I haven’t been to church in a couple of months. I needed a break, not from God but from some of the dynamics that inevitably appear when you attend a church for over a decade.
It’s been nice in some ways, a relief. But in other ways, I feel a little bit unmoored. My Sundays have no particular shape, so I end up feeling even more disappointed on Sunday night when I have to go back to work on Monday. I have been a churchgoer all my life, so this much of a break is a big change, and I am not sure it is for me. I think I might be a church girl, and I have been glad to have the chance to figure that out for myself. Those uncomfortable dynamics aren’t going to be fixed when I decide to go back, but it’s nice to feel that I can choose them for myself rather than feeling stuck inside of them.
Soon after I decided to take a break, I requested a review copy of How to be a Christian Without Going to Church by Kelly Bean. I did it sort of as a joke, so I could read it and Mike could raise his eyebrows at me. (He’s been going to church a little bit.)
The book, as you might imagine, is about what it looks like for many people who are faithful believers but who no longer see traditional church as a priority. I should say that some of the most faithful Christians in my life are not regular churchgoers, so it was not difficult to convince me that there are other options than showing up in nice clothes at 11:00 on Sunday morning. Bean writes about other ways that practices and faith are possible even without Sunday morning services and Wednesday night Bible studies. These are not necessarily mind blowing things – home services, gathering for meals, and serving your community are not new ideas, but I appreciated how she framed them as opportunities for connection and spiritual growth. I was also challenged to consider how much I compartmentalize my church life because I can easily return to it every Sunday rather than letting it be a natural outpouring of my daily life.
One of my strongest objections to the book as I was reading it is that the author had experienced a certain amount of privilege in the ways that she experienced “church” even as a nongoer (her term). For example, they had a home large enough to house people who needed it and money and food enough to share as well as time to give. I was impressed with how she addressed this at the end of the book after experiencing some financial setbacks within her family.
I think How to be a Christian Without Going to Church addresses issues of vulnerability and authenticity (even though those are kind of cliches) that many people feel when it comes to living out their faith. It’s a good read even if you are comfortable with your church attendance because it offers so many practical suggestions for connecting with those around you. Even though it turns out that I am probably a church girl, I enjoyed reading this book and having the opportunity to figure that out for myself.
I haven’t been to church in a couple of months. I needed a break, but I think I will go back. Reading this book helped.
Does the title of the book still bug you? Kelly Bean addresses that well here.
I received a copy of this book through NetGalley but my opinions are my own.