By Shedrick Byrd
Two weeks ago in the November 12-16 issue of the New Journal and Guide, I submitted an article entitled “Spiritual but not Religious.” The article generated some much needed discussions about church attendance. The vast interest prompted me to further reflect and share some of my encounters with a few people who engaged me after reading the article. I hope this article will inspire others to further discuss why people don’t go to church and maybe come up with some workable solutions.
I encountered one reader who said he was spiritual but not religious so “what’s the big deal”? He didn’t see the benefit of going to church when he could stay home, watch morning services on television and not have to get out of bed.
On that particular issue I told him by staying home he was not able to interact with others and learn on religious matters he did not understand. Television is a one-way communication tool. Whatever spiritual issues he may have been dealing with during the week, he would not be able to share or interact with others and gain insight about them.
We both agreed that there were many reasons people found for not going to church. One of the most prevalent ones is a belief that you can gain as much religion by staying home as you can by going to church. Others were the sermons are boring, too many money collections, and preachers beg too much. Also many of the church members are too pious and too holy to give a warm reception to people. As the saying goes “They are so heavenly bound, they are no earthly good”! There were other reasons – some substantive – but many were trivial.
As I stated in the aforementioned article, many church attendees do not understand the Bible and scripture well enough to enjoy the word of God during the sermon by the Pastor. In my view, high technology has had a significant impact on church attendance. In addition to television, we have computers, cell phones, ipods, ipads and other information sources that get the attention of none’s or non-church goers. The solution for that problem is learning and understanding the Word as written through guidance of able pastors and readers in the church.
Let me stop here to make my disclaimer – I am not a Bible scholar nor am I a pastor or even have a full understanding of the Bible as a whole! I am speaking my opinion based on my longevity and lifelong experiences as well as my participation in Sunday school and Bible Study classes in recent years. In expressing my opinion, I seek to generate further discussion on and interest in learning to interpret the Bible.
For me reading and understanding the Word is no easy task. But I have over time made some progress, enough to understand the message the Pastor delivers on Sundays. Learning the Bible does not come solely from attending church on Sundays. It comes more significantly from attending weekly Bible studies and Sunday school and yes, self study.
It’s also aided by understanding your mental psyche and how it’s shaped by your religious past. As a child I had an opportunity to learn the Bible but in defiance of my mother making me go to church so often, I went to Sunday school but I closed my mind to the teachings. As an adult in my first attempt to learn the Bible, I didn’t like or understand the teacher’s method of lecture only, with no discussion. So I dropped out of Bible study classes. At an older age, I finally hit pay dirt by attending Bible study and Sunday school. In both settings, questions and discussion are common; contemporary examples are shared; and applications are made to our daily lives.
Recently at my church, we revised our children Sunday school classes to be more inviting with contemporary and practical teaching. The effort is to teach the children at their pace and their level so that they have fun learning the Bible by comparing those days to today’s world.
Allowing them to have their say increases the likelihood they get the message while understanding the written word. Many learn at a different level and see things in a different light. We try to interact with them at their level.
From my point of view the Bible should be used first like a text book is taught to readers. Then the learner reads to grasp the big picture of the scripture, it is the inspired word of God.
Many people read the Bible and take it literarily or misunderstand the words. Many of these people go out to witness to others based on their understanding of the Bible. Sometimes their delivery is overpowering to others. These people don’t seem to be guided by instruction but only what they believe.
Let the SHAW’s (stay home and worship) types open themselves to learning more about the Bible, and trust me they will have a greater love for coming to church on Sundays!
Shedrick Byrd is a contributor to the New Journal and Guide and a Deacon at Covenant Presbyterian Church.