You’ve read this paragraph already: Every once in a while, to kick off a discussion at our youth group (aka, the Edge), we have a script. They are not necessarily designed to give answers. Instead, they are meant to make people think or to think differently about things. We want people to look at things differently, to see things in a different light and to feel the story (and not just “think the story”—or worse, “I already know the story!”). Yes, it is also entertaining (at least, I hope it is entertaining); and yes, it is a conversation starter and not the end of a conversation. So, here’s the deal: I’m happy to share these scripts, but you will have to provide your own voices.
Lots of people struggle with church. They just don’t like it. But maybe what they don’t like is bad church. And maybe what they need is what we all need: a meaningful reason for going to church and a meaningful church to go to. In other words, what we need is a six-letter church. Here’s today’s question: What do we need to happen when we go to Church? Here’s my answer in [Edge] script form. . . .
A Six-Letter Church
Reader 1: Hey, I was just reading this verse, and I don’t like it.
Reader 2: What verse?
Reader 1: This one from Hebrews 10. It says: “And let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.” I’m just going to say, I don’t like it.
Reader 2: Why?
Reader 1: Because I don’t like church. I mean, what has church ever done for me? You go. You sit. You stand. You sit again. You listen. You daydream. You sleep. And then you go home. Why can’t I just cut out the middleman and stay home to daydream and sleep?
Reader 2: Well, I guess I have several things to say, but first, if that is your only experience of church, maybe you should stay home because church was certainly designed to be something far better than that.
Reader 1: Like what? What good is church?
Reader 2: Do you remember what one of the most frequent commands in the Bible is?
Reader 1: Remember? I just said I don’t go to church.
Reader 2: For a person who doesn’t like church, you certainly know your Bible! Good for you!
Reader 1: Good for me for what?
Reader 2: For knowing the answer.
Reader 1: I said I don’t go to church.
Reader 2: No, you said, “Remember. I just said I don’t go to church.”
Reader 1: Exactly!
Reader 2: Exactly!
Reader 1: Wait. What? I’m lost. What’s the answer?
Reader 2: You just said it. It’s “remember.”
Reader 1: Oh, now I remember! It’s remember! So, what am I remembering?
Reader 2: Well, first of all, we gather together and remind each other that God exists and is with us.
Reader 1: I might have a slight problem with that. See, I’m not so sure that God does exist.
Reader 2: That’s why we go to church. Look what happens when you don’t go to church – you forget things.
Reader 1: No, I didn’t stop going to church and then, as a result, slowly begin to forget that God exists. I stopped believing that God existed; and as a result, I stopped going to church.
Reader 2: May I ask you a question? Do you believe in love?
Reader 1: Absolutely! More than that, I love love! Why do you ask?
Reader 2: Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, you can’t see love or measure it or scientifically prove that love exists. In fact, just the opposite is true. Science would tell us that love is an illusion. It may feel like love, but the fact is—it’s just brain chemicals firing away, filling you with dopamine making you feel the warm fuzzies. Second, even though science can’t confirm love, lots of people take a leap of faith and believe in love anyway, but few people criticize them for that. Third, even though there is no science to prove it, there are few love atheists. Most people believe in love. Just saying—there are a lot of similarities between believing in love and believing in God.
Reader 1: You’re trying to prove the existence of God based on whether or not love is real or an illusion?
Reader 2: No, not really. I think that is something to think about, but I’m not trying to prove anything, except that we need these sorts of conversations.
Reader 1: What kind of conversations?
Reader 2: Conversations about love and God and church and science and the limits of science and the nature of science and conversations like that.
Reader 1: I have those conversations all the time. I say to my friend, “Hey, I don’t like church.” And he says, “Me neither!”
Reader 2: Well, no one will argue that is not a conversation, but few people would argue that it is a GOOD conversation. And that is why we need church, and we need people like you in church because we need to talk about things like this so that we can hear both sides of the issue. And we need to do so where there is a loving environment. And I call that loving environment—church.
Reader 1: You can’t have a conversation like that at church. They would kick you out!
Reader 2: I would agree with you—partially. You can’t have a conversation like that at a bad church. But you can and should be able to have conversations like this in a good church. And just so we are being honest here—I’m not sure anyone should go to a bad church. So don’t forget that.
Reader 1: Ah, there is that magic word: remember (or as you said it, don’t forget). You want me to go to church so we can have honest conversations about the deeper issues of life. I would counter that. I can have all those conversations OUTSIDE of church. So, I don’t need church.
Reader 2: But, it’s not only the conversations that are important here.
Reader 1: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s that you must toe the party line and say everything the church believes. I’m wise to your tricks.
Reader 2: That’s not what I was going to say. Besides the opportunity to have those great conversations, the church also lets you have them surrounded by people who love you. Now, if you have enough people who love you and you don’t really need other people to be in your corner, then I guess you’re fine. But remember, church is the place where the people around you love you and care for you. They may even pray for you.
Reader 1: But if God doesn’t exist, those prayers go nowhere. So, I am still not sure why I should go to church.
Reader 2: Let’s go back for a minute to our discussion about love. Let’s say love is an illusion. It is just brain chemistry. Here’s my advice: Don’t be a hypocrite. If love is an illusion, dump it! Live for yourself. Grab for all the gusto you can and be as selfish as you can—without, that is, getting killed. After all, there is no such thing as love, so do what you want. But only sociopaths can live like that. Everyone, even love atheists, behave like love is real.
Reader 1: Sure, I believe that. See, I believe in enlightened self-interest. It strives for the most good and the most happiness for myself and for the people around me. Even though love isn’t really real, I should still not act like a jerk.
Reader 2: Just for the record, I’ve never thought you were a jerk. Gary thinks you’re a big jerk, but I don’t. But what I find interesting here is that we all value things like love and kindness and justice and compassion and not being jerks and even in striving to be the best person we can be. And we value these things because they speak to our hearts as true. But none of those things can’t be proven. But they were at the core of Jesus’ life and teaching. And the church is where we follow in the way of Jesus. Even if we can’t prove that these things exist, we all know in our hearts that they do. We all innately know that there is a deeper reality than the one that we can touch and feel and investigate.
Reader 1: And what does that have to do with church?
Reader 2: It may suggest that God is one of these deeper realities and that, even though we can’t prove it scientifically, he may still exist.
Reader 1: And I guess if God exists, then it would be a good idea to go to church. But I am still not convinced, and I am still not sure how these “deeper issues” demonstrate that I should go to church.
Reader 2: Maybe this will help. The church is the place where you are reminded that things like truth and justice and love and compassion and goodness are real. They are all part of this deeper reality that is just beyond our reach, but they are there. But life tries its best to squash thinking about this “other world.” We are too busy. We are too focused on simply surviving. We are too scattered. And that is why we need to stop and dedicate some quality time to think about these things.
Reader 1: And, I bet, to remind us to live those things out.
Reader 2: Exactly! Stella Adler said this about art, but I think it is also true about church. She said: “Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.” We need to be constantly reminded of all these crucial things; that we have a soul and that a “deeper reality exists” and that we were made for another world. It’s a great quote: “Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.”
Reader 1: But again, I don’t need church to do that. I can go to an art museum and be reminded of how important it is to love, to give, to sacrifice, to be just and fair and honest. After all, Picasso said, “The purpose of art is to wash the dust of daily life off of our souls.” Take that, Stella Adler!
Reader 2: I like art and I would never argue against you going to an art museum, but again, there is nothing like a church for you to do this frequently and regularly.
Reader 1: Maybe. I only go to an art museum maybe once a year. And I go to church far less. But I do have friends, and they are my soul-washing church substitute.
Reader 2: True enough, but I would still argue that to get most of the dirt off our souls we need more than art. We need God’s Word. We need God’s forgiveness. We need God’s grace. We need God’s hope. Yes, love is important, but none of us know how to love perfectly. We need help. We need power. We need spiritual strength. In short, we need God. And that is why we need church.
Reader 1: But going to church is no magic fix. I know lots of people who go to church every single week, but they aren’t any better than anyone else. In fact, they are, in many, many regards, even worse.
Reader 2: I know. They need to stop going to a church that tells them only what they already believe and start going to a church that challenges them to think and to be better people.
Reader 1: Isn’t that basically what you said to me five minutes ago? And I agree. THEY need to go to church. I’m still not sure I do.
Reader 2: Well, at least we agree that some people need to go to church. But it is interesting that you have left out a major reason for going to church. I know there are all sorts of reasons and we have touched on most of the important ones, but there is still one more crucial reason.
Reader 1: Is it the offering? We should go to church so we can pay the church?
Reader 2: No. It is not the offering. But the verse that you didn’t like—the one that started this whole conversation—tells us why we should go to church, and we haven’t talked about it at all. Here’s the whole passage: “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Reader 1: Yep, there it is. Don’t give up meeting together. I still don’t like it.
Reader 2: But why shouldn’t we stop meeting together? Because church is a place where we can spur one another on to love the people God puts in our path. Because church is the place where we inspire people to do good works. Because church is the place where we encourage each other. And here’s the thing. Left on our own, we forget to do these things. And so, we constantly need to be reminded to love people and to do good to people and to encourage people. And we need to go to church so that we can be loved, and so that we can receive good gifts and so that we can be encouraged. Life is hard. Life beats us down. We need a constant source of encouragement, a place where we can go to get our batteries charged and feel like we are home. And we need a place to remind us to do that for others. Because if we don’t have a place that will remind us, we will forget.
Reader 1: And that’s church for you?
Reader 2: Yeah, I guess it is.
Reader 1: Well, I agree with needing people around me to love me and push me in the right direction so that I don’t become even more selfish. And I do need people to spur me on to do good works and speak into my life even when I don’t want to hear it. And I definitely agree that all of us need encouragement because life is hard. And sadly, I also agree that these sorts of conversations don’t happen with my friends as much as I would like. So, I guess you’re at least partially right: we need a circle of friends who will spur us on to love and good deeds. And if that is what church is, then I guess I need church.
Reader 2: That’s great! I’m so glad to hear you say you need church. There’s just one problem. You can’t have it. You can only have “chu.”
Reader 1: I can only have “chu?”
Reader 2: Yeah. You want a church where we people love and encourage each other and remind each other to do the right things. But that is only half of what a church is all about. Hence, you can only have “chu.” See, you left out the most important part of church; and without that part, you will never find the power to do any of the things you want to do in your “chu.” And that power is found in Jesus: in his love and grace, forgiveness and calling. See, church is where Jesus forgives us by his grace and calls us to serve by his mercy. It’s where we die to self and find a purpose for living that is bigger than ourselves. And it’s where we learn to live by faith and with hope and in love. Church is where we connect with Jesus through worship, prayer, thanksgiving and by hearing his Word.
Reader 1: Yeah, I left that part out.
Reader 2: Well, don’t feel too bad. Most people leave out the part of church you want to have. They leave out the great conversations, the challenging questions, and the healthy disagreements. They like to come and worship, but they don’t like to come and have real community.
Reader 1: So, they only get to have “rch?”
Reader 2: Exactly! But what we all need is a church with six letters, not three.
Reader 1: Maybe, but I’m still not sure. All I know is that I desperately need “chu,” a community that is truly there for each other, and will spur one another on to love and good deeds. But I also know we also need a sense of meaning and transcendence; that there is more to life than what we see or feel.
Reader 2: What you need to do is this. You need to “go” to church.
Reader 1: Wow, thanks. I thought we were beyond that. After all of this, you pull the “you-have-to-go-to-church” card.
Reader 1: No, not “go” as in get up on Sunday morning and “go to church,” but “go” as in Van Gogh who said: “When I am aware of the stars and infinity on high, then life seems almost enchanted after all.” Here’s my paraphrase: “When I am aware of God’s presence and his grace, then church seems almost enchanted after all.”
Reader 1: You want an enchanted church?
Reader 2: Absolutely, if “enchanted” means a church where people encounter Jesus as they have real conversations about real life. And that can happen on Sunday morning at church or whenever you want to have a real conversation about real life and are willing to invite Jesus in. And sometimes it really helps to be out in the night so you can see the stars Van Gogh was talking about.
Reader 1: Well, way to go Van Gogh. The enchanted church; I’m still not sure it’s for me, but I can see why you would go.
Reader 2: I’m fine with that. Just do me a favor: Always remember.
Reader 1: I have to! It’s one of the most frequent commands in the Bible. But now I have to add this to my list of things never to forget: Don’t forget Van Gogh, no, no, no!
(© 2023, “A Six-Letter Church” by Dane Lewis, River’s Edge Community Church)