For many years I didn’t attend church. I was a Christian and believed that the grace of Christ would be sufficient for my redemption. I just didn’t see how going to church fit into the picture. After all, who needed all that ritual and long boring sermons on the evils found in the Old Testament? I was very content to follow God my own way and on my own terms.
Nothing has changed in my belief in the redemptive power of Jesus sacrifice at Calvary, but I have started going back to church. Why? The simple answer is I felt that I wasn’t growing as a Christian. But, there was more to it than that. For the first time in years I felt lonely and distant from God. I needed people to talk to about spiritual things. I craved dialogue with other Christians and wanted their encouragement in my spiritual journey.
Now this might sound strange to those of you who attend a church on a regular basis, but I wanted a church where I would feel comfortable. I had to be able to trust the church not to harm me. How would they do that? Simply by putting pressure on me to conform to their standard of how they perceived God. I know some of you are saying, “if you go to a church then you have to conform, after all it’s their church.” No, it’s not their church, it is God’s church and a church should be open to everyone who is trying to find their way back to God or find God for the first time.
When the Good Samaritan (Jesus) took the battered man he found by the side of the road to the Inn (the church), he told them (the congregation and leaders) to look after the man and when He (Jesus) returned, He would bring them their reward. That is the roll of the church; to look after the broken that Jesus brings to them for recovery and rest. The church needs to be understanding when someone walks through their door. Some congregations try prematurely to involve people as soon as they walk in the door. Other churches ignore the visitor and let them fade into the furniture. Instead, we should just love people and let the Holy Spirit guide and direct in the life of the individual. How wonderful it would be if we could let someone come to church, find their bearings with a little help and encouragement, and let the Holy Spirit work in their life. Not everyone is going to want to join a particular church, but that is no reason they shouldn’t be welcomed and accepted.
I’ve been fortunate in my journey. I found a gracious and loving church in Maine that I attend and it has been nothing but a joy. One of the ladies in the church is a former student of mine from many years ago. Her husband did the electrical work on my house and the retired pastor, who still resides in the town, is an old classmate from University days. It is a small world. Our pastor is a gospel- centered man who is loving and considerate. And though we are a small congregation, the people are wonderful. From the first day I walked into the building, I felt accepted and appreciated by the folk. There are no pretenses in our church, just good down-home friendship. I feel comfortable here. I don’t mean a comfortable “do nothing” feeling, but instead, a feeling of finding a place where I belong. A church where I can talk about spiritual matters and know I won’t be criticized or ostracized. I believe it’s a church where Jesus would be comfortable and accepted, appreciated and loved.
Is our little church perfect? No, but we were never called to be perfect. We are just a bunch of people who love God with all our hearts and know He loves us with all His heart. We know that we are etched into the palms of His hands and no one can ever snatch us away. That’s a pretty nice church to belong to, don’t you think?