I grew up in a strict church. Lucky for me, my parents were never hypocrites and didn’t change their way of life for church. BUT we did respect the “Rules” (so to speak) of the “Fundamental” ways. We wore conservative dresses/skirts below the knee to church. We never had crazy hair color, no abnormal piercings, men in the church had short hair. Basically nothing to draw attention to oneself was the “Rules” so to speak. When I was growing up, I thought I was pretty open-minded about people. Like I said, my parents WERE NOT hypocrites and what other people wore or looked outside of church was a non-issue for our family.
“A lot of my friends didn’t associate all of those rules and regulations with school. Instead they connected the rules and regulations with being a Christian and pointed to things like their short hair and collared shirts as evidence.”
not a fan. by Kyle Idleman
But I never realized how much growing up in this church with man made rules affected my way of thinking. Let me explain….
When moving to Orlando, we started visiting churches. If you have never been “Church shopping” before, consider yourself lucky. It is such a long, tiring process and very eye opening on what others perceive about churches. We visited over 10 churches until we decided on one that was most like the previous churches we attended. Music, dress, atmosphere, and Bible translation all the same.This made life more “comfortable” for us. We knew how to act, dress, participate, etc.
But after months of being there, my son had enough of it. He was one year old, and he hated it. I mean not like “I want mommy all the time” hated it. More like “We started walking to the nursery and he would scream bloody murder” hated it. We continued to go and every week we were not able to go to any services because he was losing his mind. The final straw came the last 2 times we went. He started throwing up from being so distraught. My husband and I do believe nothing bad happened there, but it was going on over a month now and we needed a church.
This is when our lives changed drastically.
I had a friend who was constantly bringing up the church she went to. We weren’t “great” friends at the time. My friend’s outward appearance would never fit into what I perceived as a good Christian.She was one of the first people I met in Orlando, and she invited me to her church….and I was like “I don’t want to go to the church she goes too – it seems like it would be ‘feel good’ church.” It wasn’t how she talked, it was how she looked – a piercing on her face, visible tattoos, and looser dress standards. That’s how false my ideology was.
But, my friend's church was literally less than a 2-minute drive from our house. We actually had visited her church once before. The music was much more contemporary than we were comfortable with, the preaching was not from the Bible translation we used, the atmosphere was more relaxed, and the pastor wore jeans.
So why did I go there if this is what I thought?
Well let’s review. My concerns… music style, casual atmosphere, pastor’s appearance, Bible translation. ALL of that had NOTHING to do with “Spiritual” things.
But WHY did I think that these things determined the church’s spirituality?
We decided to go back and give it a try because we wanted our son to get used to going to church. He was a changed person! The almost 2 years we went, we never got a call from the nursery or picked him up in tears. Looking at that fact alone, we probably would have continued to go no matter the state of the church.
I am not going to sugar coat it, it was a HARD adjustment for me and my husband. It was hard to hear verses we memorized our whole lives quoted differently. It was hard during worship time to sing the songs we barely knew. It was hard to respect the preaching from a guy in oh-so tight skinny jeans. It was hard looking around at others with hands in the air during the worship music. It was hard going up to random people in the church and holding hands or laying hands on them because it was the church body prayer time.
It was so far out of our comfort zone.
But, it changed me.
This new church wasn’t the problem, it was ME. I was judging. I know it, and I am deeply saddened by this. I was carrying a false ideology from my upbringing. I never felt judged for my actions or my outward appearance at this church. The majority of people were not putting on a show on Sunday. They came because they wanted to. I never once heard “Where were you last week?” Almost everyone said “Hello” when I passed by in the hall and the staff was warm and welcoming no matter if it was my first time or my eightieth time. To me, these people genuinely wanted to be there.
“For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
It’s the heart – the heart of the church body, the heart of the pastor, the heart for the community, the heart to save the lost, the heart to love one another, and most of all – a heart for Christ, no matter how you may appear.
Hey, remember that girl I spoke about earlier? I believe with my whole heart, God put her there just to open my eyes. I have never had such in depth conversations about Christ than I had with her. She didn’t fit into my “Perfect standards,” but God knew that she would fit perfectly into my life.
Today, I love surrounding myself with genuinely, non-judging, happy, self-giving, Christians…and I’ll never look back.
Hope you someday find JOY in church, as I have,