Sunday Morning Controversy

Mar 23, 2009

I didn’t expect my Sunday morning tweet to be controversial:

“So, should I visit a new church or take my Bible and a notebook to Daniel’s Park?”

The responses I received included everything from concern (“What’s wrong?”) to scriptural exhortations to go to church, the most common of which was Hebrews 10:25.

This upset me. Probably more than it should have. Especially since I’ve used that very scripture to rebuke church-skippers in the past. Shame on me. Hear me loud and clear: I’m FOR community, and I have been deeply connected with a local church my entire life. Here’s some head-spinning math, in case you’re not convinced:

Take my 37 years times 52 weeks a year and you get 1,924 Sunday church services since my birth, give or take. Add in Sunday night church, Wednesday youth group, special potlucks, socials, Tuesday night Bible studies, Wednesday night small groups, church camps, women’s retreats, leadership conferences, full-time ministry for about 7 years, followed by lay ministry that sucked up more hours a week than the paid job ever did …

You get the idea. Let’s say we triple that number and it still won’t be a stretch. NOW, ask me how many Sundays I felt the freedom to embrace solitude with my Maker in a park??? ZERO.

Why, oh why did the thought of me sitting in a park one Sunday of thousands create tension? Is this what God intended with Hebrews 10:25? Is the authenticity of my relationship with God verified by a perfect attendance scorecard? If for one week I decide to skip community in a building for communion with Him in the mountains, am I on a slippery slope of spiritual decline?

This entire line of thought scares me, AND I’m embarrassed at my past judgments of others.

What do you think?

20 Comments

  1. Darcie

    Wow, all for missing one Sunday? I skipped nearly a year after being seriously wounded and betrayed by “Christians” in my church. Couldn’t take it seriously. Couldn’t buy the spiritual talk from people relishing in wounding others.

    I was labeled a lot worse. It hurt. Keeps the question that got me in trouble in the first place, fresh: Why are some Christians so mean to each other? Meaner than they treat a non-Christian?

    The irony is how what happened to me and happens to others, proves my point again and again.

    I’m just now creeping back into the church scene. Laying low. Avoiding certain groups. Building life-giving relationships with wonderful people there. There are more wonderful people than mean ones 🙂

    Reply
  2. Sharen Watson

    Good question, Michele. Relevant post. I too wondered about your Twitter post. More out of concern that something or someone is hurting you (they best stop it) in your local fellowship, which is why you decided to “visit a new church” or Daniel’s Park. I, like you, ache for those who’ve experienced pain inflicted by well-meaning people in their church home. Church is the one place we should feel safe from attack. But, it’s not always the case. And most times, I believe it’s done without realizing the infliction (at least it is my hope).

    No doubt, God is pleased with our presence as we gather with other believers in corporate worship. We are the Body of Christ, and when we gather in His Name, He surely loves our company in the “party” format. I LOVE and I know you LOVE this precious time, but sometimes, it hurts, humanly speaking, and we need moments of face-to-face time with our Lord. And Daniel’s Park is a beautiful place for solitude (with HIM).

    Go for it, when you have HIS permission. Even if it’s on Sunday morning. If He’s calling, you reach out to HIM. If you’re hurting, reach out to HIM. He’s everywhere.

    I think, Michele — I hope — that those who replied to your post did so in LOVE and out of concern, not judgment. As the saying goes, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7 (NIV)

    Reply
  3. Heather Tipton

    First of all that isn’t what that scripture means. second, anyone who really knows you shouldn’t be worried by this. third, It’s sad to me the false guilt that we christians heap on each other. instead of taking the time to find out what is really going on with the person. sometimes you just need to get away from all the noise and encounter the Lord in the quiet. (out in nature usually helps me. something about seeing the amazing wonders He created.) Love you, friend

    Reply
  4. Scot Longyear

    I spent a week in Colorado on a personal Sabbatical. I found God in the mountains. I cried like a baby, prayed like a saint, and smiled like a kid.

    Later in the week, I went to a (famous) church prayer center. Sitting in that place (which is a great place, mind you) I thought to myself “I have to get out of here and get back out to where I found Him.” And that I did.

    Is community important? No doubt. But I need time to connect with the creator one on one. He refreshes my soul in ways that I am still discovering. And in the process he makes me better in the church community.

    Reply
  5. Susan

    Hello Michelle –
    I’m with you 100% in taking a break.

    I have had bad experiences where I was told I was going to hell because I did not choose to continue going to a particular church. And one of my girlfriends before she broke away said she skipped and took her Bible to a park and read it. (She left that church, too.)

    I would never have darkened the door of a church, again, if my faith was not real. And I look back as it as a test, giving assurance of my salvation as genuine.

    Since I was married, my husband and I have left churches when it was not right for us to go there anymore. Also, the ones that we have joined, we have had times when we skipped, because we needed a break. (And we noted that the pastor took breaks, too.) It was quite rejuvenating.

    (I could write tons about this subject.) There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

    Reply
  6. Michele

    GREAT discussion. Thanks for your insights. I appreciate all of you.

    I feel I should be clear that I don’t believe any of the comments I received were malicious. I trust each came from a heart of concern.

    Still, as someone trying to embrace the freedom we’ve been given, the response felt like an enormous weight, as if I was supposed to deny my thirst and refuse the glass of water in order to do what’s expected of me.

    Causes me to consider how many times I’ve done the same to others. Weighed them down with expectations they were never intended to bear. Sounds Pharisaical, doesn’t it?

    Reply
  7. Niki Nowell

    It’s sad how people feel the need to admonish you for being a “church skipper.” lol Just the thought of you with that label makes me giggle, it’s so absurd. Most of us have been in that crowd too, so that should make it easier to offer grace, but sometimes it’s hard to get past the anger at the narrow-mindedness of people living inside the box of religious tradition over Divine relationship.

    I’m not sure I understand what Sharen was getting at with needing God’s permission to miss a Sunday morning. He didn’t command us to meet at that specific time. I know she has a beautiful heart and I’m not judging her, I just don’t think I agree with that statement.

    I have one more thought. The Word was never meant to be a weapon to wound other people. Exhortation of “church skippers” usually results in guilt, not a convicted heart, and it comes from a rules oriented mindset. You’re breaking a rule if you aren’t sitting in your usual pew. That’s just stinky theology. 🙁

    So Michelle, no matter where you planted your body yesterday morning, I hope you enjoyed a time of sweet fellowship and communion with the Lord. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Deana O'Hara

    Great thoughts from everyone. Michele I was intrigued by your twitter comment, but not worried if that makes sense. I have days where I want breaks – but teach and really can’t. Unless I plan ahead and acquire a sub which I”m known to do on occassion. I just need that break.

    I’ve had times in parks and at other retreats where I’ve connected more with God than anywhere else. I like visiting other churches because it keeps worship fresh and frankly, it gives us ideas on ministry or worship styles.

    It sounds like this was both rejuvinating – to have choice – and humbling in that you now understand why others need daily choices too.

    Been there. Done that. I’m learning how to hold my thoughts better, lest I learn the hard way about something I hold so tightly (my opinions on how things should be.) I remind myself that I am not the Holy Ghost Jr. over others.

    Sorry to hear how other people took your leave. That sounds rough. Hope things get better.

    Hugs

    Reply
  9. Robbie Iobst

    When I read your tweet, I thought nothing of it, but Michele, go where Jesus leads baby! I’m with you!

    Reply
  10. Michele

    Scot, reading about your one wk sabbatical made me long for the same. Maybe that heart tug means it’s time I do the same. Thanks for that.

    Susan, the verse is perfect: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Talk about a glass of water for a thirsty soul! I hope I never get over that, and I hope I’m crazy different because of it.

    Reply
  11. Denise Holmes

    I was all for you going to the park.
    Mark and I have a local church home, but every few weeks we visit either a church we’ve never been to, or one we haven’t been to in a while. I agree with the previous commentator, it’s refreshing.
    I am sure that if we felt that going to Estes Park (Mark’s favorite) on a Sunday was what we needed, that’s what we’d do. Others would have to get over themselves.
    Doing something different on a Sunday is not BETRAYAL of either Christ or the body. it’s just doing something different.
    What did they think you were going to do? Kill cats and chant????!!!

    Reply
  12. Ashleigh

    Wow look at the discussion going here! How amazing. I totally understand the longing for alone time with God in a place of His beautiful creation. I know that after I pour in 25 hour work weeks at the church, Sunday mornings roll around and after they are over I still feel empy, unfed, and hungry for more, so I do what I call “me time.” It’s been a while since I’ve done it since I’ve started to feel like when I take time off, things fall apart and then I have to deal with them anyway so I get interrupted. But I used to go to a park, or even sit in my back yard, just me, and my bible and notebook, and just be still in the silence. I leave my phone (miracle right, that thing never leaves my hand) and music inside and just be still. I do have to say that even on the most amazing weeks of church or youth group, me time is still more important to me. And a lot of times me time is needed for me to process what church laid on my heart. So here’s what I’m getting at in this 500 page long comment, it’s a combination of both church and me time that makes my heart feel full and fed, without one or the other I would still be hungry. Teamwork, church challenges me, and me time processes the challenge or sits in the silence which sometimes is really necessary. So go for it sista! It’s all about you and God, not others and you and God. 🙂 I so admire your ability to be real.

    Reply
  13. Jan Parrish

    A friend and I used to call each other when we missed church. It was a joke, kind of a stab at religiosity. After a while, even the joke of it smacked of legalism – so we abandoned it.

    I don’t agree with the notion that there is an obligation to be in church.We have the freedom to be in church. Sometimes being with God alone is great. I guess that’s why it didn’t send off alarms with me.

    Reply
  14. Suzie Potter

    Michelle,
    Sorry for ALL the stress about this.
    I can find God best in the midst of his creation / nature.
    People also help, but many times we need to slow down.
    Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” I don’t know if you went to the park or church on Sunday, but I know God is always happy when we spend quiet time reflecting on him, having peace with him, etc. Hebrews talks about a Sabbath rest, and in all my 25+ years of ministry that is still something to consider, since Sunday for people in ministry is NEVER a day of rest. God even had a day of rest on the 7th day in Genesis. What does rest really look like, and how can we get more of it? I am proud of you for considering a “slow down” day, especially with ALL the fellowship you do get. I haven’t known you long, but KNOW that you are a person who doesn’t lack in that area. “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” (3 John 2)

    Reply
  15. Heidi

    I believe in community, I believe in sitting in front of a man or woman giving a word.

    BUT

    I also believe in communing with HIm outside of the church, mine is on a long stretch of beach.

    I’m so sorry some religious pharisees caused you heartache. I would have picked the journal/bible and the park grass by the way.

    We all need a break and need to commune.

    Great post Michele… I am so inspired.

    Reply
  16. Jerolyn

    Wow, Michele, I could say so much, but so much has already been said. I admire you for being willing to be real on your blogs even if thoroughly misunderstood. The concept of church is wonderful and beautiful, but I don’t recall any direct commandment telling us to be there every single week. If John and I are presented with an opportunity to be with a seeker (at the same time as church) or going to church, we will usually choose being with a seeker. I will have all of eternity to worship Christ, but not all of eternity to do my part in leading people to Christ.

    Reply
  17. Michele

    Thanks for all the insight here. I learn so much from you! One final thought after all the discussion: choosing to live free is more an internal decision than an external condition. Meaning, I doubt the tension I felt came from those who commented as much as my own internal struggle to abandon legalism for the sake of relationship. So … “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” ~ Gal 5:1 Whether going to church or missing one Sunday, it’s not about religion. It’s about relationship.

    Reply
  18. Ashleigh

    “its not about religion, it’s about relationship.”
    amen sister!

    Reply
  19. David Francis

    Brian Sanders in “Life After Church” (IVP, 2007):
    Churches that are being left often make an assumption about the development of belivers: that once someone has been a Christian for some years, she need only apply herself to the work of the church; she ceases to have specific and acute spiritual needs of her own. This might suffice if the work of the church is participation in reaching the lost or serving the poor. But too often stage two for a would-be maturing Christian is to serve in the parking lot or to work in the nursery on Sunday mornings. Both of these jobs are honorable and valuable, but are they the place of growth, purpose and mission for which believers were created?”

    Driving up for a guest engagement at a church one Sunday, the pastor told me the greeter at the door had not missed a single Sunday in like 40 years. I felt sad, and said, “What am I supposed to say? Get a life?”

    This doesn’t look like a site guys are supposed to be on, but stumbled across it and “felt your pain.” Hope that’s OK!

    Reply
  20. Michele

    I’m glad you dropped by, David. And for the record, this site is for anyone who desires to lives more authentically, including wrestling with some of these more tough issues. So yes, even guys are welcome here! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. Great quote by Sanders … so much to think about and wrestle with. Being raised in the church, I used to equate the depth of someone’s faith by such things as church attendance and level of involvement. Though serving one another is GOOD, somewhere along the way I let all my activities become the foundation of my spirituality. In all the doing, I missed out on the beauty found in merely being WITH Him. Now I find it incredibly profound that God chose to name His greatest gift to us “Immanuel”, God With Us.

    Thanks, again, David. Great hearing from you.

    Reply

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