Remember that rhyme we all did with the hand motions as children? “Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and where are the people?” As a youth who grew up in the church, that always shocked me a bit. I thought, “why wouldn’t people be in the church?”
My parents tried diligently to not let my sister and I grow up in a vacuum since we were homeschooled and the majority of our socialization was in the church. When we were quite young, on Sunday afternoons after church would go to a bar for lunch and witness to people. My mom had us regularly volunteer in the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen where we were able to meet people who were more real than many of those sitting in pews on Sunday. Our suburban youth group merged with an inner city youth group which grew our hearts towards the broken. We witnessed the ache of the problem of evil in the world, yet in my childlike faith, I knew the answer wasn’t of the streets or in a relationship or in a substance. I knew these people needed Jesus. So why would the church ever be empty?
Yet, for a season I left the Church. I watched many of my friends never go back to church after they left their parent’s home where it was mandatory. Some of these friends served by me at the Soup Kitchen and sat next to me in church. At first I thought, how do they not see how much we need this? Then I began to think I didn’t need it either. I say the hypocrisy, the brokenness, the disobedience. I saw that instead of living up to what Jesus called us to in the Sermon on the Mount, they lived down to the level of their comfort. So I began to live down there too. And my comfort didn’t include getting up early on my one day off.
My comfort led me to all kinds of dark places. I walked the path I swore as a kid I would never go down. I was cruising on the highway to hell telling myself that this was all I ever wanted. Yet, my soul was sick. I knew this. I denied it for as long as possible. Finally when my guilt and shame had eaten so much away that there was barely any life left in me, I cried out to Jesus. I recommited my life to God and did when I always knew aa a child that I should do: I struck out once again on the narrow path.
I wish I could say thay I immediately went back to church. But I did not. It was 2.5 years from my rededication to Christ that I consistently began to go to church again. I carried a lot of bitterness towards the Church. I felt abandoned, unloved, and judged. Which, I did deserve some of that judgment though I didn’t want to admit it. And to this day, I still wrestle internally with the Church. But Hebrews 10:25 says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” I must, therefore, continue to go to church and bolster the body of Christ.
The essence of this long prelude wasn’t simply to share my story. Rather, it was to ask the same thing the rhyme asked “where are the people?” In a world with so much turmoil, the most obvious place in the mind of my youth to turn should be to the only true God who offers hope. While God is not the Church, we should find Him in the gathering of saints and the teaching of His word. And yet people struggle going to church.
The people who make up the Church are imperfect humans. We shouldn’t expect them to be more than that. Yet, as Christians, we should be ever growing in the likeness of our Savior. In recent personal study of Revelation, I was convicted of what Jesus spoke through John to the seven churches. His words while for a specific people at a specific time are also for all people in all times. We would benefit to apply His words individually as well as corporately. So my next blog series will be a study of this very topic. We will go through the rebukes and encouragements to each church in Revelation 2-3. As we actively change our hearts and lives, hopefully we can turn our “where are the people” to “there are the people!”
God blesses the one who reads thr words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near.
Note: when using “church” in the lower case, I mean the local church one personally attends. When using “Church” in the upper case, I mean the overall worldwide community of believers. I am saying “Church” to refer to God’s children instead of one specific building or group of people that gather in said building.
Phot credit: John Cafazza