I’m a church goer. Raised in the church from the time I was a tiny tyke. Yep, my name was on the Cradle Roll (a list kept by the church of names of members’ young children) when I was a mere baby.
Sunday School attendee, that was me. The week of Vacation Bible School, you can bet I was there. Youth group follower when we had one. Choir singer. Even occasional hymn player on the piano.
If the church doors were open, I was more than likely sitting inside, and one Sunday morning, I felt the stirring of something I couldn’t deny, tentatively vacated my spot on the pew, walked to the front of the sanctuary for an altar call, and gave my life to Jesus. Baptism followed shortly afterward.
And then came college years and church just didn’t seem so important. Every so often, I’d feel a tad guilty about not going to church and attend a nearby one on the outskirts of campus. But my Bible collected dust and my prayers were few.
Matrimony commenced in church – the one I grew up in – where Papa and I stated our vows to one another. His career choice at the time (Army officer) took us far away from home and again church slid into the background of our lives.
For a time we attended one where we had been invited, where I even joined the choir, but eventually, we stopped going, feeling like we had nothing in common with those church goers and that particular denomination.
I guess you could say we occasionally church-shopped, visiting this church and that, but attending worship services became even more sporadic and once in a while, we just dropped in at the non-denominational military chapel on post.
Becoming parents changed that. Once we began having our children, we realized we needed to get back to church. We wanted our children to learn the same Sunday School lessons we learned as youngsters. A career change and moving to another state prompted us to look for a church ‘home.’
And we found one in a small congregation that was mostly made up of elderly folks. They embraced our young family with so much thoughtfulness and caring, almost like surrogate parents and grandparents to us when we were so far away from our own families.
But eventually, we realized we longed to be included in a congregation of young families with children for fellowship and friendship. So we found another small congregation that fit the bill.
Our pastor there exuded sincerity and genuineness both on and off the pulpit. I sensed to him, faith was real, alive, and vibrant, and I listened with an open heart to his messages.
We joined that church and considered it a blessing to fellowship with others there and become involved in as many church activities as we could, even leading a fledgling youth group.
Choir, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School organizer, church newsletter, women’s fellowship group, married couples fellowship, you name it, I was a part of it.
But still, there was a part of me that yearned for something more. More knowledge, more insight, more…. more of some intangible thing I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
We had lived in that area for eight years and were comfortable. Comfortable in our home, comfortable with lots of friends, comfortable with our church.
And then – bam! Major changes came our way. A job promotion for Papa that required moving about 1800 miles away and an entire country’s length away from our families back home. I was surprised, a little shocked, unhappy, and to be honest, even a bit angry.
I remember asking God over and over why this was happening. We finally felt ‘settled’ and now, we had to leave. I took my question to our pastor, who always seemed tuned to God’s spirit speaking to him.
I’ve never forgotten the gist of what Pastor said to me that day. As sad as he was to see us leave, he told me perhaps what I was searching for just couldn’t be fulfilled in our comfortable place in that church.
I never dreamed how right he was. It actually didn’t take us long to find a church family in our new state, new city, new home.
Becoming a part of that family of God caused me to realize that for most of the years I had spent in church, my faith was just comfortable, like putting on a well-worn old sweater that made you feel cozy and warm.
Not only that, my faith was disconnected. It existed in my head but was missing in my heart.
It was a nice, pretty package tied up with a lovely bow, but inside was a box only partially full. The box contained some knowledge about the Lord, some Bible stories, and Scriptures remembered, but there was no heart to it.
There were good works and tons of busyness for the church, about the church, within the church, but no real life, no vibrancy, no honest-to-goodness personal relationship cultivated with a Savior that I said I believed in.
“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.” ~ A. W. Tozer
I had to be physically moved out of my comfort zone to be spiritually moved closer to my Savior. I’ve heard this quote many times, although I don’t know who to attribute it to: “Sitting in a church doesn’t make you any more of a Christian than sitting in a garage makes you a car.”
I love church, I do. But I love My Savior more and it saddens me when those sitting in pews, chairs, or benches inside a building called a church don’t demonstrate a vibrant faith.
I’m not condemning them because I know exactly where they are coming from. I sat in those buildings called churches for many years before my spiritual life actually grew into a real and personal faith in Jesus Christ.
While Papa and I were vacationing, I was drawn to a number of churches we saw in our travels and felt compelled to take photos of them, and I’m sharing them here with you.
But now, I wonder how many of these beautiful churches are filled with people who are just like I once was. People who do church because…well, it’s just what they do. Because their head, not their heart, tells them to.
And lately, I even wonder how many churches are fairly empty. According to some of the latest research, church attendance has fallen significantly. Why?
When this world seems even harder to navigate than ever and people appear to be searching for something, anything, to fill those huge empty holes in their hearts, why aren’t folks flocking to church, seeking a Savior?
Are we, those believers who are the church, failing? Do we reach out to those who need the Lord – those outside of our lovely buildings? Do we step out of our comfort zones? Do we embrace those who don’t look like us or talk like us, the ones who don’t even live like us? Are we truly the hands and feet of Jesus?
Because I believe that all of those seated inside those church buildings must venture outside to truly do God’s work. That is church.
“Religion that is contained only within a church building is a weekend hobby, not a personal faith.” ~ James Lankford