Stop Going to Church: or, How to Be Like Bono

By Jonathan Dodson

photo courtesy of TheOnlyAnla via C. C. License at FlickrFor years I went to church. Religiously. I actually went to church for about 25 years. Then I stopped. I'm so glad I did. Instead of going to church, I started being the church. It's radically changed me. They have changed me. My family has gotten bigger.

Bono's Church

The church is supposed to be a family. But there's a problem. The church in America is too often very un-church. As a result, a lot of people say that they like Jesus, but they just don't like the church ... and they're in pretty good company -- with Bono. In U2's song "Acrobat," from the album Achtung Baby, Bono articulates a fairly common perception of the church:

No, nothing makes sense, nothing seems to fit.
I know you'd hit out if you only knew who to hit.
And I'd join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah, I'd break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in.

What exactly is this common view of the church? In a word: conflicted. "And I'd join the movement If there was one I could believe in. Yeah, I'd break bread and wine If there was a church I could receive in."

Like many of us, Bono wants the church, but there are too many ifs. He wants to be part of the movement of the church. Unfortunately, many churches aren't concerned with movement. Too many of them are inwardly focused, not outwardly focused. They aren't the world-changing communities of the New Testament. They are static, inert and inward.

Bono wants the communion of church, but says there's no church he can believe or receive in.

I'm guessing that what Bono is referring to is not merely the Eucharist, but the one-body community that is symbolized in the act of communion (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Like Bono, many of us long for church as movement and communion, a church that is missional and communal.

Unbelievable Churches

Some churches are fortresses. Groups of combative soldiers that enforce their doctrine, hide behind their high and holy walls, and launch grenades of judgment into the culture. The mission is doctrinal conformity, not grace. The community is in-grown, not inviting.

Other churches have more in common with shopping malls. They are filled withsalesmen and consumers. The salesmen market the church to the world. They dress her up like the culture, dress down the message of Jesus, and sell the consumers short on the gospel, community, and mission. Unlike fortress churches, the shopping mall mission is not to keep people out but to get people in. At quite a high cost, people pile into the building and out of the building wondering if this is all there is to church.

Then there are the cemeteries -- lifeless, irrelevant, stodgy churches. These churches are trapped in time, disconnected from contemporary issues. Somehow they've lost the joy of the Lord. Calcified by religion, they offer virtually no community or mission.

When our churches have more in common with fortresses, shopping malls, and cemeteries, who can blame America for not liking the church, for not receiving in her, for not joining the movement?

Acrobats or Brothers?

How should we respond? Opt for Jesus but opt out of the church? Believe in Jesus, just not the church?

It's easy to become cynical when we're confronted with fortresses, shopping malls, and cemeteries. But deep down, if we are honest with ourselves, something is wrong with accepting Jesus and rejecting the church. After all, "the church" was Jesus' idea. Speaking to Peter, Jesus said: "Upon this rock I will build my church." "My church" -- not Peter or Paul's church. The church belongs to Jesus. He created a new family. Pointing away from His blood family and to His disciples he said: "These are my mother and brothers" (Matt. 12:49). The church is supposed to be family, brothers and sisters, but we act more like acrobats. Bono sings:

'Cause I need it now.
To take the cup
To fill it up, to drink it slow.
I can't let you go.
And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this and act like that.

Confessing his need for church, but failing to act on it, Bono calls himself an acrobat. He can offer the critique but refuses to endure the sacrifice of being the church. Maybe we're the acrobats. Talking up the church but stripping it down to an event. Going to church instead of being the church. Keeping people at arm's length, acquaintances, refusing to embrace them as brothers.