I used to be pretty critical about those who didn’t “go to church”. Clearly, they lacked something I didn’t because they didn’t want to be AT church. Clearly they weren’t as committed to God and the Church as I was…I who was on staff and being paid by the church to be there.
That is…until one day, after over 16 years of ministry and suddenly not having a ministry to “work for”, coupled with God doing a bit of work in my heart…I realized I was too harsh…
I understand the heart of the pastor (remember – I’ve been one, and several family members are and have been as well)…I get it…I totally do. I know deep down in their hearts all they want is to see people connecting with the local church body. They want to see those people being transformed and discipled, and then going out and helping lead others into transformation and discipleship.
But inevitably they start tossing around comments about how uncommitted people are that don’t “go to church”. And it seems to me that judgment is being passed on something that perhaps they don’t really understand fully.
That’s not to be demeaning to pastors and church leaders (after all, I was in their shoes…and I totally didn’t get it then either), but the reality is a lot of pastors are sadly disconnected from the realities of what many of their church members go through or are experiencing.
Perhaps this is because those members do not speak about what’s going on.
Perhaps they don’t speak because they’re afraid of the judgment they may receive.
Perhaps the pastors have tried to reach out and are just being pushed away.
Either way, it’s a reality that many face.
The real troubling problem, however, is that BEING the church is much more than GOING to church. And the American Church has done a really good job of making GOING to church more important (almost) than BEING the church.
To many in the Church (leaders included), going to church is the benchmark of commitment.
Truth is, we have hundreds of people every day and every week who are struggling to “go to church” and it’s not because they don’t love God or the Church.
For some, they have suffered greatly at the hands of leaders and pastors of churches as they diligently served that church either on staff or as volunteers. They have been abused, manipulated, used, and then cast aside when they are no longer willing to be the pack horse for the church.
Others have been treated awfully by other members of the church. They have been made to feel shame over things that, frankly, don’t deserve shame (e.g. they are trivial and insignificant things that are usually ones personal conviction and not truly biblical commands).
They have been ostracized in the body that’s supposed to “love them”.
For some, they carry such weight of shame and guilt about how they are living, that as much as they may want to attend the church gathering, past experiences have shown them that they will be judged fiercely, and that’s just not something they want to put themselves through again.
That’s just a few reasons, and certainly not an exhaustive list. It can’t be. Everyone is different, and has their own unique experiences driving them to do what they do.
My point in all of this is simply to encourage pastors to not be so quick to assume what is going on, be less judgmental about those who do not “come to church”, and try to find a little grace and understanding in whatever it is that these folks may be unable to communicate adequately.
I understand the bible doesn’t teach us NOT to judge. But it does teach us to judge rightly…in other words…not jumping to conclusions or assumptions but judging rightly so that you may assess what is taking place more clearly so you can address it more adequately.
This is, after all, what Jesus taught us when He said:
John 7:24 – Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.