I’m Stumped
Published in

I’m Stumped

Don’t go to Church unless you are going to a place you can Church.

The favorite refrain of my progeny when I correct something they’ve said or written is “you know what I mean.” This is meant as a defense against the suggestion that how you say something is important or at least to communicate that it is vastly less important than the general communication of the basic message. Sometimes, I agree. Other times however, I think the words we use and how we string them together are profoundly important. For starters, the expression “you know what I mean” makes the routinely false assumption that the speaker and hearer are in sync irrespective of the particular words chosen. Additionally, I think we actually end up deceiving ourselves with our own choice of words.
In other words, I think the words we use affect the way we think nearly as much as the way we think affects the words we use.
I’m thinking about that this week because of a Sunday morning discussion of someone who had decided to “stop going to church.” Some in the little gaggle of Christians to which I belong were pondering why it is important to go to Church as opposed to merely believing in and following God. I started thinking that the language we are using in this discussion may not only reflect some flawed thinking, but may actually be contributing to it as well.
I feel certain I am not the first to make this observation, but consider the phrase “go to church” for a moment. Church folks often say that “the church” is the people, not a place and often lament the fact that for many, Christianity has been boiled down to a few rituals for a couple hours once a week. I share that lament. I also think that the way we speak about church is part of what maintains this limited viewpoint.
The church, in the Christian sense, is simply a community of people who believe in and follow Jesus. Through some wonderful and terrifying miracle, God has chosen to use this community to be present in the world in much the same physical way that Jesus once was. So, you can not really “go to church.” This is essentially like saying “I’m going to Stump family.” It should make no sense. The reason we all understand the expression reflects the emphasis we have placed on one particular function of church — to gather like-minded believers together to worship. I should note that I believe this to be a tiny fraction of the mission of the Church and it would actually not even be on the top of the list of “things the Church should do.” I’m not suggesting Christians should not gather to worship, only that this gathering is not the full or even primary mission of the Church.
Personally, I believe the way we talk about church as a place has a variety of detrimental consequences. One, it makes us think that our little part of a larger community is “the church” which tends to promote a separatist view that I do not think is healthy, or Godly. Second, as observed above, it suggests that Christianity is primarily about what happens at a particular location of our choosing. Third it has the limiting affect of leading one to believe that their Christian community can and should consist primarily or exclusively of the people in the walls of the established meeting place of their congregation.
The church is not a place to which we can go. It is a community to which we may choose to belong. It is my identity regardless of where I am. I can not go to church or stop going to church. I can engage in community or not, but that is a choice I make daily, not weekly and has little to nothing to do with any particular place.
I suspect the response of anyone who reads all the way to here despite the lack of anything in this post likely to go viral, might be “yeah, but when I say I’m going to church, you know what I mean.” That’s true. I just think it may mean something more than you think and may be contributing to a sort of cage where we unconsciously keep the church to everyone’s detriment.
So, I will continue to go to worship on Sunday mornings. I will continue to seek community with my particular congregation, but I’m going to try to be more mindful of my language so as to not unwittingly attempt to confine God to a particular place, time or group.
Just something to ponder…perhaps on your way to church*…
*(maybe this expression would make more sense if we started using church as a verb).

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Joshua Stump

Joshua Stump

I am a Dad, a husband, a son, a brother, a follower of Jesus, a lawyer, a songwriter, and just generally someone with a lot of strong opinions about stuff.