she shrugged her shoulders. “And then I just stopped going. I thought it would be a temporary thing. I thought I would miss it. I thought my spiritual life would suffer.” She dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and closed the small gap of space between us. “But can I tell you something?”
“I don’t miss going to church. My spiritual life hasn’t suffered at all. It’s gotten better. I’m sixty-seven years old, and I’ve never been closer to Christ.”
“Great! Love it.”
“It is great. And it’s really made me rethink the whole concept of church.” She pushed up on her toes to bring her face closer to mine. With considerable gusto she whispered, “I’m not sure church is necessary.” She dropped back on her heels and regarded me matter-of-factly. “Why would it be? I have the Holy Spirit. I have the Bible. I have the people I love around me. I know Jesus. I pray, meditate, and read the Bible every day. My relationship with God has simply never been better. And it got that way without any church at all.”
So, whatcha think? Has it been your experience that Church is an indispensable component of the Christian life, or not so much? It seems to me that increasingly Christians I know or meet have stopped attending church. Some regularly pray and do Bible readings with their family, some do weekly prayer gatherings with their friends—small group without the larger church group, basically—and some simply go it alone.
You? Why? I’d love to hear.