You Can’t Depend on Church People

 

An old photo of the first church I ever attended back in our little country community. It was razed nearly 40 years ago. I was christened there.

An old photo of the first church I ever attended back in our little country community. It was razed nearly 40 years ago. I was christened there.

For most of last year, and up until just a few weeks ago this year, Dana and I attended a small, denominational church just two blocks down the road from our home. We stopped going there about six weeks ago, and returned to the church where we’d attended before.

As I rounded the corner in the Wal-Mart deli yesterday, I ran smack-dab into the preacher whose church we’d been absent from for nearly two months. It was the first time I’d seen or talked to him since we were there.

After a minute or two of awkward small talk, he said they sure had missed us there.

It put me in an uneasy position in a public place. If they’d missed us so much, why were we having this conversation in Wal-Mart instead of a phone call four weeks ago? Why was I now getting put on the spot feeling like the bad guy? If you really missed me wouldn’t you have let me know a long time ago?

I’m not mad about it. But it just wasn’t true.

***

I had another random encounter with a different church friend a few weeks after returning from the Camino de Santiago. We exchanged a few fairly impersonal pleasantries before he said how much he enjoyed following my pilgrimage and how he “couldn’t wait” to get together and hear more about it. Haven’t heard from him since. Don’t expect to. I don’t think he really meant it.

***

Two years ago we attended an Easter church service with a family member when just before the service began an older gentleman was walking around shaking hands with people. You could tell he was especially looking for those who hadn’t been there before. When he came to me, he offered this warm greeting:

“It’s my job to go around and shake people’s hands this week. We’re really glad you’re here.” So heartfelt. So genuine.

***

Four years ago my father lay dying in a hospital bed just as he’d experienced one of the most genuine Christian experiences/conversions/revelations (choose whatever word you like) I’d ever seen. And for the first time in 71 years asked to be baptized. When the church pastor of another family member arrived supposedly to lead the tradition representing my dad’s decision, he soon called my mom and me out in the hall to tell us the very last thing I ever expected.

Because my dad was bedfast, it would be impossible to “fully immerse” him in water. Anything less violated the pastor’s personal baptism doctrine. He was sorry. He couldn’t help us. And so he left.

I could share dozens more stories like this, and as you can imagine, have had a volatile relationship with church (little c) over the years. But never with the Church (big C). So this probably isn’t going where you might think. I love the Big C Church.

***

I had conversations with many people last year, especially along the Camino, who because of experiences just like this, have separated from the church. People said more than once “the church has a lot to answer for.” I’ve learned it’s SO not true. Jesus already answered for the Church in a big way. We celebrate and recognize His answer in our behalf through the coming week.

So much of my church philosophy changed when I changed the way I looked at church itself. As I grew and matured, I viewed it not so much as a place I go to receive, but much more as a place to give and serve. It’s more outward than inward. More about Him than about me.

This side of Heaven, the church is made up of people. We’re all imperfect. We’re going to let one another down on a regular basis. It’s no different than anything else we experience every day, and we have to look past the small stuff.  The church isn’t bad. Its people just aren’t that great at fully living out its mission. It’s been that way from the beginning of time, and will be that way to the end.

We try. We fail. It doesn’t mean we stop trying.

There were periods in recent years when I stayed out and away from church. I let the small distractions get in the way of the bigger reality, and after a time realized how much I missed being part of Church – not the traditions or the regal recitations or even the cheerleader messages or multi-media entertainment so much of the “church” now emanates – but the genuine worship that happens only in a collective group. I missed that.

Dana and I joined a church last week. After five years of not being on “church membership roll” whatever that means, it was kind of a big deal for us. We’re happy about it.

I had to learn you can’t depend on church people.

But the Church will never let you down. It’s perfect.

-30-

 

 

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4 thoughts on “You Can’t Depend on Church People

  1. I cannot agree with you more – and am so glad to see that someone seems to get this “bigger picture” attitude about the church and The Church. I’ve seen the “I can NOT believe ‘they’ did that….” mentality with the church “..so I’m just not having any part of the organized church.” As you pointed out, we are all human and it really is very easy to get caught up in the “thats” of being part of a church congregation. I’ve also seen the “what can I GET from the church” as opposed to “how can I serve in the church” attitude. … Just an example of making an effort to attend for the wrong reasons.

    Such a sad story with your dad and the baptism. That pastor ….. someone really should “un-pastor” him.

    I think it is sad to have to say that we can not assume that the church is full of people that are supportive and caring. I am a social worker and I do grief support with a hospice. I see first hand, quite often, that families report being members of congregations for sometimes decades and yet they receive little or no support from the church. And, well, maybe there’s a possibility that they were really only an ACTIVE member for one of those 5 decades they mention, but, oh, okay …. THAT’S why no one is there for them. I get it. There’s a time frame of “serving” involved before you can reap some benefits of being a member. (lots of sarcasm included)

    Glad to see you joined a church ….. but even more excited that you are a member of His Church.

  2. I loved this Steve. I too have found a church home and joined within the last year after being away from it for nearly 12yrs. When we serve within a church , we are serving God and things happen with in corporate worship that don’t happen when you are alone with God. I’m proud you and Dana have found your home! God bless.

  3. The church is made up of all the people who believe in Christ, regardless of their imperfections. In defense of the man who said “they missed you”, he probably should have said “he missed you.” Often we tack on we or they to make our missing someone sound more wide spread. I often say “Alvis and I have missed seeing you,” when it was mostly just me that had done the missing. I think it is possible to miss someone, and even think of them from time to time,and never quite get around to telling them of such. I recently saw an old classmate from class of 1960, at a funeral, who said, “Nan I have missed seeing you so much,” yet we had not had any contact since graduation night, 56 years ago. Still I believed him, and I knew he meant it, time had just got in the way of our good thoughts, and good intentions. It is good to be missed by people, whether they verbalize the actual words or not. I miss seeing you Steve, from time to time, just in case I never said it.

  4. Perhaps you should try Quakers. They are a lot different. I don’t know if you have a Meeting near you, but we Quakers always welcome seekers. My brand of Quaker has no pastor or outward symbols. We seek guidance through the “Inward Light”. Other Friends (generic for Quakers, AKA Religious Society of Friends) have varying degrees of pastoral leadership. We are on the “less management” end. In any case i respect you journey. I was able to find a lot in common with the Catholic part of the Camino (all of it?) and we seem to fit into the larger philosophical catholic view. Of course, they have had a lot of years to develop systems and ways of worship. Who’s to say who is correct? Accept all and seek within.

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