That word brings up many different thoughts depending on who you are and where you are in your life. I know - I've been there!! Here are some possibilities.
*Church - stiff, strict, stuffy, boring, hypocritical, exclusive, too long, outdated, not for me, I'm not good enough, you have to dress up, everyone will be staring at me, the preacher yells, I just don't fit in . . .
I believe that those phrases are often spoken. Sometimes there are negative experiences from the past or maybe even your parent's negative experiences. Sometimes it is just an impression that you have from someone you know, a commercial you saw or simply your own thinking. Church just seems like it is for someone else - not you. You know that you are not one of those "good" people. Perhaps you have been hurt or disappointed by "the church" itself or by someone in a church. Maybe you are just afraid - afraid you won't like it or afraid that you will. Maybe you are afraid that something will have to change if you buy into this.
Well - as someone who grew up in church from the baby nursery on - I can tell you that I have had several of those thoughts over the years. It has been a growing process. The Lord has done a lot of work in my life over the years and He has used things outside of the church (Young Life, Bible Study Fellowship) to make significant changes in my life. He has also used the church in a big way.
I have had the privilege of being a part of a lot of different churches over the years as I have grown up and moved around. As an adult, I've been in some great churches that have challenged me and encouraged me. Some of these churches went through some very hard times too. I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly. After all, churches are made up of people and people make a lot of mistakes.
First Baptist Arlington - this was the first church that Alan and I really belonged to when we got married. Our young married department was so central to us building a marriage based on our faith and developing friendships with other couples. We had teachers over the years that truly poured themselves into us and invested in our growth. We lived in Arlington three different times, so this church as been key to our walk with the Lord.
Westchester Baptist Church: when we moved to Ossining NY as a young couple (our girls were 3 and 5) we found a little Baptist church to be a part of. It has about 50 people. We learned so much while we were there - about ourselves and about our God. We learned to "do" church. Everyone had to be a part to make it work. No sitting on a back pew being anonymous! We grew up a lot from this experience.
Karl Road Baptist Church: we moved to Columbus, Ohio and found Karl Road. We were there 6 years and what an important 6 years it was! We spent most of our time working with the youth. I had the privilege of being the youth director for 3 years. Our time there with students was priceless and we made life long friendships. Between church and Bible Study Fellowship - I was pushed beyond what I thought I could do and be - and as a result I grew tremendously. I will always be grateful for that experience!
The River Church: when we are in Colorado, we attend The River Church. We love this church. It is a Four Square Gospel church and it is full of life and energy. The pastor, Dwight Saunders, is an amazing man of God who is so authentic and so real that we are just drawn to him. He is a great speaker because he speaks from the heart. He shares all of his life - the victories and the struggles. He challenges us to love Jesus more deeply and to seek after the Lord with all our hearts. We never leave a service without being changed by the message he brings.
Destination Church: this is our current church in Chicago. It is a church plant (or start up if that makes it clearer) by New Frontiers. We have been a part of it since August and we have been immeasurably blessed. There were about 35 when we went in August and we average about 55 now and have had up to 80. It is fun to be in on the ground floor of a church and see it grow and develop. The people are amazing and Matt Sweetman, our pastor, is fantastic. He is a young man with incredible depth and maturity. He is humble and very real as he shares his walk with the Lord. We have the opportunity to grow and to serve and we love it!!
So - here are a few questions:
*Are you currently involved in a church?
God created us to be in relationship with others and to be part of a community of believers. Solo Christianity is too hard. We need each other. If you are not a part of a church, I encourage you to check one out. You need to go beyond just attending a service and be a part of some kind of small group - get connected!
*Is church all about meeting your needs? or is it about serving the Lord and others?
*Are you hesitant to attend a church because you are not "good" enough?
Well - join the crowd. None of us are good enough to come before God - but fortunately, He does not require that. He only asks that we come as we are and in faith and trust Him to make us the people He desires us to be.
*Have you been burned, hurt or disillusioned by the church or someone in the church?
First - I will just say that I am so sorry. I wish that nothing like that ever happened but we are sinful people and we make mistakes. On the other hand, God is holy and He is always GOOD, always GRACIOUS and always JUST. If we only look to people to see what God is like, we are bound to be disappointed. We must look to God Himself, learn of His character and then we will see glimpses of Him in people that are doing their best to follow Him.
*How do I find a church?
These days, it is so much easier to check out a church before you ever attend. Just about every church has a website that states their beliefs, their programs and what you can expect when you check it out. I believe that you will be pleasantly surprised at how welcoming and kind the people of God are.
Churches are not perfect - not at all, actually. To me, that is quite a relief because I am far from perfect myself. I need to join together with others who are struggling with life and yet are all striving to be more like Jesus. I don't know what I would have done without my churches over the years. They have been there for me when I got married, had my babies, lost loved ones and went through a lot of changes. There is a heart connection with all of those people, even if I don't live there anymore.
You can choose to stand back and be critical of the church - or you can choose to jump in there and make it a better place. A church is not a building - it is a group of people that loves Jesus.
You are the church.
What will your part be in this great story?