After walking away from what had been my home church from junior high through the end of college, I entered a period of disillusionment with ‘church’ as I knew it. It seemed to me that there were a lot more things happening there that distracted me from relationship with God rather than drawing me in closer. I have encountered plenty of other post college young people who also enter a time of wondering and wandering with regards to church attendance and the purpose of going to church.
During those dark days, I went to church…or rather a few different churches…with little clarity on what I was doing there or what difference it made to show up at all. For those of you that haven’t ever felt this way, you are blessed. For those who know exactly what I’m talking about…you also have the opportunity to be blessed by this wilderness time, but it is a choice you must make, or rather a series of seemingly insignificant choices that one day lead to a deeper walk with God and a commitment and love for His church like you might never have thought you’d experience.
Today, I love my church, but I sure didn’t expect that things would change while I was in the valley. For a time, it seemed that all I saw were the problems: problems with the church as an institution, problems with the people that went there, and problems with me.
As an institution, churches sometimes add to the law. They have their own habits, traditions, and customs. There is a secret do’s and don’t do’s list that everyone who’s really someone knows about and the rest of us who don’t abide by those rules are on the outside looking in. Twentysomethings and thirtysomethings see this when they walk through the doors and it’s a huge barrier. They tend to feel that they’d have to pretend to be something they’re not in order to be part of the body and generationally, this group will often just leave, drift on, or buck the system.
Of course, the people in the church have problems! Everybody does. When you’re generally troubled as it is, all these things look magnified. Disillusioned believers will readily complain about all the hypocrites they see at church. Frankly, during this season, I don’t think it would matter what church people did, it would still be wrong in our eyes. If they try to draw us out, we feel like they are prying into our lives and please step back and deal with your own thank you very much. If they ignore us, well, what else were we to expect? If they are up front about their flaws, we don’t really want to hear it. If they dress them up to look presentable, we despise them for it. We are convinced that if they really knew every aspect of who we are, we wouldn’t be ‘Christian’ or ‘churchy’ enough for them. Somehow, it’s very difficult for us to encounter believers that we think are really real about their journey with God.
Then, if there haven’t already been enough grievances addressed and fingers pointed, we look at ourselves and find ourselves lacking. It is a strange time of both being prideful of all that we think we could be if the circumstances were just right and seeing the places where we fall short and not really wanting anyone to know about them. Whether we think we’re going somewhere or are pretty sure we’re headed nowhere fast, there is so much in flux at this stage in life. A thousand things are called into question and these are questions that we don’t answer once and then it’s settled. No, these ones resurface, time and again. What is my calling? How am I made? What do I do with myself, my time, my resources? Who am I? Why am I here? Further, there are the many what ifs that we either drown ourselves in or avoid completely by busying ourselves with…something.
By the time our heads are spinning with all these unanswered questions and frustrations, it is no wonder that when you look around, you might not see many twenty and thirtysomethings at your average traditional, family-oriented church. Truth be told, if we don’t choose to keep trying and press on in the midst of this thick fog, we won’t get past it and we’ll probably find other things to consume our time and our hearts and minds.
But, if we wrestle with God through it, there is a victory waiting somewhere in the future. I can’t promise you a time, but I can tell you that if you seek Him in the face of all that would turn you away from Him and away from the church, He will draw near to you and He will respond.
In this week’s series on ‘Being the Body,’ I hope to address at least a few of the issues that questioning Christians face and exhort you to hang in there because despite what you might see or feel at the present, we cannot love Jesus, but despise the church. Jesus saw every problem there ever could be in His days walking the earth and He still devoted His life and death to saving troubled people just like the ones in our churches today.