Church is an acquired taste. It is something that unless you were raised in, can come off weird and unusual. People come off way too nice, and experience tells us that it is probably fake. Perhaps this is the third or fourth church you’ve come too and realized that every church experience was radically different, so clearly no one really knows how this “church” thing is supposed to go.
I was the teenager who went to church out of more cultural norm, than convicted heart. It is just what you do in the South. You go to church, afterwards you go to grandmas or moms and you have a big dinner, and then you forget all the religious things you learned, and repeat a week later. Church never seemed difficult for me because it was just something that you do, and it makes everyone happier that they saw you there. So you go, and you do it. However, when God brought me to Christ and began forming my heart for a call to ministry, I began to realize that this thing called church is much more difficult than us “lifelong” church goers often acknowledge.
Church is a hard thing. Broken people pour into a room, to glorify their perfect Savior. The Savior is perfect, but we are not, and that is usually where the great divorce takes place. I have heard so many believers and non-believers say that the reason they don’t go to church or have left the church is because of the people. Their hypocrites, gossipers, fake, you name it and I have heard it as an excuse that has either kept someone from really exploring the faith, or has caused them to bounce from church to church to church, and eventually giving up because “we just don’t fit in anywhere.” The truth of the matter is that all of these things are just excuses. Excuses that keep us from going where we truly need to be, and that is the church with other brothers and sister in the faith. C.S. Lewis knew this. In Lewis’ famous Screwtape Letters, the older demon Screwtape gives this little bit of advice to his nephew demon Wormwood:
“One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains…. Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of “Christians” in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armor and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real — though of course an unconscious — difficulty to him… I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course if they do — if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with squeaky boots a miser and an extortionist — then your task is so much the easier. All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?”
Church is hard. Yes, there are distractions, and the people are broken, the sermons can be dry, and people do and say stupid stuff at times, but so do we. Going to church is hard, but it’s so necessary. You see it is easy for me to create a group of concentric circles of brokenness and say these people are far more broken then me, and I will take my gifts and go find a more worthy people to join with. Good luck doing that. That kind of attitude shows that perhaps you are far more broken than even you can imagine. Charles Spurgeon once rightly noted, “If you were to find a perfect church this side of heaven, you would find it empty and be unable to remain yourself.” Why is it so important that week in and week out we join together as a broken people united under the banner of Christ?
- We need each other more than we could ever know. The day that I think I can’t learn something from an older minister is the day that I need my high horse cut out from under me. We can learn more from each other then we could ever really imagine. This is the essence of Humility.
- When we are surrounded by brokenness and hypocrisy (which we are just as guilty of) we learn how to rightly love our neighbor, not because of their goodness, but in spite of their brokenness. Learning to rightly love is one of the greatest effects of belonging to a church.
- When we come into that mixed bag of individuals, society tells us that we have no business meeting together, loving each other, and learning from one another. However, with Christ alone it is possible. He is the great bridge that transcends, race, culture, ethnicity, and sociopolitical lines. He is our common glue, and our common need. Under the banner of Christ our differences in background, language, culture, come together to create a beautiful tapestry of praise which will extend into eternity.
Church is hard, but we need each other so much. Love your church, and be the church that causes the gates of hell to shutter, not celebrate.
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters: Letters from a Senior to a Junior Devil, (Cambridge: University Press, 1941), 3-4.