As a newlywed, I lived 12 hours from my parents and five from my in-laws. I moved there knowing only my fiancé. My husband and I have moved to three more cities since then. Each time, we’ve known no more than a handful of people. Starting over is hard, especially if you’re an introvert who feels awkward in social situations. I’m just not the kind of person who makes friends easily. My husband’s long, sometimes crazy hours at work can make a new city feel like a place of isolation for me. Each move brought with it the stress of starting over with no family and few friends.
In every city, there has been one thing that has made it home. God has always led us to just the right church.
Our first church taught the Bible verse by verse. This is exactly what I needed as a new Believer. He taught me that every word of the Bible was valuable and worth reading. The preacher was exceptionally educated and challenged us to think deeply, to dig deeper in the Scriptures- to know what we believe and why we believe it. He challenged us to walk by faith which is based on knowledge of God’s character.
Our second church was a respite from my week of solitude with my precious new baby. It was my two hours of the week to focus on being fed rather than feeding. It was my place to connect with other adults and have fellowship with Believers.
Our third church was almost a miracle. We settled into it the very first week we visited. Though we knew no one, we immediately connected with the members and were made to feel part of the group. It was an answer to prayer. We knew our time in that city was short and we were concerned that there wasn’t enough time to get plugged in, but with God all things are possible.
At our current church, we have a similar story. As we prepared to move 12 hours down the road, we prayed that: 1) We’d be like-minded in the decision, and that 2) God would show us where He wanted us to worship on Sundays. God gave us each the same answer (separately) before we ever moved.
Our city has many wonderful, Bible teaching churches; any of them could make sense as the place we should worship, but only one is our church family. In the right church, it’s not people you sit with on Sunday morning; it’s people you do life with. They become your family. You know the people and the pastors. You’re involved and invested in each other’s lives. It’s where friends become brothers and sisters in Christ and where we learn more about loving and serving the Lord. Church is where worship begins. Each Sunday, we gather together to sing, to pray, and to study God’s Word, so we are equipped to serve and love others throughout our city.
Many, many people around the world cannot relate to what I have described. They have felt judged, criticized, or despised by people who go to church. They were made to feel unwanted and unloved by the very group of people who were supposed to love and accept them. They equate organized religion with hypocrisy and hate. A bad experience causes many to turn away from the church and organized religion. It breaks my heart to think of the number of people who relate more to this than to my experience.
If you equate Christianity with hypocrisy and hate, you’re at least half right. As much as I want to do the right thing all the time, I confess that I fall terribly short! I am a hypocrite. I say one thing and believe one thing, but too often don’t do it. I find comfort knowing that it has been this way for 2,000 years. Paul wrote in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” I’m not excusing my sin; I’m simply explaining why Christians seem to be hypocrites.
As far as the hate part goes, I hate my sin. I hate the destructive and divisive effects of sin on my life and on our society. I hate that sin leads to death (Romans 6:23). I hate that all people sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)! I hate that because of my sin; my Savior suffered the punishment I deserve.
Oh, but how I love my Savior for willingly dying for me! I didn’t deserve it- nothing in me is good (Psalm 14:3).
Yet, for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). I will never fully wrap my brain around the fact that the Creator of the Universe chose to become a man and die for me. How thankful I am that my daily failures are not final! They are forgiven because my faith is in Christ alone and not in my own abilities to save myself or keep myself saved. He forgives me all my sin and calls upon me daily to give Him my best, but He accepts that it won’t be perfect until I’m in Heaven.
Our family enjoys eating out and trying new restaurants. Sometimes we have a bad experience and don’t go back to that particular restaurant, but the experience doesn’t keep us from trying another. I know this is a poor comparison, but there’s truth to it nonetheless. If you are one who desires God, but dislikes His people, would you take a step of faith and try again? Begin with prayer and ask God to show you what church to visit. I think of Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Ask Him, and He will show you where He desires you to go.
Church isn’t convenient, but will require you to sacrifice your time and maybe some sleep. It requires a commitment. As the saying goes, “You get out of it, what you put into it.” If I only spend one hour a week with my family, we won’t have a deep relationship. The same is true of my church family. I have to invest time and energy in order to develop relationships. That doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. Choose the area that interests you. If it’s music, then help with music; if you enjoy children or youth then help with them. It can be a Bible study or Sunday School class or a small group or Hospitality, but find a place where you can connect with others.
A huge thing that I’ve learned is that church isn’t about me.
I’m not going to love every song that is sung, or agree with every decision that’s made, or be moved to tears during every sermon. Church is a place where we come together to worship and learn and fellowship. We have a great privilege in the United States to be able to come together each and every week to worship God without fear of being arrested. Men and women have died for each of us to have that right. I do not take it for granted, but am thankful. Because of their sacrifices, I know I will have a family no matter where I live.