And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
It is 2018, a brand new year, and most folks are making (and breaking) new year’s resolutions, as is the tradition each year. With each fresh year, we tend to want to do something new or better or different, and, of course, there is nothing wrong with that. I made it a habit many years ago of NOT making new year’s resolutions to make sure that I didn’t lie to myself, to others and to God that I would do something that eventually I would stop doing. But I find this year that I have fallen into just as bad a pattern as breaking new year’s resolutions: I have developed a “dislike”, if you will, for going to church.
I love church. I was raised in a little cinder block church in eastern Cumberland County. My grandmother took me there, she said, from the time I was a little baby, and I attended that church for the first 18 years of my life. I sang in the choir, I attended Sunday School, Baptist Training Union, Church Traning Union, Wednesday night prayer, Saturday afternoon gathering and Sunday evening service. I went to revival every year, which lasted an entire week, and a guest preacher came in and preached, mainly to the unsaved people that the church members dragged to service, and I remember the “mourning bench”, which was the pew in the very front of the church, being reserved for those who would “get saved” during the service. I will never forget the night my grandmother told me that I was going to sit on that mourning bench. I had to sit there for the whole service and afterward, I had to confess my sin to the church and tell them that I wanted the LORD to save me. I remember standing there with tears streaming down my face, knowing that I was only doing what I had been told because I did not want to face my grandmother’s wrath.
Shortly afterward, I was baptized and I remember the people in the church, most of whom were extended family and distant relatives, clapping and celebrating, bragging about how they could tell there was a change in my life because of the look on my face when I came up out of the water. I remember thinking, what could they have seen? There was no change in anything except the fact that I escaped the punishment that I would have received had I not obeyed my grandmother. I do not say these things to cast aspersions on my grandmother: I know she was only doing what she was taught. It was her belief that the sins a child committed were the responsibility of the parent until that child turned 12 years old, at which time the child became responsible for their own sins. I don’t know where they could have gotten that from in the Bible; I suspect it had something to do with the account in Luke 2 of Jesus teaching in the temple when He was 12 years old. Anyway, she wanted to make sure that I was “saved” so that I would not spend eternity in hell because I had not confessed my sin to Jesus.
Long story short, it wasn’t until 7 years later that I actually became aware of my sin, confessed it sincerely and asked Jesus to be LORD of my life. At that time, I knew that I needed to learn God’s Word, so I left that little cinderblock church and found a Bible teaching church across town, where I became involved, once again, with the Sunday School, Bible study, Choir, youth ministry, singles ministry and all aspects of church life. The pastor of that church, I now know, didn’t really teach me anything from God’s Word, but he did teach me one thing: he always insisted that the members of the church should study God’s Word on their own, and not rely completely on what he said on Sunday morning. He said he was just a human being, and sometimes he might get it wrong, and he wanted us to equip ourselves through a steady diet of the Word. I will thank him forever for that encouragement.
Fast forward fifteen to twenty years, when times were hard and life got complicated and the church had become an extension of my family. All of my close friends are people that I met either in church or in Bible Study Fellowship; and in the tough times I was always encouraged by these people. But I have learned in my latest trial a sad fact: people want to help, but only for a short period of time. Your trial better not last too long or your “friends” will get impatient with it and abandon you when you need them most.
What does that have to do with my growing disinterest in church attendance? I’m glad you asked. I remember Sundays within the last couple of years where I have gone to church literally holding my breath because my heart was so heavy and the tears wanted to flow and I wanted to be okay and hear from God, and I would get the obligatory “I’ll be praying for you” from one of my church friends, only to come home to my problems and my hurt and my disappointment and bear it all alone. I get tired of trying to “fake it until I make it” on Sunday mornings…going to a place where I should be able to be honest about my pain, but instead having to pretend I am okay while listening to a man talk about how we should bear one another’s burdens. One more disappointment. I’m just tired of being disappointed one more time.
I still love the church. I love hearing God’s Word taught in expository fashion from the pulpit. I love hearing the choir sing songs that contain the passages of scripture that I grew to love as a child, and I love fellowshipping with those whom I have the greatest thing in common: we love Jesus Christ. What I don’t love is that empty feeling when I enter and leave the edifice where I should be filled up with hope and encouragement. I guess in my mind, believers should “put up or shut up” and because lots of times they don’t, I have become disillusioned with the church.
I do not want to “forsake the assembling” of myself and my children together with other believers on Sunday mornings. It just hurts so badly to enter a leave a place where I have always been under the impression that I would meet the LORD, and people that LORD uses. I feel so empty and detached from all that is the church until I simply do not want to attend any more. I am content to watch services online on Sundays, where I can be comfortable in my own surroundings and with my family that I know loves me. So I continue to wrestle with the disappointment that I face daily from the one place that I have grown to love over my lifetime, as it continues to be what it is, a group of imperfect people just like me, who obviously don’t know any better than I do.
A friend told me recently that I am vulnerable because of all my disappointments, and that may be true. Vulnerability can be a dangerous thing, and I think of my friend’s comments ever day, because I know she made them out of concern for me. I can take hearing that from someone who has shown their love for me by their actions. What I cannot take is constantly going to a place where I keep hoping that I will find the answer that will make things better, and not only do things not get better, but I continue to keep coming up dry on answers. So much for the “exhorting one another…”