I hear it all the time: “I am spiritual. I just don’t go to church.” Or, “I believe in God. I just can’t handle how church people act.” They are some of the most common explanations people offer to me when I ask them about their spiritual lives. Another version of this is: “Why do I need to go to church? God loves me as I am. I can worship Him (Actually, they seldom use that phrase.) and I can experience Him anywhere.”
There are several reasons why people have this mindset. It mostly stems from judgment. People who are devout church members often think of those who do not attend church as “sinners.” Judgment occurs on the other side as well. People who avoid church often think churchgoers will look down on them for being less than spiritually perfect.
The problem here is there is a truth to this. There are a lot of people who have rendered judgments incorrectly upon those who do not walk where they walk spiritually. There are a lot of people who do not go to church, who tend to lump every churchgoer into the same category.
You’ll notice I used the phrase “churchgoer” as opposed to the word “Christian” or even the word “believer.” This is intentional. There are a lot of people who attend church, who do not live a Christian lifestyle. They are believers, but once Sunday is over they return to their “normal” lives — often lives that reflect everything except a true Christian walk. Others live their “normal” lives through the week as if they are in one continuous church service. They cannot shake your hand in the grocery store without starting an impromptu “prayer meeting” in the aisle.
We live in a society that separates spiritual life from “real” life. It is trumpeted through politics by the separation of church and state. It is demonstrated in the lives of believers who have their “church friends” and their “regular friends.” How they act in certain situations is determined by the people who surround them at any given moment. The separation widens when people challenge the true value of Christian principles as those values pertain to daily life. I have led numerous Bible studies on college campuses. I have had great theological debates in coffee shops with armchair philosophers and people who are just “searching.” Their questions often are the same: “How is this relevant to me?” Rephrased, how do I discover the value of a spiritual life within my regular life?
Life is a series of relationships. Every aspect of life includes relationships. No matter how much someone argues that he or she is not relational, relationships cannot be avoided. You relate to everyone you deal with on some level. Your connection to God is the same. It is designed to be relational. The Bible teaches us that God designed our relationships with Him to be strengthened by connecting with others who relate to Him and the church.
Going to church does not make you a Christian. But avoiding church steals from you many of the great benefits and joys that come from having a true relationship with God.
“I am spiritual. I just don’t go to church.” I ask you to reconsider. Finding the right church can help you transition your spirituality from mystical to practical, where it becomes relevant. When it does, it can add a great blessing to your life.
Byler is the senior pastor of Bethesda “The Amazing Life” Church in Hinesville.