Why I stayed with the church: Part one
I love the local church. However, this hasn’t always been the case.
Like all Christians, my faith in God has run through seasons. There have been extremely dry seasons in which I questioned not just the existence or goodness of God, but whether or not I truly trusted Him. There have also been seasons where the Spirit has plowed with me through rough terrain and made my faith-muscles stronger in the process.
There have been life-altering mountaintop experiences with God that have drawn me closer into the arms of my Father. More often than not, however, there have been the steady rhythms of grace in the day-to-day battle for righteousness and the help to filter all things through the gospel.
Throughout each of these seasons, the church has remained constant. Constantly filled with broken people, yes, but also broken people who have helped usher me toward God in the knowledge of what it means to be a part of His chosen bride.
Life with the church has been a journey. My assumption is you are on the same journey at whatever pace. Like you, I have been hurt by the church. I have also been helped by the church. Most importantly, I have seen the church is not about me at all, but about Jesus. The church is God’s plan, and He has washed her in His blood to purify and cleanse her. What greater entity could we ever hope to be a part of?
As I said earlier, this has not always been my heart. As a teenager, I went through many crises of faith. As a young man, I was tempted to walk away from the church. There were many days when I was younger that I did not want to be with the church at all.
As a pastor, I hear many of these same sentiments echoed in the voices of the church. I hear moms and dads concerned that their kids don’t want to go to church. I hear kids concerned that their parents shy away from the church for a variety of reasons. I see some people who gather with the church physically, but spiritually and emotionally are somewhere else entirely.
What I tell many of these people is the same thing I want to tell you: I’ve been there.
Over the course of my next few blogs, I want to share with you three reasons why, by God’s grace, I have stayed with the church. I don’t want to do this to simply share my story, but to call out to you in yours as well, in order that these reasons may be of help to you in some way.
So what is the first reason I stayed with the church?
There is a time in my past that is spiritually etched into my soul. It is perhaps the largest crisis of faith I have ever encountered. The pendulum of my faith was swinging wildly between what I had been taught, what I knew, and what I was afraid I believed.
I was afraid the Christian life was a sham. I was afraid the church was a ruse to keep young people in line and off drugs, older people active, and type-A people in power with a place to be important. After all, I didn’t see or experience the “abundant life” we kept singing and hearing about.
I would quietly walk away, I decided.
I didn’t want to make a scene.
It was fine for them. It just wasn’t for me.
But for some reason, I could not walk away.
I remember one morning sitting in a church service as these thoughts swam around the dark waters of my mind. It was at that time, for some reason, my eyes focused on our pastor. He was quietly listening to the church sing the truths of the Gospel. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone look more content. But he was the pastor, I thought. He was supposed to look like that.
So I looked at people my grandparents’ age. Ones who I knew had walked for decades with the Lord – many out of very dark places. I looked at godly men and women who had poured into me as a child – people whose stories and testimonies of God’s faithfulness I had personally heard or seen.
But I also saw the hypocrites. I saw the bored, the manipulative, and the unengaged. I saw those who also believed the church was not for them. But in comparison to those who were joyfully proclaiming Christ, I knew it was not them who held the greater truth.
I closed my eyes and focused on the sometimes off-pitch and warbly voices of those who were clinging to the faith of the Gospel. They were singing truths that I was not sure I believed. But I did believe they believed them.
I wasn’t sure about the Gospel, but I knew they were. Despite my doubts, the thing I could not do was walk up to one of them and confidently say their anchor was a sham – that they were, in reality, floating aimlessly just like me. This is not just because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. It is because they were not floating aimlessly. Their anchor was secure.
I wasn’t sure about the God I believed in, but I was sure about the God they believed in. He was real and could be trusted.
Instead of walking away from that God, I chose to seek that God. That moment made all the difference. When the winds of doubt shook me, I held firm to their anchor only to find, in time, that it was the same one I was tethered to as well.
Thanks be to God for old saints in the church.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” – Hebrews 12:1.