This week, my own kids are back in school, along with the school that is a crucial part of our ministry. I know some kids were back earlier, and some kids will go back later, but ’tis the season of returns.In so many ways, our lives in America revolve around the school year. That’s true long after we’re graduated and even when we are without school children of our own. Summer is just different. Many families take vacations, because camping is a whole lot easier in 75 degrees than it is in 35; swimming is much more fun when it’s 85 and sunny than it is when it’s 25 and snowy (Polar Bear Clubs excluded). Most blockbuster movies come out in the summer, many ice cream places are open only in the summer, and yes, church attendance drops precipitously during the summer.
So, once the kiddos are back in school, life goes back to being busy. Of course, we’re still busy during the summer – it’s not like most of our jobs stop or even slow down – but September through May is a special kind of busy. School is in session – not just for kids, but for teachers, school administrators and staff, custodians and bus drivers, and all of those adults continuing their education in some way. And then there are the activities: sports, band, drama, dance, martial arts, fitness, you name it – they all compete for our time during the school year.
But how do we figure out our priorities? What’s really more important: our kids getting to do every single activity that interests them… or spending actual time together as a family, gathered around an actual dinner table with actual dinner on the table? We want our children to have the same opportunities we had or, in some cases, the opportunities we never had, but are we really doing what’s best for them if it means their schedules call all the shots on our calendars? Shouldn’t they at some point realize that being an adult is about responsibility, and sometimes being responsible means having to choose between two things you really want but don’t have time for?
And is playing sports – something that has become a year-round, full-time commitment – the same as playing as children? When they grow up, will they be thankful for the time they spent doing activities, or will they wish they had spent more time doing nothing? (‘Nothing’ in this instance meaning things like swimming, biking, jumping on a trampoline, watching cartoons, drawing, painting, reading for fun, or even – yes, I’ll say it – playing video games). See, there are more than two options available. You don’t have to keep your kids active 100% of the time for them to be fulfilled, just like you don’t have to let them play on their phones, tablets and Playstations 100% of the time just because they want to.
And, if you’ve hung with me this far, I think you should consider prioritizing something else: weekly church attendance. And yes, that holds true, even if your parents dragged you to church and you don’t want your kids to feel like you felt.
There are so many more options out there for churches than the one you grew up in. You can find styles of worship that range from traditional, high church liturgical worship with pipe organs and chanting – all the way to window-rattling rock concert style contemporary worship – and everything in between. You can find churches that are small enough that you can instantly feel needed, and there are churches large enough for you to fade into the background – and everything in between. You can find active ministries for babies and toddlers, preschoolers and grade schoolers, for junior and senior high youth, young adults, single or married and single or married with children, for empty nesters and seniors – and lots of other demographic groups besides. You can find boring, stuffy preachers and dynamic, riveting preachers. There are hip, cool, look-nothing-like-a-church churches, and beautiful, ornamental, architecturally exquisite churches. You can find churches with terrible theology and churches with solid theology, churches full of jerks and churches full of friendly people. So your excuse that you don’t like church just doesn’t hold up any more. There’s too much variety out there for you to go on pretending it’s all the same.
But aren’t you looking for something more? Maybe a little less crazy in your life? A message that doesn’t change with public opinion; a message about eternity and grace and salvation that has nothing to do with how hard you work, how smart you are or how many times you’ve failed? Wouldn’t you like a little hope? To be surrounded by a group of people from all walks of life who treat each other like family (and yes, warts and all, just like family)?
But the church is filled with hypocrites, you might say. I always feel like people are judging me. And the answer is: you’re right. Some of us are hypocrites, who say we believe one thing and show something different by our actions. And yes, we judge, just like everyone else does. We try to work past those judgments to see the person with God’s eyes, but we often fail.
But see, where most people get it wrong is this: church isn’t for good people! Church is for people who are broken. Church isn’t for people who have it all together, it’s for people who are struggling. It’s not for perfect people, it’s for imperfect ones. Church is for the people who lose their tempers too often and yell at their kids too much. It’s for the outcast and the overconfident; for the person whose life is so messy she can’t even hide it anymore and for the person who is still struggling to keep all of his faults hidden behind a cracked and see-through mask. Church is for the sick, the hurting, the depressed, the lonely, the angry, the scared and the doubting. Church is for you. Church is for me.
So give it another chance. I recommend you choose one of the churches with good theology and friendly people, but the rest is up to your personal preference. Only, when you go and try a church, don’t look to be entertained or be made to feel good about yourself. Instead, look for people you can relate to and a message you can understand and apply, especially one that is based on God’s Word and not the preacher’s opinion. But go back. Prioritize yourself and your family by giving church another try. Sure, you can know and love God without going to church, but how is that really going for you? Do something good for yourself and the people you love, and learn more about God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness for you. Surround yourself with words and actions and people of hope and love. Turn back to God, and let Him show you the rest.
I hope to see you in church.