Church of Santa Croce – Florence, Italy

I have been attending church for 34 years. I was actually “attending church” before I was even born! (Haha) I have never walked away from the church as an organization. Therefore, there was never a time in my life that I wasn’t actively attending an established church…

Until now.

Soon after COVID-19 forced churches all over the country to close their buildings, my husband and I decided to walk away from our church of 9 and a half years. It’s an interesting thing, leaving your church in the middle of a pandemic. It wasn’t my first choice of how and when I would ever want to leave a church. This whole life here on earth situation, can be a funny little thing at times. It was just one unfortunate event after the next that led us to that decision. Leaving a church is sad, heavy, and messy all at the same time. I’m seeing a lot of potential though, in this insane unknown season that God has us in.

I know that God will give meaning to the messiness soon enough. I’m resting in that even when it’s hard.

As churches start to open up, things still aren’t going to look quite the same for a while. This means things like having to reserve a spot, no children’s ministries, potential mask wearing, and people being encouraged to still socially distance. Try “church shopping” with two children, one with special needs, in those sort of circumstances. Having a child with autism means it’s very important for us to go back into a church that has a stable solid children’s program that feels safe and consistent for him. I felt disappointed until I realized that this season has so much potential for growth for our entire family, and that God isn’t done teaching me within it. Church shopping online is also odd, sad, and lonely. What a strange time. Which is exactly why for now, it just isn’t going to happen for us. COVID-19 and other unforeseen circumstances may have shut the physical doors of the church for a while, but it has opened our hearts to experiencing God in bigger more important ways.

One thing that leaving my church AND COVID-19 have both showed me is that our idea of church is so limited compared to what God is actually desiring for us, our communities, our relationships, and our families. We have created one of the very things that we as Christians say we are fighting against. Idolatry. We worship the created over The Creator day in and day out. We miss fully experiencing God because we are so busy “doing church”. The truth is, all churches do this. We will never fully get it right. As Gods children we will continue to fail at these sorts of things. I don’t think perfection is a realistic goal here. However…

Christians: I think it’s time to open our eyes and see the ways the church has been our cover up for far too long.

I think it is very easy for Christians during this time to feel that “the church” is under spiritual attack. While I do think there’s an aspect of truth to that, here’s the reality—The pandemic is making it difficult to GO to a church, but it cannot stop us from BEING the church. Please read that a few times. What if God has been trying to get us to shift our perspective on church in all of this? What if God is using the reality of this virus as a way to wake up the church and His people?

As Christians many of us have lost our way within the church, because we have lost our purpose outside of it.

What if this season was supposed to be an opportunity for us to find that? What if when we take away all of the shiny showy things that we have created, we can truly find church and what it was meant to be? What I am not saying is that great worship teams, established ministries, kids programs, a big stage, a fancy building, and fantastic speakers are bad. I’m saying that when we take all of those things away for just a season, we can embrace something much simpler. We can learn to find meaning and purpose for our lives without all of “the extras”. Sometimes the biggest lie we as Christians believe, is that something is an attack from the enemy verses a tearing down from the Lord. What we think was meant to hurt us, is actually sometimes sent by God to heal us.

Many people have felt isolated from church community during this time, with reason! Those feelings are real and valid. I do however think the word isolated, in terms of our faith journey, is from the enemy. No one is fully isolated, but without churches we have been left thinking that we are more isolated than we really are. The enemy wants us to believe that we are alone.

I think that we give the enemy more power and recognition than he deserves. Do I think that this crazy time is both the enemy and God at work? Yes. But for so many people I have spoken to, I have heard that this season has been really eye opening for them. There’s so much beauty in that and it’s worth paying attention to even if that’s not what it means for everyone’s life.

For some people, this no church season is over for you all together because churches are opening up, and the lack of kids programs or strict guidelines don’t really effect you. For our family though, the season persists.

Parents: Kids programs not existing upon churches opening up, is not an attack on Christian families. It is an opportunity to be more invested than ever in your child’s spirituality. This was never meant to be the responsibility of the church. While it is an incredible tool to have children’s ministries, it should be something that comes alongside what our children are already receiving at home. Personally I have been convicted in this area. I have been guilty of throwing my children into Sunday school and then patting myself on the back for “raising my kids with faith”, while neglecting to actually step into my calling as a parent by also teaching and discipling them myself. This is an area that God is challenging and growing me as a parent, and I think it’s also an important message to all families within the church that have been effected in this area.

I love church. I love attending church. I love children’s ministry. I loved youth group and going to summer camp growing up. I love that my kids can have that too someday. I love church BBQs. I love worshipping while talented musicians use their gifts. I love women’s ministry. I love going on mission trips. I love hearing a really good sermon and being that person in the congregation that isn’t afraid to say out loud things like “Yes! Amen!” I love grabbing a cup of coffee while potentially supporting some other ministry while doing it. I love seeing people’s lives changed by God within the church in healthy ways. I love watching people be baptized. I love walking into a building every Sunday that feels like home. This has been my life for 34 years, and I have loved it all. Even when messy, I still love it. None of this is bad or wrong to love.

I’m taking this time and space and using it to find “church” in other ways. Not because I don’t plan to go back into a church building, but so that when I do I can understand what’s important and not loose sight of what really matters. I want church to be an extension of my faith, not a distraction to it. I haven’t fully embraced what “being the church” really means for my life apart from the organization of church. I have allowed the church to shape that for me, over solely resting in what God says that means for my life.

So it’s time.

Although I have no church community to my name at the moment, I have actually at times felt more disconnected from community within the church than I feel right now. This time has made Nate and I take a step back and really focus on all of our relationships in a healthier way. I feel far from isolated actually. Of course I have moments where I miss my old church and I dream of the day that I will find another community that feels like “home”. But I also know that Gods idea of church is actually a life changing, perspective shifting MOVEMENT; one that I don’t think I’ve ever fully been a part of. “Church” isn’t just Sunday morning services and ministries, just as the “mission field” isn’t just getting on a plane and flying to Africa. It’s walking out our front door and saying “okay God, what are you doing and how can I be a part of that?

We don’t need a church to do that.

Why do you think that God has allowed a pandemic, intense racial tension, and church buildings to close, all at the same time? Maybe it’s because we haven’t been listening. Maybe our version of church is not the one that the world needs right now. Look around you. The world needs The Church more than ever.

Not the building.

I’m seeing this time as a blessing. I’m seeing this time as an opportunity to be more aware of what God is doing in my life apart from a church, so that I can effectively…. someday…

…be a part of one again.

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