30Jul

Is Church Your Higher Power?

“A support group is my higher power.”

So claimed Julie Schumacher in her 2008 New York Times article.

Schumacher found herself rather accidentally actively involved in a Jewish women’s support group. Being the only non-Jewish woman herself she felt very out of place at first until she got to know the other women and heard the story that unified them all; all of them had “a teenager who has fallen apart.” See: 5 Reasons The Church Needs Youth Ministry

Alcoholism, drug-abuse, self-starvation, depression, suicide attempts, hospitalizations, etc. You name it, these women have been through it. All but one of the teenagers represented were away from home in long-term treatment.

Faith was the glue that held the group together, except in Julie’s case. She raised her kids as “compassionate disbelievers” and she self-identifies to this day as an agnostic. Her daughter is what initially brought her to this group of women. Julie’s daughter, before her bouts with depression and suicide attempts, was in the process of converting to Judaism. She was in Hebrew classes, learning all she could about the faith.

Julie marveled as the group progressed through some of the darkest experiences imaginable, all with a firm trust in God to be with them through it all. She formed incredibly close bonds with these women over the years and still counts them among her dearest friends.

But she still doesn’t believe.

Julie concludes her article, “Although I still don’t believe in God, I have come to believe in support groups…Fortunately our meetings aren’t only about commiseration. They are also – Christian metaphor here – about rebirth.”

For Julie, support groups are her higher power, her God, her salvation. She’s tragically mistaken. Julie, for all of her pain endured and burdens carried, has placed her hope where it does not belong. See: How to See God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

 

For many Christians who fill the seats on Sunday, I fear it’s not much different.

 

As churches adapt and change, newness can be exciting. I currently serve at one of those new, exciting-type churches, at least when compared to most others in our area. Generally speaking, people love our church. We don’t have a lot of the typical church problems. We don’t suffer from much division. We don’t struggle to get buy-in. We don’t have a lot of red-tape to go through to lead the way we feel is best.

There’s one significant draw back to a church like ours, and in some way it’s present in every church: some people love our church more than they love Jesus.

We are proud of the things we do right. We are far from perfect as a church but I have a quiet confidence that in many ways we are headed in the right direction as we continue to submit to God’s rule and reign over not just our church, but our entire lives.

Yet there’s this fear that church can become a higher power.

Lately it seems like one of the cool things to do in Christian circles is to try and separate Jesus from Church. Jesus is greater than religion, right? Certainly. But Jesus calls the Church his BRIDE, and I don’t know about you, but I would gladly die for my bride today, without hesitation, and I’m incredibly sinful. See: Can You Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Imagine how highly a perfect, sinless Savior must think of the Church to call her his BRIDE. So church matters, a lot. When people miss, I don’t feel the need to contact them and beg them to come. I want to contact them and mourn with them because they missed out on being a part of the bride of Christ when it gathers. See: I Went to Church Anyway

This weekend, all over the world churches will gather in the name of Jesus. I sincerely hope you find one and worship with everything you’ve got.

Be careful, or else you’ll find yourself only appreciating the things at church that Julie appreciated in her small group: the warmth of the people, the faith of mature believers, the atmosphere and the authenticity.

We work hard at my church to try and create an atmosphere that is warm and welcoming. We don’t really have any rules. You can bring a crying baby in the worship center and spill your coffee all over the place, no worries.

BUT, don’t make church your higher power this weekend. If you love your church, talk about it! But make sure you talk about Jesus more. Love Jesus more.

I love my church because I love Jesus.

I love my church but I love Jesus more.

I want to be with people at my church but I want to be with Jesus more.

I want the approval of people at my church but I want the approval of Jesus more.

Jesus > church.

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