By Brad Hutchcraft
I've been at this for a lot of years. People have all sorts of opinions on the matter. Some love it, some rail against it. Some view it as a regulation, some a privilege. For me, it's always been a part of my life - church.
Almost everyone has a reaction to that word. Church. Joy, frustration, love, hurt, peace, defensiveness. So many emotions are tied to that one word. I'm not writing a lot of words here to defend church or everything various people in various churches have done over the years. And this isn't me writing to tell you why you should go to church.
I'm just writing because it's part of my story. It was part of the first half of my story, and it certainly is part of the second half. And honestly, it brings a smile to my face to write about this. Not because of a building, but because of the part it has played in me experiencing more of the incredible plan Jesus has for me.
I grew up in an area with plenty of churches around. The great thing was, I felt the one my family went to was one of the best. They say hindsight is 20/20, and even looking back, I still feel that way. The biggest challenge? It set a high standard for other churches I'd attend in my life to live up to.
I went to a good church in college, where the pastor not only taught the Word of God but lived it. I've been to small churches while on the mission field that were filled with amazing people who loved like Jesus (and could host a mean potluck!). And I've found many friends at a bigger church, filled with people passionate about reaching those the world has forgotten.
Many great experiences, and I could write many blogs about what I learned along the way from each of those churches. And yes, I've also been to some churches that I didn't connect with for various reasons. I've learned from those, too.
Now, we go to a church that used to have a roller coaster next to it. Yup, a real, wooden roller coaster. That's kinda fun. It's a church that feels so much like home to us. The worship, the teaching, the laughter, the overwhelming encouragement of marriages and families - it's simply beautiful. I've heard some say that the closer they get to a church, the more they are turned off because of the "ugly side" they see behind the scenes. As we have experienced more of this part of the body of Christ, it's been just the opposite. The closer we get, the more we love it, and the more we want to be a part of serving.
All of that said, this isn't about one specific church. In fact, it's about many churches, filled with people and experiences who have helped me live a life that gets more exciting with each passing year.
A good church should remind you of the early Church that the Bible talks about in Acts 2 - "All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals...and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people."
Maybe you've gone to a roller coaster church before...but not the fun kind. You've seen ups-and-downs that have caused you to leave church in the rear view mirror. I'd encourage you to pull over, turn the car around, and maybe give this all another look. There is no perfect church here on earth, and if you're looking for problems, you will most likely find them.
But, if you're looking for a place to belong, a place with people who will love you, and a place that can help you find pieces that seem to be missing, you can find that, too. It might not be the first church you check out, or the second, or the third, but when you find the right fit, well, you'll want to tell others that part of your story. Don't give up. It's worth the effort.
When all is said and done, people could argue with me about an "institution" that has been flawed, but I know it isn't about an institution. It's about a Savior. It's about Jesus Christ, and when a church has that right, you can't wait for Sunday!