I was reading a post recently about someone’s journey in exploring different churches. He said that a bedrock for him, through all of the turmoil that he experienced, was his personal relationship with God.
I identify with that. Evangelicalism nowadays talks a lot about being in community—-sometimes I hear the phrase “deep community,” or “vulnerable community.” But it is my experience, and it is the experience of many others, that people will disappoint. I need strength from my personal relationship with God to cope with that. I also need to remember that, regardless of how well or how badly I fit into certain communities, God still loves me.
And yet, for me, being in a church community is important. The reason is that it presents me with an opportunity to love others. I have my personal relationship with God, and that is a foundation to me. But I am also obligated to pass on God’s love for me onto other people. For me, that amounts to shaking people’s hands in the passing of the peace, maybe even asking how they are doing. I do the former, but I can probably do a better job at the latter.
There are plenty of people who are Christians but do not go to church. I don’t judge them, for two reasons. For one, whether they go to church or not is between them and God. Second, many of the people like that whom I know find other opportunities to show love and concern for other people—-on Facebook, in social get-togethers, or in Bible studies.
What does not particularly resonate with me at this stage in my life, though, is saying something like, “Why do I need church? I can just read religious literature at home, or listen to a sermon and praise music online.” I’m not against doing those things, and I do them myself. But I believe that the Christian life should be about more than me getting private inspiration: it should involve me showing love to others.
In some settings, this is easier than others. I go to a small and friendly church, and that works out for me. Going to a large church, a church where people are not particularly friendly, or a church that has cliques may be a challenging place to show people love. It can still be done, on some level. Something else for me to remember is that, as much social anxiety that I have, there are people with more!
Some Christians would probably critique the level of love that I show to people. They would say that I am not in deep, vulnerable community, or that I am not self-sacrificial. I am not particularly interested in beating myself up over failing to meet their standards. I am just saying that, for me, I should value my personal relationship with God, but I should also take that relationship out into the world, by showing love to others, on some level. Church is a place where I try to do that.