It seems that going to church equals; arrive, put a smile on your face whether you feel like it or not, sing two songs, listen to announcements and a sermon, feel guilty, then sing another song, and you’re done. Exit as quickly as possible and medicate the guilt with chocolate on the way home. One hour and ‘check!’; you’re done your religious duty for the week. Now you can go back home and continue with life as usual.
Does this sound like any church experience that you know of? If it does, I don’t blame you for not wanting to go or not going at all. Truthfully, what’s the point. Church attendance alone does not save us or help us in this life. God is not up in heaven with His little book, keeping track of every time you darken the door of a church. Church attendance is not what He’s after.
However, if your church attendance teaches you something about the Lord, helps you to know Jesus better and/or provides you with an opportunity to know other believers and connect with them, then church attendance is a very good thing and can help you to grow as a Christian and improve your life. There are definite benefits to going to church if it is something you want to do. It’s even better and possible if your church experience becomes a God experience! That’s what we really need; to encounter God, not religion.
Sadly, there are many of us who have gone to church in the past and have been hurt or offended by someone at church. Unfortunately, Christ followers are not instantly made perfect when they decide to believe. There are no ‘delete’ buttons to erase the wounds of our past in a moment of time, so we continue to operate out of unmet expectations and disappointments of the past. When we repent and commit our lives to Christ, our spirits are made alive right away but our souls are healed gradually over time as the Lord works within us. So churches are run by Christians who are on the way to being Christ like but haven’t yet arrived and more often than they realize, they (including me!) make poor decisions, allowing words that cut to escape our lips and they permit bad attitudes to remain in their hearts.
If you have been wounded by someone at church, would you allow me to represent them, and just say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the way you’ve been treated and perhaps judged. I’m sorry for the way you’ve been pushed aside and made to feel less than everyone else. I’m sorry for not ascribing value to your feelings and thoughts; for not honoring you as we should have. I’m sorry for not loving you.”
I’ve been a Christian for 27 years and have been attending church regularly my whole life but I confess to you that I have not done a very good job at loving those around me; especially those outside of the church. I have been critical and judgmental, and I’m sorry.
Here’s what I think operates in us, at least in part, when we fall short in this way: fear; the fear of not being accepted by others and the fear of rejection. That’s what we do isn’t it? We reject others before they have a chance to reject us. If I don’t love others and enter into deep relationship, I don’t get hurt. At least that is my wounded and fallen reasoning within. Can you relate to that?
With all relationships there is a risk. We risk being hurt and rejected, especially when we choose to be vulnerable. We risk having our hearts broken when we allow ourselves to really love others. Thank God that this is not the way Jesus is with us.
When Jesus walked this earth, He entered into relationship with everyone and anyone, and in the end, almost all of them rejected Him; even his most devout followers scattered. Yet, after all that happened, after He was raised from the dead, He sought them out again and restored relationship with them. He quietly waits and longs for us to come back to Him too. He still desires to be in relationship with us and He still desires to touch our lives, your life, even after we’ve rejected Him all this time. He just continues to knock on the door of our hearts, waiting patiently for us to open it. There’s not many like Him! He is truly forgiving and merciful, long-suffering and gracious. He is unhindered by your rejection of Him and He relentlessly pursues you still. All you need to do is whisper, “Jesus, I need you” and your life will never be the same.
Do you know that going to church is not required to be in relationship with Jesus? Do you know that you can be a Christian or a Christ follower without going to traditional church? Some people just don’t like church. They find it boring or unhelpful or confining perhaps because of all the ‘rules’, overwhelming, or maybe even disconnected if the church has a large congregation. And that is fine. However, the Bible does say not to abandon meeting together (Hebrews 10:25) because we need each other for our mutual edification and encouragement. The Bible also says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) In other words we help each other grow, learn, understand and know God. It is very difficult to be a Christian living in isolation. We were meant to be in relationship and community with one another, satisfying our need to belong and to be part of something greater than ourselves.
Small ‘house churches’ are gaining popularity right now because of these very things and can provide many with connection and fellowship. The internet is also very useful for teaching small groups in homes. The options seem to be endless these days!
Find what’s right for you. Make the connection, first with Jesus, then with other Christians so that you are strengthened in your faith and then with the world. If you’ve been connected before but severed that connection because of offense, please forgive us. Don’t lose out on all that God is and has for you because of us and our weaknesses. Forgive us and take the step to re-connect with Jesus and other Christians perhaps in your family, neighborhood and work place. You know who they are. Then trust God to lead you to where you should go to gather together for worship.
Be connected, then be blessed! Through the Lord Jesus, re-discover the true faithfulness of God in your life.