I used to really hate church as a teenager. I came up with a variety of ways to entertain myself during church and inoculate against its message. I arrived late for all the activities, sat in the back, guffawed at all the speakers, sang in a dumb sounding voice and changed all of the lyrics generally in favor of the meaningless and ridiculous. Of course, had someone asked what message I was so against, I would have been unmasked as a nincompoop. For a long time though, no one fielded that question, which I felt substantiated my work undermining the programs in church of which I, shall we say, took part.
At that time, I was like an anti-church recruiter. I gently explained to my church friends how they had been brainwashed by the system, and that, had they been born in India, they would believe in Hinduism with the same assurance that theirs was the true religion. One day my Sunday school class wrote letters to the kids who hadn’t attended most of the year, and I wrote one guy, “Do yourself a favor and stay home, this church is terrible.” At that point in my church experience, I had spoken with the girls in the youth group for a collective thirty seconds. Somehow, I never connected my disdain for church with lackluster performance with the young ladies found therein.
My whole outlook changed during a weekend school trip to the Smoky Mountains. Only six students were bold enough for the adventure, one of which was the pretty girl a grade above me that I held as the presiding goddess of my own religion. A religion, may I add, that I took quite seriously. The trip basically consisted of lots of hiking and chilling around campfires, talking and telling stories. I remember thinking to myself how much more fun it was then the usual weekend filled with computer games and church.
On Sunday morning though, the pretty girl that I adored wanted everyone to get together for a short bible study and prayer time. It was a revelation to me that anyone would choose to participate in such events when they had clearly won their freedom from them. It really wasn’t so bad though, we read a passage and a couple of girls that loved Jesus talked about what it meant for them, and then we prayed for a minute. It had been years since I had been in a church meeting that I didn’t make a wisecrack in, sleep through or hate. Later that day, in the middle of a hike, the pretty girl told me that I’d really love the church she went to and that I should try it out the next week.
The season of heckling was over. When I went to the girl’s church, I was in a place I wanted to be. I felt accepted and that quickly translated into a desire to take part in what was going on. Perhaps in someone’s model of spiritual growth I had entered into some kind of low-level faith dynamic, where the individual takes on faith because of acceptance into the group, but what was really happening was that Jesus was modeling the acceptance he has for me through the actions of people that knew him and loved him. Jesus doesn’t always have to bowl people over with flashing lights and big sounds to introduce them to the reality of his kingdom. He can use friendly faces, kind words and a seat beside a really pretty girl during the service.
I used to survive church by doing all kinds of things that alienated me from entering into community with the people there. I didn’t know that by rejecting the church I was rejecting Jesus as well. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a shepherd who watches a hundred sheep and will leave the flock in search of one who gets lost.
When he finds us, he always brings us back to the 99. The place where we can grow up in the Lord and be an encouragement to others as well.