I’ve heard it a thousand times if I’ve heard it once – “Brother Royce, I used to go to church, but . . .”
I LOVE the FaceBook meme I saw recently which read, “Don’t let a bad church experience stop you from going to church. We’ve never let a bad restaurant experience stop us from eating out! Try Again!” As Charles Spurgeon was quoted, “If the devil comes to you and you get into an argument with him, he will beat you; for he is a very ancient lawyer and he has been at that business for so many ages that you cannot match him. Send him to your Advocate!”
First, let me make it clear that I am not a particularly religious guy! Man’s attempt to make himself right with God on his own terms, religious practice, has been an abysmal failure and always will be, so don’t see me as the guy who’s stumping your weekly appearance in one of the stained glass edifices which dot the landscape of this nation. Neither those ornate buildings nor the people within them, including the pastor with two PhDs, can do a single solitary thing to change your life. For generations, well and not-so-well intending pastors have used the Hebrews 10 passage about not forsaking the assembling of ourselves as believers to shame folks into making sure the pews were full, but, (and as the old saying goes, “it’s what’s after the BUT that counts”) the highly regarded apostle James reminded us in a letter bearing his name that the only true and undefiled ‘religion’ was having a right relationship with God and caring for those in need. So, what’s the whole point of this “church” thing, then?
Again, referring to the quote from FaceBook, think about this simple statement for a moment. If you go to a restaurant and have a bad experience, do you give up eating? Do you ban your family from eating food because you had a bad experience in attempting to get to food? Certainly not! Food is sustenance, nourishment that our bodies require to continue. So, in an attempt to make sure that your family still gets food, you make choices to direct them to a better, more complete source of food. Make the parallel with me, here . . .
YOU KNOW that you have spiritual needs! You realize the spiritual needs of your family, and with intent (noble or ignoble) you strike out to visit a local church. It’s Sunday! Southern people, on the whole go to church on Sunday, and you feel the need to do the same, so you load up the family and hit the circuit. It may been the first church or the third visit to the second church into which you walked, but truth be told, there are countless numbers who are reading this article who have had bad church experiences, so you unplugged, went home, and said, “Forget it! If that’s God’s stuff and those are God’s people, I’m out!” Weeks later, for some, years later, maybe with the exception of Christmas and Easter, countless individuals like you have never again darkened the door of a church because of an experience; yet your heart continues to yearn. That relentless spiritual churning says, “There’s gotta be more than the life I’m living.” Yet, you refuse to do anything about pursuing more.
Oh friends! I’d love to tell you that no one has ever had a bad experience at Satartia First, but I’m sure that would be a lie. Then again, I come back to the question of “WHAT,” what are you, what are others pursuing when they attempt to come around what is supposed to be the Body of Christ? Are they looking for perfect people who seem to match their “perfect” lives? Do those who walk in the doors of local churches expect to find people without problems, a pastor who makes no mistakes, etc.? You see, just as with the analogy of the dining experience, when the restaurant experience was bad, there was still the need for food, physical sustenance, so the person desiring food continued in the pursuit of food, good food.
Spiritually, I’m afraid that many a starving man (gender free term) has come in to sit at a table poorly prepared (a local church) and in being served, at the very least, a substandard “meal,” a right opportunity to encounter the person of God, they got up from the table and walked away, denouncing the place of service, never again addressing the spiritual hunger which continued to exist. You see, friends, as I began, I will reiterate. There’s not a thing any church or person within that church can do for you! Your hunger is deeper, your need is life-altering, and the longing can only be filled by the One who drew you in the first place.
Have you had a bad church experience? So, what about going back, to another place of course, but this time, instead of looking at the décor, or the dress of the servers, or the brand on the banner above the door, what if you simply went in pursuit of the One true source of life, the spiritual food you were looking for in the first place? What if you relentlessly pursued spiritual nourishment, regardless how many “restaurants” you had to sift through or how many times someone attempted to serve “bad food”? YES! YES, AND AMEN!! WE ARE, that is the Body of Christ, we are SUPPOSED to be people who resemble and reflect the God in whose name we gather all across this country each week! However, we’re just as human as you. That’s no excuse – it’s a statement of accountability. We, the church who claims to bear the name of Jesus have a great responsibility to live and serve AS CHRIST! Nonetheless, when we fail, He has not, nor will He ever fail. We’re not what you need, but in seeking Him, gathering with others who are struggling just as you, seeking just as you, and committed to finding truth, just as you seek, His people (genuine and authentic believers) are the people with whom you should be gathering . . . on a regular basis, in Jesus’ name.
As stated, you can’t battle the enemy on your own – it’s a no-win game, every time.
For The King, Brother Royce I Cor. 9:16
Rev. Royce R. Lott, Jr. is senior pastor at Satartia First FBC. Contact him by email at