Not so welcome to Church. Have you ever felt not so welcome in Church? I have. As a new believer, I wasn’t privy to the culture of a Church body. I didn’t speak their language. I didn’t know the traditions or the social taboo’s I was now expected to be aware of. This made adjusting to going to Church a lot more difficult than it could have been.
Hi! I’m New Here!
David and I have done a podcast on new believers in relation to lifelong Christians. In the podcast, we compare and contrast what it’s like to be on either side of the fence. And one of the major obstacles for a new believer is fitting in to their new surroundings.
I can tell you; I had a rough go my first few years attending Church. Our first Church was very casual. There wasn’t a strict dress code. We were in Arizona, and it was not uncommon to see people in shorts on Sunday morning.
Our second Church was a different story. The congregation was a bit more mature. They were deeply rooted and invested in their Church traditions. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I love many of the traditional aspects of corporate worship with fellow believers. But as I said earlier, there can be a culture that stems out of this that is not easy for new believers to acclimate to.
The Rookie Mistake
We’ve probably all experienced the “You’re sitting in my seat” phenomena. It’s a running joke in any Church you go to. Every usher can probably tell stories about a friendly visitor that was tersely asked to move because they were sitting in someone’s pew. This can be off-putting to be sure. But things can extend well beyond these simple acts of being discourteous.
My most embarrassing moment came early on when I was asked to assist with communion one Sunday morning. I was dressed casually, but not in a way I felt was inappropriate for Church. I had on white dress pants and a button up shirt. It was a shirt that was meant to be worn untucked (some of you just realized what my sin was). I didn’t think anything of it as I assisted the pastor with communion.
The next day I received a call from the head Lay Minister at our Church. While he was very gracious, he let me know in no uncertain terms that I was not to approach the alter without wearing a coat and tie. I was left somewhat speechless by his admonishment.
At our previous Church it wasn’t uncommon to have communion served by someone in shorts. I thought I had upped my game by wearing pants! It had never occurred to me my clothes might be inappropriate. I was a bit embarrassed and somewhat frustrated. Where were all these special rules written down? Could I get a copy? What else was I doing wrong?
We didn’t have a lot of money at this point. A new suit wasn’t in the budget. I began to wonder if this meant I should avoid Church all together until I could save up enough to meet the dress requirements. How many people were looking down on me now? Should we find another Church?
This unfortunately is not an isolated case. And once I moved into a position of leadership, the culture and the expectations only got more complexed. People’s treatment of me and my family nearly caused us to leave the Church entirely. And when I say the Church, I mean ALL Churches. It was that uncomfortable.
For us it was just a matter of not wanting to put up with a culture we never seemed to fit into. Is this really what Jesus had in mind for His Church? If these are His followers, what does that say about Him? Do I even want to believe this? Because if Christianity is true, I’m going to be stuck with these people.
That last sentence is what can trip people up. There are many reasons people doubt the existence of God. The actions of His followers are high on the list. And it can be absolutely faith destroying to a new believer to experience this.
Why I Still Believe
I just finished Mary Jo Sharp’s new book on doubt titled “Why I Still Believe: A Former Atheist’s Reckoning with the Bad Reputation Christians Give a Good God”. In her book, she recounts many of her struggles as a new believer, and then as the wife of a Pastor. Her experiences were so bad that she began to doubt God existed at all.
As I read, my heart broke for all that she went through. And I could identify with her. I experienced many of the same things she did as a new believer. And while I was never a full-time pastor, I did get a small taste of ministry as a youth leader. Doubt does begin to creep in, but not for a rational reason. I didn’t want Christianity to be true.
What Mary Jo eventually realized is that her doubt wasn’t so much driven by evidence. It was the realization that if God did exist, then she would have to come to terms with the people in the Church. And that was not a comforting thought.
If you’ve ever experienced pain or abuse at the hands of the Church, let me first say how sorry I am. This is not what Jesus intended. We are imperfect beings. We make mistakes. And yes, we also sin. Frequently if we’re honest. I am not excluding myself from this.
Is This The Way It’s Supposed To Be?
I think it’s important to note that when people act this way in Church, they’re not following the teaching of Jesus Himself. So why, if Jesus commands us to love one another, do we have such a hard time doing this? I wish I had the answer. Intellectually, I know that we have a sin nature. We are fallible human beings. But why we as a Church cannot do better at following these commands is a mystery to me.
However, the truth of Christianity doesn’t rise or fall based on the actions of its adherents. No more than the actions of atheists prove or disprove atheism. Christianity is either true, or it isn’t. And we need to evaluate it based on the facts and arguments for and against it.
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