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Allison Althoff
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Natalie Lederhouse
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November 15, 2011

Living in Jesustown

Choosing comfort over mission is all too easy.

Two nights ago my roommate, Anna, came into my bathroom while I was brushing my teeth and announced that she was taking a long break from Connect, our Thursday night young adults group. Standing there in my pajamas, I felt panicky and sad—we met at Connect, and it’s always been a good time for us and our other close friends to be together. Plus, more church is always a good thing . . . and less church is always a bad thing. Right?

I asked why she was making that decision—except I still had my toothbrush in my mouth, so it was more like, “Eye are ooh baking dat debidon ?”

“Well,” she began, “you know how every now and then, I rock climb on Thursday nights instead?”

“Yeth.” I still had toothpaste in my mouth.

“It’s just . . . been really good. I met a group of people who climb together. And I finally have one night a week where I spend time with nonChristians. I talk to them about my faith—and I have to know what I’m defending. So I’ve been reading my Bible more. I think I forgot how important it was not to be with Christians all the time. I mean, you and I lead Bible study together on Tuesdays, I go to church on Sundays, and lead junior high students on Sunday afternoons. I spend all my free time with our Christian friends. I just need one night where I’m not surrounded. One night where I’m challenged instead.”

I was surprised. A little worried too. I’ve had friends decide to spend more time “in the world,” and as a result they’ve ended up subtly slipping away from their faith altogether. But as her words sank in, it dawned on me that this could be a wise decision. As a matter of fact, it was convicting. What Anna said rang true for me too. I feel as though I’ve spent the last few years playing house with my faith. No danger. No effort. No real change.

Anna and I also have similarly church-filled schedules. On Sundays I’m at church all day. On Mondays I have movie night with my Christian friends. On Tuesdays my small group comes over to my place. On Wednesdays I’m discipled. On Thursdays I attend the young adults group. And every other Friday I co-lead worship for the over 40 singles ministry.

On top of all this, we live in the Jesus capital of suburbia, Illinois—a Christian college town. I drive behind minivans that have Jesus-fish glued to their behinds. The stores have cleverly disguised Bible references in their names, such as Icthus Photography. I’m sitting in a Starbucks right now, and I can hear three conversations taking place out different Christian organizations and churches. There are several men sporting the "seminary goatee" (am I the only one who has noticed that trend?) within eight feet of me and my latte.

Oh, and I work at a Christian nonprofit organization.

What scares me is this: If someone asked me why I spend my Tuesdays and Fridays serving for church, my dry reply would be, "Because that's what I do on Tuesdays and Fridays." Something's not right here.

With all the Jesus love that surrounds me, you’d think I’d have the spiritual life of Billy Graham. But I’ve found that the busier I am with church events and Christian “activities,” the less time I have for God. And the less hunger I have for his Word. I’ve been frustrated recently with how surface-y my relationship with Christ has become.

Growing up I attended public school. I was surrounded by people who didn’t know that Jesus had died for them. These friends challenged me and asked me why I prayed, what my church was like, and why I never drank on the weekends. They also asked me why I seemed different from them. Their questions made me grateful for my faith, and made me want to explore and enjoy my relationship with Christ more and more. I loved my lost friends, and the conversations we had about faith always left me feeling excited and alive. Witnessing to them, both with words and with good friendship, was what I lived for. It’s a beautiful thing to be the vehicle God uses to draw people to him .

But since high school, the scale has shifted further and further in the direction of “church folk.” The kinds of conversations I once had with secular friends are nothing more than nostalgia. I’m all but completely removed from that. I live 40 minutes from Chicago, a city with millions of lost people, all of them searching. And I know none of them.

I think I need a little less “church” and a little more “world” in my life.

It’s a dangerous decision. I don’t want to wander out and lose myself, as several of my friends have. And I’m certainly not giving up on church or my much needed Christian friends and church family who act as my encouragers and accountability partners. But in my anxious fear of becoming another 20somethings leaver, I’ve spent years simply hiding out. I’ve become spoiled, fat, lazy, burned out, apathetic, and scared.

Anna’s words were a wakeup call. They made me recognize just how out of hand things have become.

I’m going to step back and start building friendships with those who are still wandering: the lost, the prodigals, and the hopeless. I can no longer surround myself with only believers—while it is a good way to have my faith spoon-fed to me, it is doing nothing for the Kingdom. And I don’t think this change will be as scary as it seems. After all, God never asks us to have a faith that can’t stand up to the world he created.

Do you think it’s healthy to (at times) step back from becoming too involved in the church? From spending time with other believers, even? Is it wise to do so? Do you have any advice?

Related Tags: gospel, mission


I think it's a fabulous decision and choice!! When we stay within our Christian community, fearful of what's on the outside, I believe we can make Christ smaller instead of bigger (and may it be the people pleaser in us-pleasing fellow Christians more than God Himself-that keeps us within the church walls).

I encourage you to stop playing it safe and get out there! You'll find some amazing people who Christ finds pretty amazing too and is so ready to welcome into His Kingdom!

Blessings, Kim

Totally agree w/ Anna!

I am in your same spot. I work for a Christian non-profit and my co-workers are Christians, as are my clients. Plus I lead two Bible studies at church. (You'd never guess it by my life, but I probably even have the spiritual gift of evangelism.) I never really planned to have a totally-Christian life, I just haven't been deliberate in aligning my activities with my life goals.
I need to do something drastic to break out into the world. I'm wrestling with giving up one of the Bible studies (filled with women I love) so that I can teach at an ESOL class outreach our church is going to start.
Ashley, I wish you well and I'm cheering you on.

I definitely think it is important to spend time outside of Christian activities. If we are always around Christians, how will the world know about the hope we have in Christ? Matt 5:14-15 says, "You are the light of the world, like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and hides it under a basket. Instead it is placed on a stand where it gives light to everyone in the house." When we have the light of Christ in us, we are going to be purposely finding a way to share Him with others. Loved the post! Thank you.

Nicely said, Ashley!

This is such a great article. Thanks for reminding me of something so important, and saying it in a way that rings clear and true, without sounding judgmental. I'd love to read an article next year about the time you spent with non-Christians and how it has impacted your faith. Thanks again!

Sweetheart, you are wise beyond your years. We need to be diligent in seeking relationship over religion. Screwtape taught Wormwood, it doesn't matter if the activity Satan uses is good or bad as long as it keep us from God.

Read the first chapter of IN SEASON: EMBRACING THE FATHER'S PROCESS OF FRUITFULNESS? http://lifestream.org/blog/2011/11/18/an-amazing-invitation/

I sure hope you take that step and share as one other person said, what new and exciting things happened to you. Stepping out of the Christian coccoon allows for the God of Israel to amaze you!!! I was taught that church was for building up and edifying the body so that WE CAN GO OUT AND MAKE DISCIPLES. Unfortunately, as you say, churches have become places of refuge from the world and we are told by Jesus to be 'in the world'. We think that church is where people get saved, but few do and there are no examples of it in the Bible. Jesus sent his disciples OUT. I love being 'in the world' while living a set-apart life. Questions are always asked and I am challenged to know the Word more deeply and how to express what I believe and live more explicitly. I did NOT learn these things in church, but in the day to day challenges that were presented to me as I sought after the Lord, raised my children and lived out a godly life. Today, my young adult children are 'in the world' and touch lives everyday for the Lord. The Kingdom grows as the wind blows ...

Thank you for a great reminder and a thought provoking piece. You caused me to think again of what type of heart felt sentiment I will send to the non-Christians I am around this thanksgiving to show them God's love and witness.

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