I was that kid who loved going to church. It never bored me and it never felt like something my parents forced onto me. In fact, I most looked forward to the sermons each week—they were always my favorite part.
But around my later high school years, I started to have a weird relationship with church. I still liked going, but I had this internal struggle where I liked what church was about and I wanted to go...but once I was there, it never felt quite right. I just didn’t fit.
Then I went to college. I figured that I'd find my perfect church, things would get better, and this struggle would go away. Innocent little me, haha. Little did I know, I’d become the ever-so-common case of a Bible major suffering from the ever-so-common side effect of overthinking. It’s a real thing, let me tell ya.
Suddenly, I didn’t only walk away from a church considering things like, How was the sermon? Did I like the music? Were the people friendly? Do I agree with their vision? Instead, I got ultra-theological without even realizing it. I began to consider things like, Do I agree with their stance on communion? On baptism? On who can be a pastor? Is the pastor clearly engaging with the Word when preparing sermons and taking time for deep exegetical study?
Woah, Sam. Calm down. (That’s maybe what I should’ve told myself.)
So yeah. My brain was on overload. And the annoying thing was that I didn’t just consider these things; I stressed about these things. I was frustrated that I still hadn’t found a church that felt like home. And then, even once I found a church I liked, I didn’t know what my “negotiables” and “non-negotiables” were, theologically-speaking.
I still wasn’t feeling great about everything, but finally, I decided to commit to this new church that I liked. Around that time, I got coffee with a friend of mine who was still attending my previous church. I wanted to explain to her why I decided to make the change. But I also shared my hesitations...even my fears. I told her why I never felt like I really fit in a church and how I had never felt like I truly experienced a church that felt like “family.”
My friend listened intently, nodding as I rambled (as I do, at times). She then looked at me across the table and said, “You know what, Sam? I think when someone’s personal faith is strong, the devil uses church as a tool for division.”
There have been only a few times in my life that I felt like God was saying something directly to me. THIS was one of those times. He used my friend as his instrument and spoke directly to my soul.
Her words literally gave me goosebumps and I almost started bawling in the middle of our little university coffee shop. (I held it together. Sorta.)
But suddenly things made sense. No wonder my relationship with church felt so rocky.
The devil didn’t want me...
- To experience a body of believers coming together like family, maturing and uniting in our faith (Ephesians 4:11-13)
- To worship God and reorient my mind towards him each week (Philippians 4:8-9)
- To receive and be reminded of truth (Ephesians 4:15)
- To pour into others as they also pour into me—each of us bringing our imperfect yet God-given gifts to the table (Hebrews 10:24-25)
The devil didn’t want any of these things.
I realized that my view on church had been so small for so long. Church isn't just about the building where you meet or the sermon that you hear. Those bullet points listed above?
No wonder the devil distracted me from—even made me fearful of—committing to a body of believers for so long.
That conversation with my friend continued for another 30 minutes or so. As soon as I left, I found a chair and quickly wrote out the prayer that was practically bursting from within me. I found the journal entry the other day and thought I'd share. Here’s some of what I wrote:
“God you spoke so clearly to me through her. So clearly. Thank you. The devil is using church as something to cause division in my life. He’s not attacking my personal faith, but he’s using this beautiful and important part of following you to leave me uncertain, worried, and frustrated. I didn’t realize it was him. I felt like it was my fault. But God, knowing this, help me to move forward better with this knowledge. I pray that the devil would no longer be able to use the church against me. Help me to treasure the gift of church, to get plugged in to an imperfect family of believers, and to bring my imperfect gifts to the table. Let me not wait till I find perfect. Help me to know what I believe when it’s necessary and to let go when it is not…I pray that I would be eternally grateful [for the opportunities and gifts and people you’ve placed in my life]. Amen.”
Talk about a weight off my shoulders.
Since that conversation, it hasn’t been perfect (it never will be), but it sure has been better.
In fact, about a week ago, I went to a “connecting dinner” at my church. It literally felt like one big family dinner. And for the first time, I thought, This feels like a family. This feels like home.
So I write this post as an encouragement to anyone who also has a somewhat weird (or even rocky) relationship with church. Here are a few thoughts for today:
- There is no perfect church. Each one is made up of humans...so they're all a bit messy. So once you find a solid, Bible-believing body of believers, realize that there are “negotiables” in our faith. As long as you can agree on the foundational things, it’s okay to not agree with every little thing that your church stands for.
- Know that church is a place to give and to receive. You will receive a lot—the pastor’s sermon will hopefully teach, encourage, or convict you; old members will hopefully welcome you in with ease; and when you’re in a hard place, I hope your Church body will step in to help you through. But know that you, too, have something to give. Church begins to feel more like a family when we are active participants in what takes place on Sundays and when we do life with one another throughout the week, as well. (P.S. I’m preaching to myself here...I’ve never been very good at this one.)
- Finally, PRAY about where you’re at—your current thoughts, frustrations, and fears. God 100% cares about your place in his Church. Pray that you, too, would understand your place within it.