When I was younger I dreamed of climbing Mt. Everest. Think about how amazing that would be… You are literally standing on top of the world. 29,029 feet above sea level, almost exactly 5.5 miles above Houston. That is pretty incredible to imagine!
So, that was my dream… Until I realized that it cost $50,000 and consumed two to four months of your life… But that is a different issue entirely!
But imagine that possibility. You’ve wanted nothing more than to get to the top of that mountain, to stand on the summit where so few have stood before. Imagine that this is your driving desire… You’ve trained, you’ve pushed your body to the limits, you’ve denied yourself time/fun/food/friends/bad habits/etc., just to be able to make it to the summit.
And now you are prepared and ready to begin… But you refuse to listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before you. You don’t listen to the advice of the Sherpas. You don’t heed the warnings of those who have traveled up the mountain before you, those who have put in the time and effort and have achieved success (or failure.) There’s a lot you could learn from their wisdom… but you image that you can make it on your own. YOu’ve trained, you’ve studied, you’ve worked hard. Why do you need anyone else to tell you what to do??? There’s the summit; just go for it yourself! Doesn’t make much sense, right?
Or let’s say you make it to base camp, you spend a little time going up and down the mountain, familiarizing yourself with it. But suddenly you notice… People here aren’t always that friendly. Sometimes they are self-absorbed. And the more you go up and down the first few camps, getting acclimated, the more trash and debris you see along the way. The more you see people’s junk, their garbage, their refuse… And you become angry and frustrated at the problems.
And suddenly you think to yourself, “What is wrong with this place? What is wrong with these people? If this is how it is going to be then I don’t even want to climb Everest? Who wants to get to the summit in the first place if this is the kind of stuff you have to deal with!” It seems kind of silly to react that way?
I wonder if our rejection of Church isn’t the same thing? According to research done by the Barna Group, approximately 60% of teenagers will drop out of church when they graduate college. Another 10% are typically done by the time they leave college. That means that 70% of young people get fed up with church and don’t come back. And these are insiders, people who grew up attending church.
In his book You Lost Me, Barna Researcher David Kinnaman interviewed hundreds individuals age 16-29 who were formerly churched but had since stopped attending. These were individuals who had grown up attending church but had lost their faith or at least their faith in the church.
- His research showed that many of these individuals hadn’t lost their faith. In fact, research shows only about 10-15% have given up their faith and become atheist or agnostic. They still believed in God; many still believed in Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God. They recognized the need for love and forgiveness. They simply felt that the church was keeping them from following Jesus in the way they needed.
- One young person made this statement about leaving the church for good: “I hung in there for a long while, thinking that fighting from within was the way to go, but I ultimately realized that it was damaging my relationship with God and my relationship with myself and I was forced to leave.” They expressed the pain and sadness they felt leaving the church behind, but felt it was the best spiritual decision they had made.
When Kinnaman asked why they had given up on church, here were some of the answers they provided. The church is…
- Overprotective: Anything “secular” is instantly seen as evil. So we create our own Christian music, movies, books, games, and reject anything that isn’t overtly “Christian.”
- Shallow: People simply come in, pretend they have it all together, get their “feel good” sermon, and go back home to live however they want. It doesn’t require anything of us.
- Antiscience: The church rejects talking about scientific theories that we learn about in school. It doesn’t answer the ethical questions that come up in regards to scientific achievements and discoveries, as well. It is behind the times.
- Repressive: Sexually, but in other ways as well
- Exclusive: No one else knows any truth, and the church also excludes people not like them
- Doubtless: It isn’t a place where doubts can be expressed and dealt with.
…I ultimately realized that it (church) was damaging my relationship with God and my relationship with myself and I was forced to leave.
And I feel their pain. Any of us who have been involved in church very long can feel their longing for something more genuine and real, something that connects us with both God and one another. Many of us have felt those frustrations while sitting in an assembly or going to yet another meeting or attending a Bible class. Some Sundays are boring. The music is flat; the person praying only knows Shakespearean English; the minister talks WAY TOO LONG…
Yet it is like giving up on Everest because of the trash. Sure, there is junk we have to deal with when are a part of a church. The church is full of people with baggage, people who are sinful and are letting God work on them. And sometimes that work goes slowly. And sometimes that spiritual “trash” shows through; we have to shed it as we move up the mountain. But others can find that difficult to deal with.
No one would climb Everest without asking those who went on before. Even Sir Edmund Hillary had dozens of people who had attempted various distances up the mountain before him that he could lean on for information, help, and advice. In our churches there are lots of people, young and old, who can teach us about growing closer to God. They’ve been there; they’ve walked in our steps. They know the pitfalls, they know the sure footings, they know what steps to take to get us where we need to be. We can’t just think, “I’ve got my wits, I’ve got my Bible, and I’ve got the Spirit; that’s all I need.” No, we need the encouragement, love, advice, admonition, and even rebuke of those who have gone on before us. The assembly is the perfect place to meet those people. We are surrounded by people who are more mature than us that we can look up to, and we can also serve as a guide for those who are coming along behind.
As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:23-25)
Let’s not give up on the church because of the problems we see, nor the pains we encounter, nor the frustrations we have at people’s hypocrisy, nor the difficulties we face in dealing with others… If we want to grow closer to God, if we want to reach “the summit” of the spiritual life, then we need to go together, work together, and push each other towards God.