With this entry, I have in mind those who are either weary or wary of church. Even to you, maybe especially to you, Jesus says, “Come to me . . . “(Matt.11:28-20)
Let me explain what I mean. I have always felt an affinity with those who feel like they just don’t fit in. Whether because of upbringing, experience, temperament, or a combination of all these things, you find it hard to “fit in” with any kind of group experience. When you add the expectations (real or imagined!) of what is required of you to be in a church, this scared you. So now we have “weary, wary, and scary ” in how we view church! Then, if you are not careful, this makes you angry. You begin to think, “those hypocritical Christians, how dare they think they are better than me.” Seriously, even thinking about coming to a church service and being around Christians, let alone actually doing it, scares many people. I write for you. I get it. For years, even after becoming a Pastor, I didn’t feel comfortable around other Christians. There were many reasons for this, mostly related to my insecurities. And, I would unwittingly project my insecurities and fears onto others. I mean, I didn’t like myself very much and so I was convinced other Christians, because they were most likely better than me, obviously couldn’t like me either! Mind you, most of this is going on in my head, and really didn’t reflect reality. Playing the game of, “I’m good, I’m fine, praise the Lord, blah, blah, blah”, made me even more weary and wary. It’s only been the last few years where I truly don’t care what others think about me. That’s a bit of an overstatement. Of course I care. As someone has said, “I value what you think about me, but I can’t find my value in what you think about me.” (Identity issues and where we find our value, while related, would be a whole other blog post!) I write today to encourage those of you who don’t feel like you could ever “fit in” to a church. I also would suggest, we best “come to Jesus” when we “come to church”.
As I ponder these things and seek to encourage, I give a shout out to my Wednesday morning Pastor’s prayer group for helping me find there is a place for all of us, no matter how you feel. Let me explain and then try to apply. For the past several years, I have been meeting every Wednesday morning with a diverse group of Pastors/leaders to pray for and seek revival. We are different in ages, economically, racially, denominationally, temperamentally, and just about any other way you can imagine. Yet, we love one another, accept one another, honor one another, and don’t expect one another to act all the same. We enjoy one another. Being in this group, I have experienced and seen modeled, that there is a place for me. I don’t have to pray like everyone else. I don’t have to look at things just the way everyone else does, but I am valued and loved. I am also learning to value and love my fellow Pastors and leaders. We are not all alike, are at different levels of faith/hope/love, and, that’s okay! So, using this prayer group as an imperfect example, what can those of us who are “weary and wary” of church learn from such a group? While I have already hinted at a few things above, let me offer a few other words of encouragement in what follows. My hope is that as you read, you will be encouraged to find a local church to attend, whether or not it is CrossWay.
– You are incredibly important and yet, not all that important! What I mean by this, is, the whole is greater than the parts. To illustrate this, in I Cor.12:12ff., Paul uses the analogy of the human body He says, “If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.” (vs.15). He goes on to state the interdependent nature of the body. Yes, if you are a “toe” or an “elbow”, you are vitally important, but your value is relative to being connected to the rest of the body. As a “part”, you don’t exist or function on your own. This teaching, combined with the truth of you being an image-bearer of God (Gen.1:27), makes you important. Each individual is worth no more or no less than any other person. This truth should set us at ease, humble each of us, and yet stir within us a sense of awe and gratitude to our God. What this means is, you can come to any given church assembly and no matter how polished, pretty, or “spiritual” others may seem, they are only human just. like. you. They have hopes, dreams, fears, joys, and sadness. Just. Like. You.
– You belong and are needed. You might come to a church and think, “what’s here for me?” Now, that’s not a bad question at all. Each local church exists, to some degree, to serve those who come gather. Yet, this question of “what’s here for me” is an inadequate one. You see, the people who make up the church need you as much as you need them. You will be set free in your own spirit, if, after attending a church for a while, that “meets your needs”, you shift to thinking and then asking questions such as, “how can I serve?” “Where am I needed here?” How can I give my life away to this place and people, so, I can better find myself (Mark 8:35; 10:45)?” – Everyone at any given church, including the leaders, are both “messed up” and being transformed. This relates a bit to one of the other points above, where I suggested people at church are “just. like. you.” I am not advocating here, going to a church where there is sin not being repented of. I am not talking about taking sin lightly. I am only saying, everyone at a given church struggles with something. Compassion and kindness are needed with one another. Years ago, I had a Pastoral ministries professor tell our class a story. I close this post with it. He said this: “Most of you, upon graduation will try to find the perfect church. That is, a church with perfect programs, perfect location, perfect facilities, perfect music, perfect leaders, perfect vision, etc.” He then went on to say, “but there are no perfect churches, because churches are full of people, and people have problems.” After a bit of a dramatic pause, he continued: “But let’s suppose you found that perfect church, with perfect programs, location, facilities, music, leaders, and vision, – once you got there, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore. Because you as the Pastor would bring your many imperfections, pet-programs, prejudices there.” That story has served me so well over the years. I’ve often thought a good name for any local church might include the name of the city/town, along with two adjectives similar and disparate, such as “messy” and “magnificent”. That is, here in Grand Rapids Michigan, we would be known as, “Grand Rapids, Messy and Magnificent Church”. Or, “The Church in Grand Rapids, Screwed up and Sanctified”. Or, “The Perfectly Imperfect Church of Grand Rapids”. You get the idea, I hope! May I suggest and encourage, God is calling you to be a part of His church, not just in theory, but in practice. It’s okay to be weary and wary of church. But don’t let your weariness or wariness scare you away from His Beautiful and Broken Bride. “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. . . . He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev.22:17, 20). So, we ask Him to come, and, He says to you, “Come!”