I Stopped Going to Church.

I Stopped Going to Church.

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I haven’t gone to church in a while. 

And by a while I mean four months. 

I just can’t seem to go. Every time I wake up on Sunday morning I just can’t seem to make it. 

I want to, I do. So why haven’t I been in a while?

I guess it started when I realized that I’ve never had to choose a church, I’ve always just gone somewhere with my friends. The hardest part of moving has been finding a church, even a year later. I think I am busy comparing the churches I visit to the church I left when I moved. 

You see, the church I came from was different. I had been a member since the 8th grade when I was baptized in the old gymnasium sanctuary. I knew everyone and they knew me. I was involved in multiple groups and projects weekly, I went to every camp and retreat, and I even ran sound board for a while. It was family, and it was life. For the longest time the numbers were growing and the body was flourishing. 

But with the good, there was also the bad. I remember the first time I missed church and I was shamed because of it. I remember the way it felt when the people I thought were closest to me, who loved me the most, didn’t ask how my family was doing when we went through a crisis. I remember just before I moved I left service crying because my heart was broken for the lack of relational authenticity that had crept in over the years. I no longer felt safe and mentored, I felt stuck. The air was still and toxic instead of alive with hope. The sounds seemed to just bounce off the seats instead of sinking into those sitting in them. The walls seemed to be moving closer in on us instead of growing out. Something was off. We no longer welcomed others into our circle. Instead, our circle just kept getting tighter and tighter. 

After I moved, a mini church split happened and it threw me for a loop. I didn’t understand the stories I had been told about the events that happened and how the community that was once so healthy had become the opposite. 

When I starting looking for churches, I thought that’s what it was supposed to feel like and when I finally found a church that wasn’t like that, I didn’t know how to handle it. I wanted to run even though it felt so good to be standing in a room free of toxicity and dullness. I went back week after week expecting to be shamed for something, anything. The first time I missed a Sunday service, I expected to be questioned, but instead I was welcomed with open arms. It freaked me out. People were genuinely interested in getting to know one another and I was being invited into the community. 

And now I haven’t been back in months. 

A couple months ago I saw my pastor and his wife in Walmart. His wife stopped and talked to me and when I turned around, I saw him waving like crazy, like he was seeing his best friend for the first time in a long time. I thought it was the strangest thing at first; why would they be so excited to see me? I haven’t been in months. 

When I got to my car I just broke. That was such a true picture of how Jesus welcomes us back after we’ve wandered away for a while. 

He doesn’t judge. 

He doesn’t question. 

He waves like crazy and is overjoyed to welcome us back home. 

It’s biblical love. It’s crazy  love.

I never thought I would be someone who just didn’t go to church. I never thought I would feel the effects of a church split or that it would affect me so deeply, but here I am. And it stinks. 

But God has worked through this brief hiatus from corporate worship by showing me what true community should look like. He taught me that sometimes shame is hard to identify because it’s dressed up as concern, but that “Jesus” and “shame” don’t fit together. He showed me that we are all humans, pastors included, and grace and mercy are needed inside just as much as outside the walls of a church. 

In the past few months he has showed me a whole lot, but I think the biggest thing I learned was what it feels like to be the wandering sheep, and what it feels like to be welcomed back with open arms and reckless love. I ran so far, but he chased me still. I have deeper empathy and compassion for the weary Christian. There is new meaning in the phrase, “he leaves the 99”. I have felt God on a deeper level in these past few months and I’m so thankful.

To you who is weary, he is your rest. 

To those who are searching for community, keep looking.

To you who is wandering, he chases you passionately. 

“There's no shadow You won't light up
Mountain You won't climb up
Coming after me
There's no wall You won't kick down
Lie You won't tear down
Coming after me
There's no shadow You won't light up
Mountain You won't climb up
Coming after me
There's no wall You won't kick down
Lie You won't tear down
Coming after me”

Reckless Love, Cory Asbury

The Bridge.

The Bridge.