HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
January 15, 2007, Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

Don’t give up yet – you’ve only just begun

Rev. Bill Baldwin, Prairie Evangelical U.C.C., Lester Prairie

Remember those foods that you were forced to try as a kid and absolutely hated? We all had them.

Funny thing is, when we go back and try them later, even years later, we may find out our taste has changed and we really love them now.

How many of us ever tried something new and it worked out perfectly the first time? Everything has a learning curve, and many tastes are acquired over time.

We also find out that our first impressions and experiences of something were very distorted when we learn more about how things work. I have known people who thought they hated a particular sport until they started to understand what was going on.

I used to be a proud cat hater, until we got two cats. Now I love them dearly and am perpetually fascinated watching them be cats.

The one complaint I hear more than any other about church is that they tried it, but it was either boring, too full of hypocrites, or that someone had said or done something that offended them a long time ago and they vowed to never go back.

I always see a smug look when people give this kind of response, thinking that they’ve nailed me and I’ll leave them alone. I do leave them alone because everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I choose not to force my good thing on anyone who isn’t ready for it.

I have heard lots and lots of excuses about why people aren’t actively involved in a Christian community, and some of them are humdingers. Funny thing is, someone else is always to blame for why church didn’t work out.

No one ever owns up to the truth that they personally chose to use an excuse so they didn’t have to accept responsibility for the good, the bad, and the ugly that goes along with being part of a human institution, albeit one intimately connected to God. It always amazes me that people think that they are part of a Christian community for what others will do for them, or how others will treat them.

Believe me, we all have had bad experiences at church, but many of us stay and keep plugging onward because we are there to worship God, to connect with others on the journey, to be of service to others, and to learn how to get along with the very people who annoy us, as we will find in any church.

So, I am asking you to re-think your excuses for staying on the outside of church doors and outside of Christian community. Is your life really going all that great on your own? Is toughing it out alone really working that well for you?

And what do you think is happening at churches that is really so bad? Granted, there are lots of churches I wouldn’t have anything to do with for various reasons, but I would never stop looking for a church where I felt welcome, where I felt the presence of God, and where I could grow in faith, because I know that I need God and I need Christian community.

Maybe, in this season of resolutions, you might consider taking a huge risk and checking out a few local churches this year. I honestly understand that it is a huge risk to walk into a church where you don’t know how things work, you don’t know who is there, and you don’t know what might be expected of you.

My suggestion is that if you visit a church that seems even remotely comfortable, go back at least a half-dozen times. The first time or two for anything new is uncomfortable and scary. But each time you go back, you’ll get more familiar and feel more at home.

If this doesn’t happen, then try another church, don’t just give up. I believe in my heart that if you’ll give a church a try for a month or two straight, you’ll make connections that have value.

One more bonus suggestion: Go to the yellow pages under churches. Or use a search engine on the Internet and type in the name of the denomination of various churches. Find out a little about what they believe. For many people, specific beliefs are secondary to the friendships made with people at churches of any kind, but it is still important to learn if a particular church holds to beliefs that resonate with your core beliefs and values.

All churches are not alike. No one denomination is right for everyone. Whatever your childhood affiliation, feel free to explore lots of denominations now, because you are a free American adult. Make this your year to break your old habit of staying on the sidelines and take some risks.

May 2007 be your best year ever, and may you encounter the presence of the one true and living God who has never stopped waiting for you and longing for you to come home.

Blessings and peace. Amen.

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