I didn’t grow up in church.
The better part of my childhood and adolescence was spent sleeping in on Sunday mornings. Up until my salvation, I was (what we now label) “unchurched”. But when I became a Christian, all that changed. I quickly went from “unchurched” to “uber-churched” in a heartbeat. As a 16-year old baby believer, I was up at the church several times a week – Sunday mornings, Sunday afternoons and nights, Wednesday nights, and even dropping by the church during the week just to see what was going on.
I was a church junkie.
I didnt’ set out to be one. It just kind of happened all by itself. I mean, I had this insatiable craving for truth, and the church had a butt-load of activities, meetings, programs and ministries to meet that hunger. On top of that, I (and the awesome 16-year old friend who had led me to Christ) started a Tuesday night Bible study for our Christian and non-Christian friends. That was in addition to the Wednesday morning 7am Bible study we attended at a crosstown youth pastor’s home, along with regular early morning prayer gatherings with Christian friends from my high school.
To be honest, I simply didn’t know any better. I thought every christian should be as involved and committed as I was. Looking back, all that activity actually served me well. I was SO hungry that no amount of gatherings or number of books could keep me full (I read over 50 books the first year after my salvation experience).
In college I was forced to be a bit more selective and strategic about my schedule. Classes and homework helped me focus on my purpose for being at college without neglecting my spiritual life. I cut down to two Bible studies a week and church on Sunday (sounds like someone trying to quit smoking!)
In grad school (seminary), I was in class 7-8 hours a say, then afterwards reading, studying and writing another 5 hours after dinner each night and working 3 jobs in the in-between time and the weekends. Church was limited to Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights (where Bev and I led a jr high Bible study in our home). This went on for 4 years.
For the next 17 years, I served as a pastor in two different church. Needless to say, I was very busy with “church”. Then Bev and I reached a point where we decided to walk away from all that “activity” so we could focus on what was really important in ministry. We left with zero regrets, knowing we had never placed church or ministry before our family and my commitment to our boys.
The church I now pastor meets one time a week.
I know. Weird, right?
Don’t get me wrong. I do lead a men’s discipleship group on wednesday nights and and a long-distance Skype discipleship on Tuesdays. I am “busy”, but just with the really important things a guy like me should be doing. Philosophically, we believe the church shouldn’t gobble up your time like some Jabba the Hut monster. It’s never satisfied, but always wants more of you.
On the other hand, you really need to avoid being “that Christian” who shows up at church 1-2x a month, or only when it’s convenient for you. Sorry to break the news to you, but if that’s you, you’re stranded on the highway of growth, and you will go to your grave with many regrets.
So why not just instead make the time you do spend together (at church) meaningful and actually worth the investment of your time?
In other words, the church can be a means to a greater end for you. I told my men’s group this week to “use the church” and our study group as a tool to help them accomplish their life objectives. Instead of becoming a “church-slave”, turn the tables and use what the church offers to assist you in reaching your life goals of bringing honor to God by making disciples.
But doesn’t this feed into a “consumer” mentality? Not at all. Doing this better equips them to serve and give to those in the church and in the world.
This is the key to church NEVER becoming an obligation or a burden. After you’ve trimmed down to what’s really necessary and wise in terms of your involvement in your awesome church’s activities, programs and ministries, decide to PARTAKE of what you truly need SO THAT you can more effectively GROW and GIVE to others.
Sure, you may need some time to “detox”, but in the end doing this will save you from burnout and from becoming a “church junkie” It may also make your church a bit more attractive to your friends who need a spiritual family.
So, what’s in your toolbox?