Be warned- I'm going to preach a little.
I am sorry to say that I haven't been to church in a while. I know watching televised church doesn't count. My feelings toward God and the Bible and religion in general haven't changed. However, my feelings about church have changed and I'm still trying to work out what to do about it. I try to find comfort in prayer and something I once read- "You are everywhere Lord, but I worship you here." I take that to mean that God listens to me in my bedroom, in my yard...in my soul.
You may recall that a couple of years ago there was a terrible, heartbreaking division in our church which lead to the resignation of our preacher and a split in the congregation. One group stayed in the old building and the other met in a new location. There were a few of us who tried to find refuge in other congregations. My husband and I visited several other churches in the area- it just never seemed like we were in the right place. We are in an area where churches are tightly-knit community groups and going to church in another community seemed very odd. And traveling 15 to 20 miles to church is inconvenient after years of traveling four miles. Add that to the fact that my husband works retail, often on Sunday, and that leaves me going to church alone. Excuses, I know. But I'm honest enough to admit them to you.
This has been on my mind because I now hear that one of the church groups is having trouble again and several people have asked my opinion about it. One older man told me he can no longer attend church because his "nerves can't take it". I understand completely. I was so upset by the first break-up that I couldn't sleep and I thought I was developing an ulcer. When we went to other churches I kept waiting for someone to suddenly stand up and start yelling. I doubt that I will ever feel completely at peace in church again. My feelings have nothing to do with forgiveness or understanding, only a gut-reaciton caused by a traumatic event.
I found a little verse in the Bible that spoke to me this week. It's Proverbs 18:19- "A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a castle." I used to wonder why there were people in our community who don't attend church anymore. I assumed I knew some of the answers, but the sad truth is that I never took the time to ask the question. Perhaps if I did I would find that they have been hurt or offended or frightened in the past. Hearing about more problems surely won't win them back. I wonder if those involved in the current crisis truly understand the impact they are making on the rest of the community.
I think the intention of God was for us to gather together to worship Him so that we would have the joy of fellowship and the support of each other. If that joy is gone, then we are missing the point. If that support is replaced by contentions and arguments about leadership, then we are driving people away from the church. I'm certainly not ready to go back yet. I may be wrong. I may be sinful. But at least I'm honest, and I feel like a lot of people who formerly attended church with me were not.