Mary Coleman: Going to church

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, October 22nd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.  You’ve heard the line that church isn’t a museum for saints, it’s a hospital for sinners? Well, Mary Coleman is here with her take on why she goes to church, even when the church isn’t perfect.

MARY COLEMAN, COMMENTATOR: Church life can be rough. Like so many people, I have been offended by pastors, disappointed in elders, and accused by fellow church-goers. The Bible has been used as a weapon of humiliation in church. Small groups have been tools of exclusion in church. Music has been a source of tension in church. For these and many reasons, people flee.

I get it. The most hurtful thing that ever happened to me occurred many churches ago when I tried to share with my pastor a list of scriptures about the love of God. He told me to “burn ’em.” Needless to say, I fled not long after that.

In spite of experiencing this and other annoyances in churches, I never gave up on my quest to find a good church. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Attending church is about Jesus not people. People have flaws, but I go to church because of Jesus. He has never offended me, nor broken my heart. He has never been a hypocrite, nor caused me harm. I have never attended church simply because I was seeking out godly friends. I am a friend of God. I go to church because HE is there.
  2. The church belongs to Jesus: Ephesians 5 says Jesus gave his life for the church. Revelation 19 says he is coming back for his church. The church is important to Jesus. Since HE is important to ME, I go to church. I know modern churches don’t resemble the church of “Bible times,” but there was plenty of conflict then just as now. Like when widows were neglected in the food distribution in Acts 6. Jesus died for this and all the messiness of church life. I’m willing to help clean up the messes rather than avoid them.
  3. The church can be like family. I’ve been spurned by family members only to turn to sisters and brothers in Christ who love me unconditionally. Churches are some of the most polarizing places on the planet, but they are also some of the most welcoming. Ask around. I bet your friends have found a church that feels like home.
  4. The church offers me a compass. The Bible is like a GPS for my life, and good Bible teaching has minimized my personal wandering. After a frenzied work week, we all need quiet moments of worship and prayer to calm our minds. By serving in church, we discover our gifts and find our purpose.  Everything I am and all the blessings I know, I owe to Christ and the goodness of his church… even the churches where I hurt the most.

I know the pain suffered in a church is some of the worst we can feel. People who harm in the name of God do wound us deeply—but not irreparably. God stands ready to heal us if we take a step toward the place where healing so often happens: the church.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Mary Coleman.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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2 comments on Mary Coleman: Going to church

  1. Vicki Binder says:

    Spot on, Mary. Spot! On!

  2. Pontier Ralph A. says:

    Dear Mary Coleman,

    I’m thankful that you desire to attend church but somewhat disappointed for the reasons you give. Each of the four reason are about what you can get from church or what you can do for the church. Each of your reasons could be easily countered by anyone who thinks they can find Jesus elsewhere, help clean up the mess of life through other means, find family in other groups (like a loving family or AA or Kiwanis, or the Elks Lodge), and find moral direction and good Bible teaching elsewhere (books, pod casts, Bible college or seminary). None of your reasons are compelling but purely subjective and pragmatic.

    Much better would be the approach that it is our moral duty not only attend church, but to join and unite with Christ’s church, submitting to its doctrine and discipline and serving the church for the edification of its members according to the talents God has given each one of us for that purpose.

    When Christ said, “I will build my church” he went on to say, in the same context, “And to you I give the keys of the kingdom.” Keys are a symbol of authority – Christ’s kingdom authority, given to men to administer on his behalf on earth in the church. Paul appointed elders in all the churches, men who were called to “rule” the church (1 Tim. 5:17) with “authority” (1 Tim. 2:12). The author of Hebrews not only commands that we not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25) but also calls us to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Heb. 13:17. In Ephesians 4 Paul commands us to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (reconciliation). Unity is a God given gift we are commanded to keep or maintain through mutual love and service. In the same context, Paul affirms the unity of the church and shows us that we can only be built up in love if we are joined and united to one another as members of Christ body. In 1 Corinthians 12 he uses the body analogy to teach that no individual Christian can survive unless he or she is connected to the rest of the body. The connection is not just a spiritual connection, but one of mutual love and service.

    Given the command to keep the unity of the Spirit and to submit to those whom Christ has placed over us in the Lord, anyone who knowingly rejects the church, rejects Christ. The Church of Christ has pastors and teachers given by Christ, it has sacraments commanded by Christ, and it has discipline commanded by Christ. This has been true of the vast majority of Christian churches for the last 2000 years despite their many doctrinal distinctives.

    American rugged individualism and pragmatism is deeply engrained in our culture, and sadly even in Western evangelicalism. The trend in evangelicalism to no longer urge church membership and to encourage attendance merely for subjective and pragmatic reasons is not a healthy trend. It is contrary to what Christ commands and therefore contrary to what we must teach as we make disciples and teach them to obey all that Christ commands. I would encourage you to rethink the reasons you give others for attending church.

    With gratitude for World magazine and The World and Everything in It, I am,

    Fraternally yours in Christ,
    Ralph A. Pontier
    Pella, Iowa
    Minister Emeritus United Reformed Churches in North America

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