Monday, May 9, 2016

An Invitation Not to Be in Church This Sunday: Reflections on Thom Rainer’s “I Am Not in Church.”

Looking at church.
A heart-felt piece of writing on Thom Rainer’s website really struck me on this particular Monday morning, especially after a Sunday on which my focus was pulled in so many directions. (You can read his post at

I know there were people "at church" yesterday who I wanted to be sure felt welcomed, valued, comforted, encouraged, etc. (By the way, that applies to everyone who was there, as well as quite a few who weren't.) But I also know that when we most need to feel welcomed, we may not be at our most welcoming. When we most need to be comforted, we may not be very comforting. When we are in need of encouragement, it's harder to find the ways to encourage others.

Going to church.
If I come seeking for what others can provide to me, and even if I come hoping to provide something to others, then I am looking for something other than church. The idea of coming "to church," being "at church," and certainly "doing church" all destine us to disappointment. Granted, there are places where people gather and engage in worship, fellowship, discipleship, and service. And I highly recommend doing so. Yet there is a purpose to doing so that is often obscured not only by the location and activity, but more so by our attitudes and expectations.

Being in church.
The idea of "being church" together means that we are not an unlimited reservoir of blessings to be tapped by one, some, or a small handful of folks who may have some need or other on any particular Sunday morning. Some come afflicted with a hunger and thirst for meaning and fulfillment, or even food and water. Others have found great meaning and fulfillment, but in ministries that routinely empty us. If each of us, at one time or another, are coming to be filled, then who can we consistently depend upon? Who will always be available to pour themselves out into us?

Getting behind the church.
We need to remember that the unlimited reservoir that we seek to tap into together can only be Christ Himself. And in doing so, perhaps we might join together in setting an example for others, too, who imagine that the church is something you can somehow be "in" instead of being "of."

So, if you're waiting for an invitation? I hope Christians invite you. We're supposed to. It's part of the mandate Jesus gave us--reach out, love, invite, congregate. But if we invite you "to" church, then it's not church that you're likely to find. If we invite you to sit "in" church with us, then it's not church that you'll probably be attending. If you're invited, you should accept only if you recognize that we are desperate sinners whose hearts, however redeemed and sanctified they may be, are still prone to selfish idolatries. You should accept the invitation from those who come together to console one another at least as much as to celebrate and commend Christ with one another. You should not be misled into thinking that Christianity can be a spectator sport, a self-help seminar, or even a source of sustenance to our souls. If Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life we offer, then all the invitation we can extend to you is this: come to Him, and be church with us.

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