Intended for More than Relief

Intended for More than Relief April 23, 2013

What if the reasons we go to church actually perpetuates problems and doesn’t really help us get better?

Studies have found most people go to church for a couple of reasons: they always have and it’s a habit based on an obligatory belief that somehow going to church is the right thing to do and somehow pleases God, others go because they are facing problems and are told that God will help them. I’m sure there are a myriad of other reasons – some noble, some less – as to why people go to church. Please notice I’m using the words “go to” church.

I have come to believe a common motivation for why people go to church is that it brings some form of relief. It is in some way a relief of conscience, or it is a relief like an oasis is a relief in the desert. It’s a relief in that, like with any habit, when you perpetuate the habitual action, there is a relief in the action of the habit. But what if going to church was never meant to be a relief? Or if it was to be a relief, it would be a residual side effect as opposed to a motivator. I’m not against the experience of relief, I just feel going to church should be so much more than that.

Going to church should shake us to the core and lift us up to incredible heights. I think going to church should help us recognise our true realities and the depths of both our sorrow and joy in them. But in a relief-orientated culture, which I think we live in, we are only content hearing the sad news if it’s bookended with the good news. We are only willing to be marginally touched by our own stories so long as I am reminded that God is going to take care of it.

I am concerned that church doesn’t connect us with the ultimate realities of life, and God, as much as we hoped it would; but rather has us singing “always look on the bright side of life” just as they did in the parity of Jesus life in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” (view it here).

In the scene I am referring to there is a giant disconnect from reality; that somehow singing “always look on the bright side of life” makes the crucifixion – or let’s make it personal, our own experience of dying to __________ (whatever it is fill in the blank) makes it less real, less painful. It’s just classic denial in the form of religious relief.

What would going to church look like where relief was a side effect as opposed to a purpose? I believe going to that church would bring us face-to-face with what is most true in us as opposed to looking for relief from that truth, but rather bring us to hope, that even this, would not be wasted. That God has interest – but not in our relief – rather in our transformation; and the tools of His transformation is not our beliefs about Him, or our dogmas, or our practices; but rather the intersection of the actual God with our actual lives – resulting most likely in a beautiful collision.

I want to be part of a church like that. I hope the church I lead continues to become that. This is not a commentary on your church. I hope you are part of a great one. This is just honestly a question for real reflection: why do you go? I’m not saying don’t go… I’m asking, “Why do you go?”

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  • david wright

    Alltogether lovely? I dont think so…

  • I love this: “the tools of His transformation is not our beliefs about Him, or our dogmas, or our practices; but rather the intersection of the actual God with our actual lives – resulting most likely in a beautiful collision.”
    I go to church first as a time set apart to praise and worship God in a faith community. It is a time for reflection and forgiveness as well as giving thanks. Through Sunday worship I prepare for the week ahead – through new insights, inspiration, and challenges to grow in relationship with God while following the teachings of Christ. There is often relief and refreshment in that experience but as noted in the commentary that is a side effect of an authentic engagement with God through prayer, communion, the Word, and community.

  • I am with you on your sentiment. While you speak about the way we approach “going to church” relief rather than transformation, I have been framing it in our community in a different but parallel way. Is “going to church” the start or the end of the week? (You can read the full post here – Bottom line, when we see worship as the start of our week – we seek relief, when we see worship as the end of our week – we seek transformation?

    Thanks for sharing, what do you think?