I spent the first 35 years of my life in the church and I’ve known dozens of families who have disappeared from the pews because they were just plain ole ticked off. Lots of times it had to do with the color of the flowers at the front of the sanctuary. Other times it had to do with who was or was not elected to certain leadership positions in the church. Once I recall a family leaving the church because the Sunday school teacher disciplined their precious child.
Oh how I’ve judged people who have left the church. I never heard a good reason for someone to leave – until it happened to me. Let me assure you, the reason I left was a good reason. (Where is my sarcasm font?)
First, let me get out of the way all of the valid points people like me make when we are sleeping in on Sunday morning:
1. I don’t need a church to worship God.
2. If God wanted me to be in church right now, he would give me clear direction on which church to attend.
3. No one will miss us if we aren’t there.
4. I need to find a church that has service on Saturday afternoon.
5. I need to get myself together before I go to a new church. I’m a total mess!
I’m going to have to dig out the other excuses that kept me warm and cozy in my bed on the countless Sunday mornings that I talked myself out of going. Wait right here…
It shames me to admit that I stopped going to church several years ago because my feelings were hurt. I know it sounds childish, but let me try to explain. THE PREACHER SAID SOMETHING THAT HURT MY FEELINGS! Bless my heart.
I literally picked up my Bible and walked out, never to return. Oh YES, I sure did.
I was still a Christian. I continued reading my Bible. We still prayed before meals. I still attended women’s conferences and journaled about what God was doing in my life. My daughter became a Christian during this time. My other daughter decided she wanted to be baptized and talked about it all the time. I would tell her, once we find a church that will be the first thing we do!
So yes, I left church. And I dragged my family out with me. Lovely, isn’t it?
I am not going to detail what exactly was said or why it impacted me the way it did. I’ve shared with several friends and family members and their reactions are split down the middle. Fifty-percent understand why it hurt me and the other 50% look at me and nicely say, “So what?”
But I think it was what God said that changed my mind when He clearly said, “GET OVER IT!”
Since when is a preacher perfect? A preacher is a man. I’m married to a man and I know from experience that sometimes when they think they are being funny they SO ARE NOT. I’m also a human being who on more than one occasion has implanted my size 9 right into the center of my big mouth. I ask for grace all the time from the people around me – why shouldn’t I give the same courtesy to a preacher?
When we lived in Lubbock we had the best church. We met some lifelong friends who loved and welcomed us and we faithfully did life together for years until we moved to New Braunfels. Thinking back to one of our first evenings spent with these friends makes me blush and I think there’s a huge lesson in it for me.
On the 4th of July after we joined Aldersgate in Lubbock, we went with some of our new friends to pop fireworks in Idalou, Texas. Bryce was a toddler and I was about 27 ½ months pregnant with Lexi. At one point in the evening, the guys lit a firecracker whose missile seeker technology was very advanced for 1999. It came shooting straight across the yard and began exploding under my chair. I grabbed my two-year-old and my huge belly and I went tearing across the yard screaming more than a few four-letter expletives. I was mortified by my genuine yet less than lady-like outburst. And my husband even more so.
This was one of the first impressions I left on the Smallwoods and Lynns. But guess what, we remained friends. In fact, maybe even closer friends after that night. Were they shocked that a huge pregnant woman might have a lapse in good grammar when her tail is literally on fire? I don’t think so.
And to this day when we get together we laugh about it. Not my best moment, but isn’t that what memories are made of?
I tell this story to say – don’t wait until you are all cleaned up to find a church. It will never happen. I bet if you lit me on fire today I might say a cuss word. Even if my preacher was standing there. Or Jesus. I will never be perfect. Your preacher will never be perfect.
If you are waiting for perfection you’ll be waiting a long time. The church is FULL of people. Remember Jerry and Elaine’s conversation about people?
This always makes me laugh because it's true - People are people. Some are the best and some are indeed the worst.
And I have news for you. The church is full of sinners. And to remove all mystery for you, they know they are sinners. They open the door for you when you walk in. They are keeping the kids in the nursery. They are leading music at the front. And sinners are raising their hands in worship, surrendering their less than perfect lives to the One who is perfect and whose righteousness permeates through all of the gunk of humanity.
If you feel like a mess, there is no better place for you than church. I know it’s scary and intimidating. For a long time it was the very last thing I wanted to do. But I needed it and so do you. If for no other reason than obedience. Do your part and I promise God will do His.
To quote my dad, “God doesn’t care where you go, just go!”