I’m a pastor. This means I have a unique relationship with the local church. Unlike most of you, my commitment to my church is driven not only by my love for the gospel, God’s people, and God’s Word, but also by the fact that “church” is my job. My God-given vocation is to spend my energy, gifts, and time being involved with and serving a particular local church, Central Peninsula Church.
So, as I write this post, I realize that I have greater outside pressures than most of you have to be committed to a local church. If I simply decided to not show up next Sunday morning, a pile of phone calls, emails, questions, and complaints would come my way. I recognize that I don’t have the challenges you have, the challenges of juggling job, relationships, and church commitment. I respect the many people in my church who do this well. Yet having acknowledged the differences between me as a twentysomething pastor and most of you who are reading this, we are all called to local church commitment and we all use pretty similar reasons for excusing ourselves from such a commitment.
There are three reasons twentysomethings share with me concerning why they aren’t committed to a local church. Below is a list of these top three reasons, a brief exploration of the assumptions that I believe underlie each, and the questions I ask to help people critique/re-think these reasons, as I’ve found asking questions to be the best way to bring about a restored relationship between twentysomethings and the church.
Reason #1: “I’m too busy”
“I’m too busy.” This is the most common reason I hear for why twentysomethings aren’t committed to a local church. Have you ever used this reason, whether for a season of life or a single Sunday morning? Do you have Christian friends who currently employ this as a reason for not going to church? I used these words a lot during my freshman year of college. I have many friends and acquaintances who’ve been saying this for years: “I’m too busy to be involved in a church…I’m too busy to go to church today…I’m too busy to join a community group.” What’s the assumption underneath this?
Here’s one set of assumptions that might underlie this, “I have more important things going on…more important things to do…more important priorities that I’m committed to.” Perhaps you’re letting other things, good things, crowd out the priority of the local church. Or maybe even not-so-good things..
I’ve found that I can best serve my own heart and people I know by asking them questions that expose and challenge what’s really important to them. So here are some questions to ask…
Questions: You say you’re too busy right now to be involved in church, when do you think this might change, when might your circumstances clear up and give you more time for church? Do you really think you’ll be less busy in your thirties than you are right now in your twenties? What would you say are the 3-5 main commitments that make you so busy, that you devote most of your time to on a weekly basis? You have 168 hours in a week, minus the 56 hours a week you spend sleeping and the 50 or so hours you spend working, what are the important commitments that fill up the other 62 hours?
Reason #2: “I don’t need to be a part of a church to be a Christian”
“I don’t need to be a part of a church to be a Christian.” This was my favorite reason for skipping church as a high school student. Thankfully, my parents never bought it. This remains a popular excuse today. This is the second most common reason I hear or, more often, observe, from twentysomethings as to why they’re not involved in a local church. Some people articulate this excuse. They’re not afraid to voice it to me. Others, though shy about verbally stating their belief in church-less Christianity, are outgoing in hinting at and practicing their I-don’t-need-to-be-a-part-of-a-church-to-be-a-Christian-Christianity. What’s the assumption underneath this?
Beneath the surface of this excuse is the unstated assumption, “I’m resourceful enough, adequate enough, and strong enough to live the Christian life by myself.”
This is a big topic but fortunately I don’t have to address everything here, I can refer you to some great resources. If you think you don’t have to be part of a local church to be a Christian I’d encourage you to read the chapter “Your Christianity and Your Church” from Mark Dever’s book. You can actually download it for free right here (or get the whole book here). Or check out Thabiti’s recent article. Here are some questions to ask yourself or ask a friend.
Questions: If you had to narrow it down to 2-3 reasons, why exactly do you believe you don’t need to be a part of a church to be a Christian? If hundreds of thousands of other twentysomethings across the globe feel that they must be a part of a local church in order to live the Christian life…are you different from them? How would you explain how your take on the church jives with what the New Testament (most of which is composed of letters written to local churches) says about the local church? Matthew 16 makes it plain that Jesus died for the church, could you share with me how you square such a passage with your belief that you don’t need to be a part of a church to be a Christian?
Reason #3: “I haven’t found a church I really like, a church that fits me right”
“I haven’t found a church I really like, a church that fits me right.” This is the third most common phrase I hear from twentysomethings as to why they haven’t committed to a local church. I’m beginning to encounter this more and more. What’s the assumption underneath this?
Beneath the surface is the unstated assumption, “Church involvement is dependent upon my personal likes and dislikes…church involvement is dependent upon my preferences and tastes…fundamentally, church is about me.”
This is a 21st century excuse. From my reading of church history, I can find examples of many reasons people used for not involving themselves in a local church, including examples of #1 & #2 above. But I’ve yet to come across examples of 3rd century or 13th century or 18th century men and women who reasoned, “ I haven’t found a church I really like, a church that fits me right.” We live in an age of unprecedented individualism and consumerism. Our culture is one of endless options, one that teaches twentysomethings to keep their options open, endlessly open, so as not to miss out on that better opportunity that just might lurk around the next corner. Past generations would’ve frowned on our modern phrases: “church shopping,” “church hopping.” Without even noticing it, many twentysomethings have let 21st century American consumerism shape their thoughts on the local church, rather than biblical sentences, arguments, and narratives. And again, I’ve found that a few probing questions can help prompt a shift in both thought and behavior towards the church.
Questions: What is it that you haven’t liked, that hasn’t fit, about the churches you’ve visited? Explain to me in detail, what would it take for you to really like a church, to feel like there’s a fit? [Do you think such a church exists, and if it did, do you think other people would want to be a part of it?] Where in Scripture do you see the words “like,” “fit,” “preference,” or “taste” held up as criteria for choosing a church? What do you think about this idea, that part of God’s brilliant design for the local church is for it to be a community where our personal likes and preferences are broken down, refined, and sanctified so that we can experience a community unlike anything the world offers?
Ask these questions. Pray through them. Stick with them. Trust that the Holy Spirit can use these questions to open people’s eyes, yes, even the eyes of us stubborn twentysomethings, to the importance of the local church.
Justin Buzzard serves on the pastoral team at Central Peninsula Church in California, on the San Francisco Peninsula. His duties include pastoring the twentysomethings (singles and marrieds) of the church and preaching regularly on Sunday mornings.