Many young people at some point find themselves feeling the need to break away from the familiar, to branch out and try new things or at least try going without something.
People who were “raised in the church” are definitely not exempt from that.
Some of my earliest childhood memories include things like snacking on animal crackers in Sunday school as I learned about the story of Noah and how he built a big boat and boarded it with his family and a bunch of animals.
Many of my relatives have been faithful churchgoers, and church has long been part of my family’s collective narrative. However, my portion of that story has included me questioning why on earth church was necessary.
That happened when I moved out of my parents’ Tennessee home to attend college full-time. I chose to go to a Christian university close to home that just so happened to be close enough to attend my longtime church if I so chose.
Somewhere along the way, church started feeling like work.
My university required students to attend regular chapel services about twice a week. I took required Bible courses, which I also attended multiple times a week. While I did enjoy it, a small group Bible study in my dorm was another item I had to add to my schedule. By the time I got to Sunday, I sometimes felt “churched out.”
I was strangely OK with missing church services because I had long believed that the most important aspect of my faith was my relationship with God – not the worship songs and other things found inside the confines of a Sunday service. It’s a relationship, not a religion, I caught myself thinking.
During my senior year of college, I was accepted into a cooperative study program that allowed me to study journalism and take on a newspaper internship in Washington, D.C.
While I did visit a few D.C. churches during that time, I spent many Sundays in my apartment. While my four roommates were genuinely nice people, I often chose not to attend services with them because I wanted the alone time.
That semester was an instance when a great deal of opportunity was thrown my way at a very difficult time in my life. To make a long story short, I had experienced a lot of unfortunate things the previous semester, including a car accident that left me with injuries to multiple parts of my body.
While I knew it wouldn’t solve my problems, I knew I needed a change of scenery to motivate me to stick with my studies and graduate in a reasonable amount of time. I applied and was accepted. It seemed meant to be.
Still, I was in constant physical pain due to my injuries, and I also faced new difficulties like getting used to courses that were more academically challenging. I approached my class load, big city journalism internship and part-time student worker job with one main goal: survival.
Some days, even survival seemed like a lofty goal.
Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee, a Bible and a notepad became a weekly respite from all the stress. Like I did most days, I desperately prayed that God would give me peace. Those mornings spent sitting at my dining table and watching through my window as the sun rose higher and higher above the Capitol Hill skyline felt like answered prayers for peace.
Church was only an occasional part of the equation. At that time, visiting new churches almost seemed counterproductive. While I could have spent more time looking, I never did find a church that felt like home.
Separated from my usual group of friends and church members, I began to feel incredibly lonely – depressed even. It was then that I realized the importance of community.
The Bible has this to say about that:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
I was woeful because it felt like I had no other person to catch me when I was at risk of falling. I believe God does not want us to be lonely or depressed. On the contrary, he loves us. While he is certainly capable of speaking into people’s lives one-on-one, he can also prompt his children to encourage each other.
That pretty much sums up my feelings on the importance of being involved with a Christian community, the kind that you most often find in a church setting.
While I have often prided myself in being a strong, independent woman, I have recently felt the need to get away from a “Me and Christ vs. life’s challenges” view on life and get to a place where it’s more like “Me and Christ and my brothers and sisters in Christ vs. life’s challenges.”
Don’t get me wrong; God is still the only one who can satisfy my every need. Still, I believe there is a reason for attending church that goes beyond listening to a sermon or singing worship songs or praying (all things that can be done at home alone).
No community of believers is perfect. We’re all sinners who can’t measure up to the awe-inspiring grace that God offers. But being part of a Christian community is actually worthwhile – imperfect though it may be.
Christy is a newspaper reporter and columnist in Tennessee. Read more from her on Twitter @ChristyArmst.