It's true: I have not been to church this year. Yet, I feel I have grown no less as a Christian in this time than in the last couple of years we attended church. So, how is this possible?
Years ago, before I and my wife had children, we used to attend small churches and assisted with a couple of church start-ups; unfortunately, due to financial and man power constraints, they failed to last. This was a shame because small church groups are great at providing the things bigger churches lack.
Close fellowship, a more dynamic structure, avoiding religious repetition and more accountability are all things small churches do well, not to mention the ability to have your children more involved and visible at all times.
Time for a change
People come and go in their involvement in small church and home groups and before we knew it, there was just us at home—now with children! About 12 months ago we decided to visit local churches. The churches we visited were of the 100 plus variety, very organised with lots of man power and structured.
Silence of the lambs
When we attended with our small children—at the time aged 1½, and 4½ years old—we found that we were basically just managing our kids the entire time.
During the music we were constantly 'shushing' our kids with varying degrees of frowns from people, then one of us would accompany the kids into the crèche. Our then 1½ year old did not—and still does not—take well to loud noises or being left alone, with his autism spectrum disorder making things challenging. Needless to say, my wife and I would usually both end up in crèche!
When we did get to converse with church members, it was only for a brief period. I recall once getting into conversation and after no more than 4 minutes, realising our son was missing! We found him wandering around out the front of the building!
By the time we got home, we were exhausted and could not even recall the details.
Guilt. But for what?
So I pondered and prayed over the question: how can attending a church feel so wrong?
Feeling guilty, we decided it would be better to just not attend for the time being. When we bump into to fellow Christians we usually get the slightly raised eyebrows look when explaining we are 'currently in between churches'.
So, since the end of last year, we have not attended a church.
In previous smaller church groups we would let our kids roam about—and they were usually encouraged to do so. I still recall our daughter walking around, not really interrupting anyone and joining the pastor in the pulpit while preaching, just watching what he was doing.
Everyone accepted people's kids and they became part of the service! There's nothing like seeing them dance and sing—albeit slightly un-coordinated—freely during worship.
As Jesus said in the book of Matthew, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these'.
I asked God in my prayers to direct us to a church and fellowship in January 2015. In the meantime, I decided to devote my daily spare time to the Lord.
I obtained a variety of audio material—including the Bible in audio format—and began to listen to these during the travel times. I mixed it up with prayer and have a notebook on hand to jot down points.
Without going into detail, I have had several long-standing questions answered during this time and as a result I have had quite a boost of faith and understanding.
Fellowship and tithes?
We still have regular fellowship with our Christian friends, so we have not given up 'meeting together'. In fact, I usually have more to converse about during fellowship with friends as I have been listening to so much diverse material!
But what about other things, like tithing? While I do not personally feel we are 'required' to give 10%, we do give where possible, both in time and money. Sometimes 100%, sometimes 1%—as situations in life are dynamic.
Currently, we regularly give to certain missionaries, direct to the individuals in those countries and other local groups and ministries where we felt led to give to.
Grace in the in between
After all, believers are the Church, the body, not the building we gather in or the denomination we choose to side with.
1 Corinthians chapter 6, verse 19 states that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. And as Matthew chapter 18, verse 20 states: 'where two or three gather in his name, there he is with us'.
I don't dispute the benefits of institutionalised church groups, or the scriptural importance of meeting together, but I feel the Holy Spirit revealing to me that I should not feel guilt for what other people think during times that may seem un-orthodox to them.
I feel God is where he wants me at this time and as sure as the seasons change, so will his direction on our lives.
But what really matters at the core of it all is where your heart is day by day—with Jesus.
Michael Dahlenburg is an Electronics Engineer currently working in the ATM industry. He is non-denominational and has previously been involved in church plants and assisting those in ministry. His interests include; enjoying family, home DIY, gardening, most things tech-related and driving his wife crazy with a constant stream of inventions! He lives with his wife Michelle and three children in God's own land of Southern Adelaide, Australia.
Michael Dahlenburg's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/michael-dahlenburg.html