I have not gone to church on a Sunday morning the same way ever since I moved back to the United States. Granted, there were days in 1996-1999 that I bounced around from church to church, but that was for different reasons.
When I was in college, and then after I graduated, I spent a lot of time around people that lived the Christian life together on a day to day basis. Church, if attended, was only about 25% of the complete Christian life. The other 75% was daily prayer and Bible reading, evangelism out on the streets, and discussion discussion discussion with others about what we read, what we did, and what God was teaching us.
My wife and I now refer to those days at the “Cherry Court Days” as do many of the other people we were doing life with. I have heard pastors describe those days as “better than seminary” and others refer to it as a revival. Several of the people involved in that experience now work in the professional ministry 15 years later.
It permanently ruined many of us for any substitutes.
Fast forward to the present time, and my grumblings. My wife used to hate Sunday afternoons because we would go to church on Sunday mornings and I would gripe and complain all the way home. Eventually we quit going to church altogether and we began to try to exalt the Lord and seek Him in our day to day life. Some people worried about us, like we had fallen away. Others didn’t bring it up, because my criticisms were so visceral that I didn’t know how to explain them with grace. Some of my bros stuck by me even when I said some pretty negative stuff about the people they loved.
In that time, we grew in the Lord by leaps and bounds. We took responsibility for our children’s discipleship like youth pastors want people to do. We reached out to our neighbors, contacts, and our sphere of influence because we loved our Lord and we loved others beyond a scheduled event organized by someone we didn’t know at a location far far away from our front porch (where real life happens for us).
It was very very good. I should say it has been very very good, because we’ve only recently changed our act.
For the last year we have fallen in with a group of people doing that same thing in the neighborhood next door. The People of Praise is a covenanted Christian Community that shares life, time, possessions, and Jesus together on a daily basis. A little over a month ago we decided to join them and we began the 3-6 year process of discerning if joining the People of Praise will help us in our walk with Jesus.
One requirement to join the People of Praise: go to church.
Now the POP isn’t a church–it’s an ecumenical community. Everyone in the POP goes to their own church and is a part of their own church. In Evansville there are AOG folks, Catholic, Protestant, and Baptist folks. So here we are, my wife and I, what I would call disenfranchised program church folks. (A program church is what people used to call a megachurch, but now churches of all sizes follow the megachurch model whether they have 50-50,000 members.)
As were were “not going to church” we had visited a few places where our friends went on Sundays, and so we didn’t have to shop around.
We went, and we loved it. After I got home I realized why. You know how on the commercial for fruit loops, after the cartoon adventure and the toucan saving the day, they show a breakfast table of awesomeness and say “Fruit Loops is part of a complete breakfast” and they show eggs, orange juice, some toast, a glass of milk, and an apple? That is what Sunday morning church was to me. Part of a complete breakfast. It was sweet and awesome and I wanted 2 bowls but I wasn’t expecting it to be my complete breakfast. Where the Sunday morning church, even with it’s structured activities and programs, fell short, the para-church Christian Community filled in the gaps. And now I go to that church in a whole new way.
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