Most of us have become remarkably adept at avoiding intimacy. We’ve learned how to keep conversations at a surface level, and how to keep people at arm’s reach. I think we’re afraid of intimacy. Intimacy is risky business, because intimacy requires vulnerability. So in marriage, we trade intimacy for sex. With our peers, we substitute fun for friendship. And with God, we choose religion over relationship.
If we want to improve church (and who doesn’t these days?), we study about it. We hold seminars, lectureships, and meetings. We read books, plan classes, and preach sermons. We study evangelism, church growth, or missions (or perhaps something more obscure like providence, ecclesiology, or soteriology). What we don’t often do, however, is seek the face of God.
I’d like to suggest that the quickest, most reliable, most transformative way to improve church is to improve our individual intimacy with God. And this is something we must do. The church cannot do it for us. The church cannot connect us to God. God wants to have a personal relationship with each one of us, and personal relationships cannot be mediated through others. The church can make the introduction and introduce you to some practices in which you can begin to commune with God. The church can even provide some relationship coaching along the way. But the church cannot develop the relationship for you. That exists – or doesn’t exist – between you and God (Rom. 14:22).
Sadly, many Christians expect that by attending church weekly (or less . . . or more), a relationship with God will develop on its own. Or worse, they mistake church attendance and participation for a relationship with God, expecting the church to provide for them the life and fulfillment and transformation that only God can provide.
Make no mistake, the church is fantastically important to the Christian walk. But no church – no matter how healthy – can give one a relationship with God. Nor can the church serve as a surrogate for a relationship with God. The church is God’s idea, but a relationship with a church is a sad and inadequate substitute for a relationship with God.
In my next post, I’ll begin to unpack how we can foster increased intimacy with God.