Jessica Ann Hughes is too tired to be a Christian and way too tired to go to church. She wrote a fascinating article on why young Americans find it nearly impossible to juggle church with all the other competing obligations in life. She lists all the things she does for herself, her family, her dog, and then concludes that “after processing the daily stimuli of this busy world, the Christian faith often adds another level of processing – and then pondering – information and ideas through activities like prayer and reflection, reading and studying the bible, going to church, and thinking more fully and deeply about how to live well. Thus, I feel too tired to be a Christian.” I’ve heard the same thing from others. Christianity is one more complication to an otherwise frenetic world.
If by “Christianity” Jessica means “doing things for God,” I completely understand the burden. Who can do enough? If she means having to get the kids up, cleaned, and hauled off to church on Sunday morning, I couldn’t agree with her more. If she means having to follow the pastor’s instructions about keeping “prayer times,” attending Bible studies, being nicer, and keeping the family occupied with church meetings and events, Jessica has to be right. If she means interfering with our marriage and family time, and especially with the time we should be spending with non-Christian friends outside the walls of the church (how else will they ever see and know the good news?), then I am convinced that “church” is a big fat negative and something to be avoided like our old gangster friends.
On the other hand, why is it that almost every Nigerian and Kenyan walks many miles – sometimes for hours, in their finest clothes – to be with their church family every Sunday? It is unquestionably the highlight of their week. It’s because they know they need God. For them church is where God is, right there in the praises of his people.
Church is the community that brings joy, laughter, balance, and encouragement for all the other demands of life. It is the time when we are nourished by truth from God’s Word and meet him, as he promised, in the sacraments. It’s the gathering where we can invest our time in matters that are not frivolous but actually have eternal significance. Church is where we grow in our roles as friends, parents, wives, and husbands. Jessica’s point misses the point. It’s possible to be the church and completely miss the magnitude of what this means.
Why God chose “church” as the means by which Christians are nourished and the way the world warms to the message of Christ, I don’t know! We are a bunch of sinners, if you ask me! But the Bible teaches that “church” is God’s idea, his bride, and that he loves her (Eph. 5:25). It teaches that church is God’s way of delivering the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10). There is no other backup plan and there is no such thing as a thriving, healthy Christian apart from the umbilical cord of mother church. Sure the church is imperfect and filled with sinners and hypocrites, but God chose this unlikely way to deliver his grace to a people who, in all truthfulness, really need him. People like Jessica and me. Philip Yancey said he left the church because there was so little grace there, but he came back because there is grace nowhere else.
In Peter Kreeft’s words, “The Church is not an addition after conversion; the Church is an aspect of conversion. Romeo doesn’t marry Juliet’s body after he marries Juliet.” Too busy to be a Christian or to be in church? I am too busy not to be.