This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Why I stay in church

Then I realized that one of our cars wouldn’t start. Of course, it was the one in the single car garage, the one with no easy way to be jumped.

The baby trips over his own feet, bumping his head on the pew ahead of us. As I scoop him off the floor, patting and shushing him, I catch my husband’s eye. Your turn or mine? my eyebrows ask as we do the dance of parenting two little ones at church …

The baby trips over his own feet, bumping his head on the pew ahead of us. As I scoop him off the floor, patting and shushing him, I catch my husband’s eye. Your turn or mine? my eyebrows ask as we do the dance of parenting two little ones at church. I get to stay, and as the sermon begins, our preschooler is plastering her notebook with yellow smiley-face stickers. I try to focus on what’s being said, but what runs through my mind is all that I noticed that morning.

My neighbor was enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee on the back deck, while I gulped mine over the kitchen sink before scooping up a child and heading to the car. A trim and athletic couple ran up the hill in our development with their chubby twins tucked happily in the double jogging stroller while I listened to “Toad Looks Funny in a Bathing Suit” for the tenth time this week. A family with smiling faces munched on blueberry pancakes at the local diner as we waited for the stoplight to change.

And I wondered, Why do I keep coming? Why do I even go to church?
It’s not just logistical issues that raise this question. In the current denominational climate, when it seems a lot of energy is being expended around an issue that pulls us apart rather than shows us to be like Christ, I wonder (and am often asked by peers who are fleeing), Why do I keep investing? Why do I stay?

I am weary of talking, listening and discerning. It’s hard to believe it is an authentic conversation with the hope of true discernment when it seems those identified as stakeholders have varying levels of commitment and investment. I am tired of being asked to participate, to wait and decide when the conversation seems to be guided toward predetermined outcomes.

Often, it feels like leaving the church would be an easier path. I don’t believe the primary call of my faith is to a life of ease. It seems one of the marks of faith is costly discipleship. Staying at the table, using our voices and sharing our gifts all require vulnerability, openness and risk.

As the ode of the oboe washes over me, as I join my voice with those around me, proclaiming the wideness in God’s mercy and beseeching the Lord for mercy, as I hear the admonition and challenge from the pulpit about sin and relationships, I know the answer to the why question that has been roiling around within me.

I stay with the church for the same reason I still invite people to my house for a meal, even if it’s hot dogs and potato chips. The ideal of two meats alongside seven sweets and seven sours was never a reality around our table. And the lesser goal of a hot and cold vegetable is now replaced with the reminder that it’s not about the food we eat but about being together. It’s about the laughter we share over the way a toddler is making sense of the world. It’s about the release that happens when we can share the anxiety we are carrying around—about breaking the pacifier habit of a preschooler, lending enough support to the coworker in crisis or balancing the demands of work and family.

I stay because of the relationships—the accountability and challenge the church community provides. It is within her shelter that I test and negotiate my insights and revelations. Within her wings I am encouraged and supported by other believers. The church is the place where the anchor of faith holds. When I feel overcome by darkness, the community is the one that holds the Christ light for me. When I am overflowing with joy, the community celebrates with me. When I am unsure of the next step on the journey, the community reminds me of where I have been and of God’s faithfulness. Then it helps me discern, asking and listening alongside me.

I stay with the church because it is God’s design for ushering in the kingdom. God’s work has always unfolded in the crowd of community. God has designed us for partnership, co-creation. Sure, it’s slow work. Yes—it’s messy business. I do not believe that God or the vision of the kingdom is limited by our ability to live as church.

However, I believe our ability to fully experience the kingdom and to reflect Christ is stunted by our ability to participate as believers in a wider community that continually seeks to be transformed by relationship with Jesus. The fruits of the Spirit must be evident in our own families and congregations before we can witness to a waiting world.

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