What to Do When You Don't Want to Go to Church
- 2004 19 Oct
Welcome to "The Cross & the Pen," Crosswalk.com's author-to-author interview column. I was immediately intrigued by the topic of PeggySue Well's and Pat Palau's book, What To Do When You Don't Want To Go To Church (AMG, 2004). Truly, anyone who is honest will say they've experienced times of not wanting to go. I know I have, for one reason or another. Hurt feelings. Fatigue. Anger with God. I recently "chatted" with PeggySue and Pat about this wonderful little book we could all stand to read. Wanna listen in?
Eva: Ladies, I will be forthright and admit that there have been many times over the years of my walk with the Lord that I have not wanted to attend church and have even made a decision not to attend for awhile, so this book really spoke to me. Early on in your book, you write the following concerning the reasons we stop going to church: Alone the reasons seem immature, childish, or unworthy. But they begin to pile up, and in honest moments we say, "I don't want to go anymore." I found it interesting that you used the words honest moments. Pat, can you expand on that?
Pat Palau: It's interesting to review what I said! I'm not sure honest moments are what motivate reflection on the reasons for church attendance. To be really honest, the phrases that probably apply are less than honorable moments, times of spiritual coolness, a conflict of personalities in the church, selfish indulgent moments, football season (!) moments, etc. In other words honest moments of which I am not proud - and are not particularly defensible- that's when I weigh the idea of getting dressed, in the car and down to the church. Another factor may be how late I went to bed the night before. Truly honest moments would probably result in 1) admitting the urge to stay home, 2) discounting the excuses, 3) reminding myself of my commitment to obey the Lord Jesus and get together with others of like faith.
Eva: You also stated: some people feel furthest from God while in church. PeggySue, how can that be?
PeggySue Wells: We come to church desiring to connect and belong. In this spiritual family setting, we don't expect to get hurt. But many of us get shot, not in the foot, but in the heart. I get disappointed when church is reduced to a social clique I'm not a part of, or when conflict makes it awkward to see someone in the congregation. We all arrive desperately in need of a Savior, but frequently look to others for what only Jesus Christ can provide.
Eva: Christians are a part of the Church (with a big C), or the body of Christ. Why should the "Big C" fellowship within the walls of what we call the church, "little c?"
Pat Palau: The answer to why I get within the walls of the local church congregation to worship lies in the fact that the world is a very big place. I cannot embrace the church worldwide. In other words, its common sense, practical. I can bite off, work out the details of the Christian experience and why Biblical principals work in the local church, "little c". John Wesley said, "The world is my parish". However, he went every day to take communion in the closest Anglican Church, in the town or village where he was preaching. There is one universal church, but he worshipped locally, regularly.
Eva: I know someone who doesn't believe in "belonging" to a church. He loves the Lord very much and even attends a church regularly. But he refuses to "join." PeggySue, why join a church?
PeggySue Wells: Joining a church is like committing to a marriage. Because I belong to the body of Christ, I get into a church family and live with it through thick and thin. Church is where I grow spiritually, celebrate what Jesus has done for me, and where I can bless others. I belong to a church to be obedient to God who said in Hebrews 10:24-25, "Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do, but spurring each other on especially as we see the big day approaching." If ever anyone had good reason to not go to church, it was Jesus. Yet He attended regularly to teach, be a blessing, and set an example of what I should do.
Eva: Pat, why is our attendance in a local church so important to Jesus?
Pat Palau: Jesus said, "If you love me, feed my lambs." That is a command to lead, and to shepherd the followers of Christ. Nowhere better to do that than the local church. Also, in a mysterious, yet real way, Jesus is particularly, especially near to us when we are together. He said, "Where two or three of you are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of you." I am to obey, like a child, and the wisdom of it comes to me in the backward look of time and experience. Someone said, "God sweats the details." Obey, ask questions later.
Eva: Ladies, you have some great quotes throughout the book. One in particular that drew my attention (though to be honest with you, I meditated on each one), is on page 25. It reads: There are two things we cannot do alone. One is to be married and the other is to be a Christian. I found that particularly fascinating, seeing as we - the Church - are also called the bride of Christ. Tell me what drew you to that quote.
PeggySue Wells: In two sentences, Paul Tournier summarized Hebrews 10:23-25 and the premise for our book, What To Do When You Don't Want To Go To Church. To be a Christian, we must be in relationship with Jesus Christ. Our Lord created us as social beings with social needs. Alone, we are like a body that is only a foot, or a hand, or an eye. As the bride of Christ, "we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others," says Romans12:5.
Eva: What To Do When You Don't Want To Go To Church is filled with short stories from believers. Talk a bit about the diversity of the stories you received and why you chose to include them in your work.
Pat Palau: The personal stories came from our two lives, our experiences, our listening ears as we prepared for writing. PeggySue is from Indiana and I am an Oregonian. I have experienced the church worldwide in our ministry, and particularly in Latin America. I think we worked hard to get it balanced, a series of case studies. The church that blesses people and the church that hurts people. Strengths and weaknesses, and then solutions.
PeggySue Wells: Our amazing God provided one way to eternal life, through His son Jesus Christ. Yet, God honors our uniqueness by wooing us individually. By including real stories of people from all over the world, we were able to connect with readers on a deeper level. We learn from each other's rich experiences, and celebrate the world-wide Church with a capital C.
Eva: Why are we attracted - or not attracted - to a particular church?
PeggySue Wells: We like to argue that we're attracted to a church's theology, government, or programs, but I agree with Pat that we're attracted to a particular church based on our temperament. We congregate where things are done somewhat the way our minds are wired. Our many denominations are a tremendous demonstration of God's creativity. We don't have to do the details exactly the same way as long as God is the center of our worship.
Eva: One of you wrote about your childhood church memories including the old rule of not running in the church. What are some of the other "rules" we've passed down through the generations?
PeggySue Wells: Church attendance is used too often as a thermometer to judge another's spiritual temperature. Some congregations struggle over musical instruments used in worship, music styles, dress codes, building additions, and versions of the Bible. But there are many splendid rules we've passed down through the generations like delicious Sunday meals shared with friends, combining our efforts to support missionaries, and who could forget the pot lucks and annual Christmas pageants. We welcome new members and new babies, sing together, pray together, and take communion together.
Eva: Pat, my memories of childhood are nearly all centered around church...from Sunday School to singing in children's' choir, from Vacation Bible School to Youth Camps. In my early teens I prompted the Telephone Prayer Line for our church. What went on within the brick walls of the First United Methodist Church in Sylvania, Georgia was as important to me as what went on within the walls of my home. PeggySue, why is it so important for parents to give children memories of church?
PeggySue Wells: It's vital that children have positive memories of being a valuable, participating member of the church family. Otherwise, why would they choose to continue the relationship after they are grown?
Eva: Ladies, how do you respond to people who say, "The church is just full of bickering hypocrites?"
PeggySue Wells: Including me! The church is visual proof that we all need a Savior. Though we're the walking wounded, we're still a church family. We grieve with those who grieve and rejoice with those who rejoice. The church is like Noah's ark. It may stink on the ark, but it sure beats the alternative!
Pat Palau: . . .full of bickering hypocrites?" Not, it's not, actually full of them. After 50 plus year of reasonably adult participation in the world and the church, I think there are more hypocrites, if you want to count them, outside the church! Life is not a contest of degrees of weakness. Such a statement is an enormous accusation to level at millions of believers around the world, and right here at home. My job is to join in and help fix whatever needs changing.
Eva: But what do you do when you feel that way, too?
PeggySue Wells: Lincoln said whenever we look for the worst in people, we will surely find it. I've disappointed people. People have let me down. I try to remind myself to take my eyes off people and go to church to worship the Lord who promises to never leave me or forsake me. And taking note of how I'm feeling, I try to reach out and help someone else feel welcome.
Eva: Would the two of your offer up a prayer to the Lord for those who struggle with the very issues you have written about?
PeggySue Wells: Lord God, meet with us in the fullness of your presence as we gather in your name to worship you in your church. ENCOURAGE and fill us with your spirit so that we may offer grace and forgiveness to others, so that we may be your hands and feet in our local community and throughout the world.
Pat Palau: Heavenly Father, thank you for the Church universal, bought with the blood of your Son, Jesus. Thank you for the local congregations of human beings around the world who meet in your name. Help me to find a place to belong. A place of unique and real closeness that will remind me that someday I will be at home with you and it will feel just right. For now, help me to persevere in the search for community. For all those for whom the church near home is not a warm and comforting place, guide them in their search for a family of faith. We pray in the name of the One who yearns to be with us, and gave His life to make it possible. Amen
For more information about What to Do When You Don't Want to Go to Church, visit the AMG Publishers website.
Award-winning national speaker, Eva Marie Everson's work includes Intimate Moments with God and Intimate Encounters with God (Cook). She is the author of Shadow of Dreams, Summon the Shadows and Shadow of Light. (Barbour Fiction) She can be contacted for comments or for speaking engagement bookings at