For the past year or so, many of my peers and I have struggled with going to church. We were all raised in church and practically never missed a Sunday. Church, for me, has always been the center of my life. I both lost and found myself there. My social identity began with the relationships I've made because of the churches I've been a part of. I'm one of the fortunate few who cannot recall experiencing "church hurt". I never felt betrayed or outcasted by the church or its leadership. I've only experienced genuine love, acceptance, and grace in the churches I've known.
So why is it that I, too, find myself dreading going to church?
My church journey is very simple. Grew up in the biggest Black Baptist church in the state. Gained a sense of family and identity there. Was incredibly involved in ministry and my thirst for the Lord was constantly quenched, but soon into my teenaged years, as I grew in intellect, I wanted something different. I found it in Reformed theology.
Going to my first Legacy Conference in 2007 opened my eyes to a plethora of words I'd never heard and ideas I'd never examined. I spent much time studying hermeneutics, apologetics, limited atonement, and the hypostatic union. My thirst for knowledge drew me away from the black church, as I viewed it elementary and somewhat heretical (I view from which I've been delivered). My new church was a small house church, solid, multicultural, youthful, and allowed me a break from the busyness of the Black church. It was the direct opposite of what I'd experienced growing up and it intrigued me. I grew so much in my knowledge of Christ and his word during the few months I spent there before going to college and the new family I was welcomed into felt like something I'd been looking for my whole life.
Moving to the South gave me a culture shock of a church experience, becoming a regular visitor at a relatively large, ethnically diverse church. It was the first time I'd been to a church with two co-pastors-- one white, one Black. The college ministry was amazing. I saw it change people's lives. It definitely impacted mine. While I had theological differences that prevented me from joining the church, I definitely felt compelled to serve through the college ministry and felt supported by the church throughout my early college years. Still, I went on searching for my church home.
Tucked away in a suburb of Nashville, I found a small church. Almost everyone there is white. The teaching was solid, the people were sweet, the worship was genuine, and the guy I was kinda feeling was going with me. Turns out this place would become everything I needed for where God was taking me. I was able to serve, to learn, to be discipled, to find consistent like-minded community, to create and raise my family, and grow in my theology. The church was almost ideal for me, just short of some Black faces in leadership.
Moving to Milwaukee, I was reminded of the sweeping segregation of northern churches. I found a glimmer of hope in a small, mostly white, church on the border between the struggling ghetto of the city and the stunning asylum of the suburbs. They were intentional about many of the things I cared about. The pastor preached on justice for the poor, and loving our neighbor quite often. They hosted events regularly to serve the community. They made a conscious effort to incorporate Black styles of worship into the service. It was the first time I actually felt comfortable adding a few "teach Pastor!"s and "Hallelujah!"s mid-sermon since I'd left Chicago. Yet, theologically, there were differences I couldn't ignore, and I don't I ever think I found my sense of community like I would have hoped.
Home Without a Home...
Now I'm home again. And I am much different than when I left. My understanding of God and his word has grown. My family has grown. My aspirations have shifted. And I wonder every week where my family and I belong. Going back to what we know is easy, but it's not beneficial. For the past few months, we've been visiting a church that I have yet to feel any affection for. I have no excitement about going to church, outside of knowing that I will hear God's word, and sometimes, even that is not motivating. Some Sundays, it's so easy for me to give in to the tricks of the enemy, believing that it is self-care to stay home from the place I should feel most cared for by God and His people. I've allowed the needs of my home, or a mirage of physical illness to keep me from church.The absence of a church that fits my doctrinal convictions, liturgical expressions, and social commitments doesn't exist here. Going to church feels more like sentence than celebration. More like ritual than relational. And I fear I am among an entire generation that feels the same. I am praying through I John 1 this week searching for encouragement and hope. Feel free to do the same as I rediscover church for myself. And I pray our hearts may shift together, that our joy may be complete.