Do you have to have your life together before you can come to church? Do you have to be completely healthy, wealthy, happy, and content before you can make church attendance a priority?
Acts 2:42-47 tells about the Early Church. After the church started forming...
...as verse 44 states, “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.” They sold their property, worshipped together, shared meals, and made being together a priority. They did this, the text says, “all while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people (v47a).”
Nowhere in this passage, or any other throughout Scripture, do we see believers waiting until their life was good before they began meeting together. Nowhere do we hear that the church was made up of the people who were completely healthy, wealthy, happy, and content. In fact, most often, the church was made up of messed up, screwed up, sick, poor, and distraught individuals.
Jesus tells us that it is when we are at our weakest we should come to Him. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).” Since the church is supposed to be the place where we can encounter God, experience His love and peace, and fellowship and commune with others trying to do the same, it makes sense that we should head there exactly when things aren’t good. The church should be the place we go to when we are sick, sad, heartbroken, and downtrodden.
I have spoken to many people lately who have been away from their churches for a while. When I ask them why, I get responses like this: “I will come back to church when things start getting better.” “I’ll be back when my life is more on track.” “Things are just too crazy right now for me to come to church.”
Where did this idea come from? Why do people think they have to be perfect before they can go to church…or at least they have to look perfect? Isn’t the church supposed to be the one place you can go just as you are, where you can go to find help and healing and wholeness? Jesus never told Peter that people had to be perfect to come to church. In fact, isn’t church the place where imperfect people come to find the only One who is perfect? Is it possible that being away from the church is making life more difficult? Maybe being away from the church causes us to drift farther away from God, which leads to many more problems in our lives.
I don’t have the answers as to why people think this. Nor do I really know the ways to counteract this thinking. But what I do know is that we need to really think about what it means to be the church. As a part of this body, everyone is important. When you aren’t here, we aren’t whole.
We, each and every one of us, as a part of the body of Christ, need to reach out to those around us who are missing. We need to show them they are loved, accepted, and needed just as they are. If I were gone, I would certainly want to know that someone missed me. We need to do the same for others.
In the Early Church, “all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.” That was the church. We cannot ever hope to be the church that God has called us to be when we don’t do all we can to make sure everyone meets together.
The culture of the church needs to change. It isn’t going to change overnight, or easily. But neither is it going to change if we just set back and accept the way things are because that’s the way they have always been. We cannot be the church if we wait to come until we are perfect. And we cannot be the church if we are not all here.
Cori Cypret is the pastor of The United Methodist Church of Coopersville.