On Donald Miller and Christ outside the church


image: Amy Corron Power

Donald Miller recently wrote in his blog, “I don’t connect with God by singing to Him.” Well Don, I don’t either.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t sing to God. But I find that the only time I do is in church on Sunday for about 20 minutes. At times I find myself being drawn closer to God by music, including Christian music, but those songs somehow never make their way into the worship center.

Plus I don’t sing well. While I knew this all along, it became glaringly obvious to me when I attended a Reformed Presbyterian church in college. At RP services no hymns are sung, and there is no musical accompaniment. The congregants sing the Psalms a-capella, often breaking into multiple lush harmonies as the verses change. I just stood and listened. It was beautiful, but I was a spectator, not a participant.

Don went on to say that it’s not just singing – the typical church service doesn’t capture him as it captures others. He writes, “I’ve studied psychology and education reform long enough to know a traditional lecture isn’t for everybody. There’s an entire demographic of people who have to learn by doing, not by hearing. So you can lecture to them all day and they’re simply not going to get it.”

His post drew a lot of ire. There were those accusing him of being selfish, that worship wasn’t about “getting something out of it” or feeling good. Worship and “church” was about obedience, learning, prayer, praise and community among other things. But do all of these things have to happen within the context of a Sunday service? Any Evangelical worth their salt would say that all of these things are not something to be isolated to an hour on Sunday morning. We are called instead to live lives devoted to obedience, prayer, and worship. All the time.

So why go to a church if you believe, as Don stated, that “the church is all around us”? Notice that he didn’t say God is all around us. That’s a bit different. Anyway I personally still attend church and enjoy doing so, but at the same time I don’t find that to be the time where I feel a close relationship to God or feel “worshipful” for lack of a better word. I attend in order to catch up with my friends whom I haven’t seen, to help out where I can, and to learn something – my church is blessed with more than one good teaching pastor even though we’re relatively small. And I go primarily because it’s a safe place. I attended, and later worked at, a place that wasn’t safe for those who didn’t fit a particular mold, so I value the authenticity that I see from the pulpit.

But I completely understand those who don’t find Christ in the church. There are many who have been burned by ministries or leaders to a degree that they will never venture inside those doors again. There are others who find God speaks to them in the quiet of nature or meditation more loudly than in any worship chorus, and feel that they are more “going through the motions” than being an authentic worshiper. Kind of like me in that RP church – I was there and got my program to prove it, but I wasn’t really there.

One response to this is to chastise those who seek to remain on the outside for being selfish or disobedient, or to try to woo them with marketing plans designed to a particular demographic. Both of these may come from good intentions, but still miss the point. God wants us to be obedient to his Word, obviously. But are we really commanded to go to church? We are to keep the Sabbath holy, but does that mean “go to church”? We are not to forsake fellowship with other believers, but does that mean “go to church?”

Don mentioned in his post that we all learn different ways; some more visually, others auditory, and others kinesthetic. Other authors will tell you about our “love languages” and personality profiles. So I’ll as this question…does the same Sunday service model fit for all the types of people that are out there?

“But it’s not about church fitting you – it’s about you fitting the church!” Yes I know that, and I would agree that most of us, in spite of (or because of) our personality profiles will find some kind of church where we fit in, even imperfectly. But is Jesus really glorified by someone who attends church without finding meaning in it?

If Jesus is speaking to you from somewhere – church, the woods, your prayer time, your service for others – I say you run there as often as you can, and find other believers who are doing the same thing and do it with them. There’s your church.

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