From the archives – Summer 2003
(I am so incredibly blessed to be plugged into a church I love. Turns out I found that community just months after I originally wrote this post. Who knew a little postcard in the mail could change everything? I encourage you to fight for life in your church and offer your gifts in service to her, wherever God has planted you.)
The other day, I had yet another conversation about how difficult it is to get plugged into a church. I haven’t been connected to a church since I was a little girl. At that time, my family and I attended a small local church that also provided a K-12 school. I knew a lot of kids not only from Sunday school and Wednesday nights, but also because I attended the school. I suppose that was the first and only time in my life where I had a “home church.”
Well, that ideal soon crumbled when we found out that the pastor was actively in sin and unrepentant. We left shortly before the whole church collapsed. It was really sad because one man’s actions negatively impacted many people, and even caused some to question their faith. For us, our hope wasn’t shaken because we trusted in God and not in man, and we began to attend another church.
This new church was probably what some would call a “mega-church.” Thousands attended every week in the huge facility where we met in Los Angeles. We attended faithfully, sat in relatively the same section, and even got involved in some ministry opportunities. For eight years, this was the scenario, and from day one up until my sophomore year of college when we prayerfully decided to leave, we never connected with anyone in that church; every encounter was merely superficial.
Junior year, my family and I began to attend another church that was 20 minutes rather than 45 minutes away from home. I really desired to meet people my own age and there were plenty there. The problem I encountered was the ever-dreaded cliques. It seemed that most people already knew each other and they weren’t very interested in branching out. Of course, to compound the infraction, I recall a Sunday afternoon college student get together at an elder’s house. Except for a select few, turns out most of those in attendance went to a rival Christian school and didn’t seem to approve of the school I attended. Of course that left me with a bad taste in my mouth and little hope of finding friends at that church.
Several months later in the fall, I went away for an off-campus study program in northern California. Even there, we did a bit of “church-hopping,” the first time I had ever experienced that. Each of the other 29 students I lived with had different church backgrounds, which made it difficult to decide on one church to attend. Would it be the Presbyterian church or the E.V. Free this Sunday?
It was a difficult situation for me because: 1) I grew up non-denominational, so I didn’t have a denomination preference; and 2) I wasn’t used to going to a different church almost every week. It was very nomadic and I can’t say that I liked it. It made Sundays more of a chore than a chance to look forward to fellowship with other Christians and the blessed opportunity of learning more about God.
Coming home from that semester, I didn’t have a “home church” to welcome me back. While I was gone, my Mom attended a church with a friend of hers. I went to that church once or twice and I had decided that was enough for me. I wasn’t challenged. I didn’t feel at home.
I had determined I would go on the ever-popular Christian college student trek of church shopping. (Please forgive me if this sounds very capitalistic and self-gratifying.) Through much prayer and active church visiting, I would find the place where I should plant roots. The church I currently attend is the place I found in my senior year. There were a ton of people from my school that attended there, so it was a bit strange to go to a place that you’ve never been before and recognize so many faces. It was unnerving, but almost lulled me into a false sense of security.
I’m not going to lie to you; it has been very hard connecting there too. All of the programs sponsored by the church are geared either toward moms, young families, high school students, college students, or thirty-something and older singles. Hmmm. . .at the time I was on the cusp of graduation and now, having been out of college for more than a year, none of these were categories in which I fit. Once again church became the “come to the service then leave right after” ritual.
I know God has meant the Church to be so much more than this. My desire for honest, vulnerable, consistent, and accountable community isn’t just an ideal I’ve reached on my own. It is what God has intended. In Hebrews 10:24, we are told of the importance of having a network of believers to surround us and care for us. Later, in the same passage, we are urged not to “forsake the assembling together of the believers” because we are able to keep each other from faltering and can provide encouragement to one another. Galatians 6:2 echoes the same idea of bearing one another’s burdens. There are plenty of Scriptures that affirm that the Christian walk cannot be done alone, and that we need each other to keep us focused on Christ.
I have seen this type of community when I went to Colorado Springs last summer. At FFI, I saw the group of people my friend had shared community with in her time at the Institute. I also saw the way the current class interacted and knew that they had experienced that same type of community. I know it exists; the question that remains is why this community is so rarely evidenced in our local churches?
Even during my time at APU, I would say I experienced greater community there than in the churches I have gone to in the last twelve years. I feel like it has been so long since I’ve been grounded in a church, that now, I don’t know how to identify a healthy one if I see it. Of course I ask the question, am I being too picky? Is this whole thing something I’m just making up? Maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be and I just need to get over myself? However, when the leaders of the church you attend and those who have come and gone consistently say the same thing—It’s hard to get connected at “fill-in-the-blank” church—I realize again that there is some credence to what I perceive.
It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been attending my church. I’ve tried going to a few groups in an effort to meet people, but it hasn’t been very effective. And as I look toward the church picnic that is scheduled for this Sunday, I can’t help but think that I don’t want to go. It will be awkward and I’ll either not know people or worse, I’ll know a few people by name who don’t desire to be known beyond that. Perhaps I’m just tired of trying right now. Perhaps I’ll get my second wind and throw myself in there and put on my outgoing mask.
Or, perhaps God will blow my conceptions of the church out of the water and I’ll finally reach that community that I long for. Obviously, the church will never be perfect—and that’s not what I’m looking for! Remember, I want genuine community? That means all the crap that goes with it too. It’s just like family: It’s going through the hard stuff together, and bearing one another’s burdens, that brings you closer together and makes you as one. And that’s what God has called us to do: to be one in the name of Christ Jesus.