When I was 17 my friends encouraged me to join a youth group and I shyly, but boldly, walked into unfamiliar territory. It was there that I fell wholeheartedly in love with a man named Jesus. I also built strong relationships with the young Christians who surrounded me and encouraged me.
The next year I left the confines of my now-comfortable and intimate youth group setting for college. I spent time with Christians outside of the church walls. However, I quickly learned that what these individuals were teaching me at church was very different from how they were behaving outside of church. I felt deceived and confused. “How could they tell me to behave one way and then they behave another?” Hypocrites. And so …
I walked away from church. It was easy. I got to sleep in on Sundays. I made my own way, chose my own path. However, it did more harm to me than good. As I strayed, the choices I began to make made me unrecognizable as a Christian. My attitude about life changed. My values and morals changed. I was a far cry from the person who I used to be and from the person I know God designed me to be. I could no longer hear God’s voice over the continuous noise. I couldn’t see Him past the idols that I had put in place of Him. And worst of all, I didn’t really notice or care.
I thought I could do life on my own without a church community, Christ-centered relationships and spiritual leaders and mentors.
Turns out, I can’t.
As it turns out:
- I was not designed to worship God alone.
- I was not designed to be separated from God.
- I was not designed to stand alone in my beliefs.
- I was not designed to put my time and my plans above God’s.
And so I came back.
Maybe you’re like me and had been hurt by the people in the church. Maybe you decided church wasn’t for you. Or maybe life is just too busy for church and it feels great to sleep in on a Sunday. Or maybe you’re new to town and haven’t found the right church for your family. Or maybe getting to church with kids is just too chaotic so you feel like it’s not for you in this season.
And if this is you, maybe, just maybe, you are feeling a slight tug to go back. Maybe you need a gentle push and some encouragement to walk through the doors again or to make the commitment to attend weekly. Maybe you took your family to church on Easter and thought to yourself, we should do this again.
Here’s what I learned from my time away from church:
We were made to worship God as a body of believers.
Worship on a Sunday morning isn’t just the music – it’s the message, it’s the community, and it’s serving alongside our brothers and sisters who are not perfect, but who serve a perfect God. There is nothing more beautiful than worshipping our Creator and Father in unison with God’s children.
We were made to be WITH God.
By walking away from the church, I was stepping farther and farther away from God. In Genesis, God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden until sin separated us from Him (Genesis 3). Yet, as Jesus cried out and took his last breath on the cross, the curtain that separated God from His people in the temple “tore in two from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51) Christ died for us so that we could be reunited with God. Not just that, but He is betrothed to the church. We, as a body of believers, are the bride of Christ (Revelation 19). How can we attend the wedding if we don’t show up?
We are made to stand together as believers.
Battles are not won alone. One [wo]man cannot defend a stronghold alone. Where once I discredited the church, I have now found trust and respect in the people who reside inside. It is my church who has prayed for me, encouraged me, lifted me up and guided me. And I have done the same for many. I have come to love the people despite their flaws and quirks and they have come to love me despite mine. Together we are stronger in our faith.
We are made to give time to God.
Oh how I love to sleep in on Sundays! But after years of growing in my faith and attending church regularly each week, I have learned that it is my honor, privilege and complete joy to give my time to God. Our time has now spread into joining a small group, serving in our church, attending Bible studies, retreats, conferences – all places we now desire to be because we know that in going we are growing closer to God. It’s funny how before our schedule seemed to overflow with busyness but somehow, when God calls us to church or spend time with His people, He makes room in our schedule.
So, if you have left the church and have thought, “maybe I should try again,” GO. Walk through the doors and have a seat. If you think that in this stage of parenthood, it just isn’t your season to attend, GO. Your children will learn the importance of church by example. If you’re tired of searching for THE church, GO. There’s no perfect church, but God will call you where He desires you to go. The church we currently attend did not meet all of our “criteria” but the minute we stepped inside, God gave us peace that it was the place where He wanted us to find community, worship and serve.
It is said that “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints” (Abigail Van Buren). It is a place where we – as unholy and broken people – come to worship a holy and flawless God and for us to be refined in the process. I, like the prodigal son, left to experience life beyond where my Father wanted me to be, but as His daughter, I returned. God wrapped his loving arms around me and said, “Welcome home, my child.”