A part of me still shudders when I walk through the doors of a church. Possibly I would not feel this way if I went to a small church; alas, mine being of megachurch status, I am immediately accosted by white chandeliers, beautiful Persian rugs, and a mile-high ceiling upon entering. Part of me still feels church should not be quite this grandiose.
Having grown up a pastor’s kid and watching my father (one of the few pastors I know and respect) being stabbed in the back time and again, my aversion is, I think, understandable, if not excusable.
People always think of faith and church as interchangeable, or that the former depends upon the latter. And while there is a certain amount of truth to this—if you want to grow you’ve got to eat—it is hardly the rule. I believe church is necessary, primarily, to receive opinions that conflict with yours. Church gives you something against which to sharpen your antlers. However, growth does not occur in church, or because of church. Growth happens at home.
Crises of faith are brutal, painful and crucial. If you are looking for God, don’t bother looking for Him in church. He may meet you there, but that will be His decision, not yours. The only advice anyone can give someone in the midst of such a crisis is to keep at it. One of the staples of the Christian faith is that God will find us if we seek for Him.
But there is a “but.” This happened to me—crisis of faith, rediscovery of faith—and upon returning to church with full force, I did not see God anywhere. I saw glitter; I saw lipstick and rouge; I saw fishers of money.
I was immediately turned off to anything remotely Christian. While before I was merely exploratory and unsure, now I had become pissed. I believed in and (in my own small way) loved Him, but I found it very hard to swallow that the God I loved was the same God leading these churchgoers. Every time I walked through the doors I was hit, with total recall, of the image of the pastors who had hurt my family. I went to church to appease my dad, but I did not enjoy a minute of it.
I cannot precisely remember the circumstances in which I spoke to my father, who knew my views well enough, but I remember what he said to me. “I know the church is screwed up,” he said. “Every organization is. But if you will really and objectively look at this, you will see that for every one thing the church does wrong, it does five things right. You always see the men who worship in church and ignore you in the line at the supermarket. But you don’t ever see the food we bring to people who need it. You don’t see them cry, and thank us. You don’t see them find God through the example of the good people that are there. And they are there. You just don’t want to see them.”
Of course, this was not what I wanted to hear, but I reluctantly began looking, and I found them slowly but surely, in our security guard Dennis, who smiles at strangers; in my missionary friends in the Dominican Republic, who listen to my screwed-up opinions and never write me off, but actually discuss them with me; in the woman who would slide me praise-and-worship CDs with a wink and say, “Just give this a try, I think you’ll like it.” (And, much to my chagrin, I did.)
God was trying to tell me something, though I could only hear it in retrospect. I came to the point where my key to finding God in church was simply relaxing. When I adopted a “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” attitude, I found that the church’s focus was unimportant; it was my focus that mattered. My being an effective Christian did not depend on these people; it depended on me. Sure, the church is screwed up. Sure, it pisses me off sometimes. But kill me if those seemingly petty people will stop me from loving God. If I mistrust everything immediately, I can never test it. A chair may not hold me, but I will never know for sure until I sit down.
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