There was a time when I didn’t want to get out of bed on a Sunday morning, let alone put on nice clothes and drive to church at 9 o’clock. Sundays were for sleeping in, hanging out with my family, putting some meat on the grill and watching football. On top of it I didn’t want to sit in uncomfortable pews, give my money to the church, listen to a boring sermon, and sing old-fashioned hymns (the music wasn’t exactly my favorite, I was more into Pearl Jam than religious organ pieces).
I didn’t grow up in the church, so I didn’t really understand its culture and what it was all about (Jesus, right?). I believed in God, but that was about as far as it went. As far as I was concerned, God was on the periphery and I could get through life on my own with hard work, determination, and mental fortitude.
Then there came a time in my life when that all came crashing down. I realized that I needed more than toughness and picking myself up by my bootstraps to get through life – and not only to just get through life, but to enjoy life. I was definitely missing something.
Thankfully a seed of God’s love was planted in me by my grandmother at an early age and then again in my early-twenties on those “dreadful” Sunday mornings when my then-fiancé and now wife made me go to church.
Oddly enough though, when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior I didn’t feel worthy to attend church. I had preconceptions that the church was some sort of exclusive club, which I needed to know more about God, about how to pray, about worship service in general, before I could attend. I thought I’d stick out like a sore thumb and that I’d be pegged as some sort of pagan trying to infiltrate their religious society. Worse of all, the folks that attended church would see right through me; they’d see me as the broken man, the sinner, that I was and that I wouldn’t be good enough for them.
I’m not sure where these preconceived notions came from, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It took me three months after accepting Christ to muster up the courage to attend a worship service, but what I quickly learned when I did go was that these Christians that gathered on Sunday mornings were just as broken as I was. Whether they were life-long Christians of 30, 40 or 70 years, or were somewhere near the beginning of their journey like I was, they were just as broken as I was. It felt good to be in the company of those who understood me and amongst those that were searching for something beyond themselves.
Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners. – Jesus, Mark 2:17 (NLT)
The church is made up of people – imperfect people, to be certain. Just like any other organization, group, guild, association, union, league, or club, it is imperfect and with its own flaws. And like every other person since time immemorial, I have my own flaws… and that is exactly why the church is for me – finding a new beginning and hope in spite of our imperfections as we strive together to follow Jesus Christ.
What I’ve come to realize is that it wasn’t that “church wasn’t for me,” but rather that “I wasn’t for the church.” When operating appropriately, the church is a living and breathing expression of God’s love for humanity and all of creation. I now know that church was always for me, it just took a change of heart for me to realize that.
Even before I became a pastor and was charged with leading worship on Sunday mornings, getting out of bed a little earlier than I’d like, putting on appropriate clothing (they don’t always have to be “nice,” God doesn’t care what we wear), and sitting in those pews helped me find my purpose in life. Listening to the preacher tell the Good News of Jesus Christ and the hope He brings transformed my life. Giving money to the church that changes lives and communities became the right and easy thing to do. And those hymns, they’ve grown on me a bit (but I still love Pearl Jam).
If you’re feeling unworthy or uncertain about attending a worship service like I was, I completely understand. And if you’re reading this, I hope you can trust me that the church is a safe, welcoming and friendly place. Yes, it has its imperfections and flaws, but its love for other people is overwhelming. It is my prayer that you can find your purpose that God has ordained for your life.