Some months ago I listened to a thought-provoking sermon by Nathan Stickland, pastor of our small St. Albans, United Kingdom, church across the street from the offices of the Trans-European Division (TED). He titled his sermon “Don’t Date the Church.” “Daters are looking for a product,” he said, then went on to compare such an approach to worship with online dating services, in which one shops for the ideal of a suitable date. Someone who “dates” the church is self-centered, always wondering, “What can I get out of church?”
The apostle Peter, writing to a scattered community of believers living throughout Asia Minor, quotes from the Old Testament and reminds his readers what church is all about: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Church is not about us. Church centers on the worship and proclamation of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light, in whom “all things consist” (Col 1:17). Church is also a community where we come together to offer encouragement to each other. While we need to be encouraged, we should also ask ourselves: “How can I encourage someone in our worship of God?”
A FUNDAMENTAL SHIFT
Perhaps it’s time to make a shift in our perception of church, from its being “something you go to” or “show up for” to something more. Some may ask, “Church has a place in my life; isn’t that good enough?” The truth of the matter is: if we don’t get involved, we’re just “flirting” with church, because we want to keep our “options open.”
Since church is not a building but a community of broken sinners who are being made whole by Jesus, we really cheat ourselves when we lack passion and commitment for church. In his sermon, Stickland highlighted three particular areas:
First, we cheat ourselves because God wants us to be a blessing to others. Something good happens in us when we can share God’s grace with people around us. Without being connected to the church, we miss out on being that conduit of God. Jesus is the world’s only hope (John 3:16), but we have a part to play in God’s plan, which takes more than just “turning up.”
Second, we cheat our church community when we just turn up, because they miss out on what we have to offer. We all have some- thing to offer. We can’t all be cooks, preachers, or musicians, but we can all find a place of service. That’s God’s intention for us.
Third, we cheat the world. God’s purpose is to save people who are lost. God is in the business of rescuing fallen humanity, and He wants us to be involved. How will anyone know the good news unless we tell them? If we can’t even pray with fellow believers, if we can’t even open our Bibles and talk with fellow believers, what hope is there for the world through us? When we can’t do it in church, it’s not likely to happen through us outside of church.¹
A CHANGE OF MINDSET
A little more than a year ago my eye caught a provocative title as I was glancing through the Adventist Record magazine available in our office. “Why I Don’t Go to Church,” was written by the magazine’s assistant editor, Maritza Brunt. It made me stop in my tracks.² Maritza was raised Adventist, is currently employed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and is also a pastor’s wife. She realized, however, that going to church wasn’t helping her spiritually, emotionally, men- tally, or physically. “There were days when I’d cry just thinking about having to go to church,” she wrote. “It got so bad that I even started questioning the need for church.”
What made the change in her life was her decision to remove the barrier of a bad attitude. She stopped viewing church as four walls. She started caring about her fellow church members and the joys and challenges of their lives. She pushed herself to go to church, knowing that God could use her to be a blessing to others. When she received a kind word or hug, she was the recipient of that blessing from someone else.
Church is not just a theological concept—something abstract. Neither is church a sheet full of numbers and statistics. Based on statistics from 2017, we know that 42 percent of newly baptized members will eventually leave the church,³ so it’s important to celebrate, encourage, and disciple the ones who stay. As a young person herself, Maritza stated that Millennials believe in the church and want to see it grow.
A KIND AND LIVING CHURCH
Instead of asking what we can “get” out of church, God calls us to “be the church.” I was inspired by a new project entitled “live:kind,” coordinated by TED family ministries director Karen Holford. The project has collected 31 creative ideas from family ministries teams across Europe about how we can show kindness in church.⁴ As I read through this list of very creative ways to engage with church, I remembered the quiet ministry of Marilyn Petersen, the recently deceased mother of Adventist World operation’s manager Merle Poirier.
Marilyn was confined to a wheelchair during the last 10 years of her life. She wrote cards to homebound people, people mentioned in the bulletin of her local congregation, people she hadn’t seen in a while, people she’d just seen, new members who’d transferred—she wrote to any and everyone. She told my colleague that she rarely received anything back, or heard from anyone. Yet Merle collected a basketful of cards from people appreciating the love and care they felt when they received a card from Marilyn after people heard about her death. She had made an impact. We clearly need to keep our sights on heaven’s reward and not what happens here. “My mom would have been amazed at the cards,” said Merle.
Proclaiming God’s goodness doesn’t only mean preaching. Think about how you could show kindness in church—and do it. We will, most likely, not see an immediate impact, but every kind act will draw us closer together. Jesus Himself taught us that unity and care are the hallmarks of God’s church family on earth (John 17:20, 21). So live kind.