What do McDonald’s, Walmart, your local high school, Christian school, any back alley, and your church facility have in common? I suppose there are several ways to answer this question. How about this? You can “make out” or smoke weed in any of those contexts.
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And you ask, “Smoking weed at church? Or, “Do kids make out in the parking lot at church?” Yes. They do it more than you may think. I am not making a case for this kind of sinful activity or suggesting that anyone do these things.
But the truth is that I have counseled scores of teens, many of whom have told me how and where they chose to sin. Two of the more common places are their Christian schools and their local church buildings. Regrettably, these transparent admissions are not a surprise to me.
My early church going experience was an opportunity to find pot from the deacon’s children. I’m not singling out the deacons or any other church leader. It just happens to be that the deacon’s children at my church had good weed.
Of course, many other kids had good weed too. But your local church is not a “sin-free zone” any more than your local McDonald’s or Walmart. Sin does not care about context. It only cares about captivating the souls of men and women (James 1:14-15).
Should we be surprised if the enemy invades our places of worship to do their dirty work? Any good tactician would want to penetrate their adversary’s territory to weaken their defenses.
It Is a Building
Part of the deception happens when we use sentimental or traditional language to talk about the local church building. This misunderstanding can create a disconnect from sound theology. For example, we like the word sanctuary as a label for where we assemble to worship the Lord.
It’s not a wrong word as long as we understand that in the most technical sense the sanctuary is just an auditorium. The meeting place does not make you more spiritual or any closer to God. It is merely a room where people come to worship.
It is also a place where some married couples have had their biggest fights. Even Children have been known to manipulate their parents in the sanctuary. These parents spend the entire service in the “sanctuary” nervous and frustrated because of the child’s misbehavior. Rather than focusing on Jesus, the parents are more concerned about how others are perceiving them (Proverbs 29:25).
Have you ever sinned in the sanctuary? I have. Lucia and I have had more than a few arguments in the place where we worship the Lord. Agitated and unreconciled we endure Sunday morning until we can get home to finish our arguing.
Another appellation we give the church building is the word church. We say we are going to church. Technically speaking, we are going to the church’s building—the meeting place where the church gathers to do religious activities. The building is not sacred. Theologically speaking, it is not the sanctuary.
It would be easier for us to understand this if we met in a place like an American Legion Hall. I had this experience in Queens, New York. Or, what about Joe’s Ham House in Scottsdale, Arizona? A few years ago we planted a church, and our first meeting place was a dance studio. It served us well.
When we passed the dance studio during the week, I would comment how we also met there as a local church. It was a multifunctional building. I suppose you could “make out” in a dance studio and get drunk in an American Legion Hall.
This concept reminds me of a time during the late eighties when we had the joy of serving some friends in Queens, NY. Shortly upon arriving at the American Legion Hall on a particular Sunday morning, we began straightening up the place before the church gathered.
The smell of vomit and alcohol from the festivities the previous evening were still wafting through the air. Though saddened by the depravity of the Saturday night activities, we understood what was up, and it did not diminish our worship.
The local church building is similar to any other context where folks may choose to sin, whether it’s smoking pot, making out, or arguing with your spouse. There is no place on earth where people cannot sin. The best thing we can do is become more theologically honest and precise about how we think about ourselves and what we do, which we can do in two ways.
- Reaffirm the people are the church, not the building.
- Determine to be transparent about your life.
I Am the Church
First of all, we are the church, not the building where we meet. This idea is more than a minor point of theology. If you believe you are “going to church” rather than “being the church,” you can easily divide your life into a dichotomy.
Going to church is a singular event. Being the church is an ever-present, unending experience. If going to church becomes more prominent in your thinking, it would not be a stretch to think you’re supposed to be more holy at church.
Is there a place where we should be more holy? Maybe you can ask the question in reverse: Is there a place where we should be less holy? Holiness is an expectation from the Lord, with an ever-reaching call. The context for pursuing holiness does not matter.
Just do it.
All the time.
The church building is a special place where we baptize our children, and God is engaged. Some of the most critical moments of our lives have happened at our church facilities. Still, yet, it is just a place.
He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). – 2 Kings 18:4
When the good king Hezekiah began to reign, one of the first things he did was destroy the brass serpent. This idol was the serpent the Lord told Moses to make for the sparing of the sinning Israelites from death (Numbers 21:8).
The serpent had become an idol to worship rather than a means to experience the Lord. The thing the Lord used to help the people get to Him became an object of worship. A pole became the thing rather than the Lord.
The brass serpent was a picture of the Christ to come, but it was not the Christ (John 3:14-16). The people had forgotten the purpose of the serpent and elevated it to a position that distracted them from what the Lord had called them to do.
The Jews who became believers had a similar problem in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. They would not eat meat which was sacrificed to idols because they placed a wrongheaded spiritual significance on the meat.
Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. – 1 Corinthians 8:8
Our local church facilities are nothing more than contexts for us to grow closer to the Lord. While they can hold a sentimental place in our hearts, which they should, these contexts are disposable. They should never be overly-elevated to something that the Lord does not intend.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16
God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – 1 John 4:12
The actual sanctuary is in us currently. We are the church where the holy and living God dwells. This theological truth is not only powerful and liberating, but it is exciting. We are released to be holy in every moment and context of our lives.
We are not called to create multitiered contexts where there is a requirement for more holiness because of the venue. I am to be just as holy in the bedroom as the boardroom. And the temptation to sin can come at any time or in any place.
I Am Transparent
The better we understand who the church is, the less we will be surprised with where the church is tempted to sin. Context don’t matter. We can sin anywhere. This news should compel us to speak more freely about how we struggle.
I praise God when a teen tells me he got weed at the church building. Though I am sad that he is smoking marijuana, I’m thankful he would say to me where he smoked his weed.
The things I am praising God for are his honesty, trust, and desire to talk about where and how he struggles. Wouldn’t it be great if someone who is part of your church approached you this Sunday to share how he had been sinning against his wife and asked for your help?
How is that different from the teen who gets his weed at church and tells me about it? If the husband did tell me about his problems, he would have two things in common with the pot smoking teen: he would be acknowledging his capacity to sin, and he would be seeking help to change. How cool would that be?
If our first response is, “What; you smoked weed at church? How could you?” That is not how you want to start a conversation with any struggling and transparent person. How about if you said,
That makes sense. I’m certainly not surprised by what you told me. Shoot, I smoked weed when I was a teen. The cool thing is that you’re telling me. I appreciate your willingness to be honest and open about some of the things you’ve been doing.
From that point, you could quickly move toward a redemptive plan for the teen.
Teens smoke weed. Teens make out with other teens. Teens don’t discriminate where and when they do these things. In an immature and twisted way, they may have a better view of what the church building is than some Christians. It is just a place where people live out who they are.
What if we saw the church building as a place where we lived out who we are? That may be a significant shift in the minds of many Christians. To be honest and transparent on Sunday morning or any other time the church congregates could be the beginning of a revival.
What’s in Your Heart?
The key here is not so much about what you do or where you do what you do, but are you honest about what you do. I have had many teens tell me how they have smoked weed, popped pills, and made out at their local church property.
I praise God they would have enough trust and forthrightness to tell me what had been going on in their lives. Truth-telling is a good start for any relationship. Their honesty and transparency motivate me to emulate them.
Who wants to pretend things are okay when they are not? These kids sit in my office, and none of them brag about what they have done. They speak matter-of-factly, and they are seeking help to change.
This opportunity is a remarkable turn of events in their lives. It’s not the finish line, but the starting line. The first step in the change process is to reveal the whole truth about who you are and what you have done. How about you?
Do You Sin at Church?
The real question you have to answer is this: Do you sin at church? Of course, you do. I do too. As I have said, Lucia and I have gotten into some of our more memorable arguments on the way to the church building.
As we pulled into the church parking lot, we put on our church face, while wearing our church clothes, mustering up a church attitude, so we could walk into our church building to do church with our friends. Do you see anything wrong with this picture?
You can do what I’ve just described at any time and in any place in the world. Your local church building does not insulate you from sin or prevent you from sinning, regardless of the type of sin it may be. My teen friends have been smoking weed and making out at their local church buildings. What have you done on your church property? How do you need to change?
Also published on Medium.