Have you ever gone to a church because a friend invited you, and you had no idea what was going on? You are greeted by some people at a door (hopefully) as you walk into the church building (also known as the sanctuary, worship center, or worship cafe), you are given a bulletin, worship guide, or event brochure. You then follow your friend to a seat where people attempt to awkwardly engage you in insuperable smallish talk about the weather, what you are wearing, or ask you if it is your first time (if the deer in headlights look isn't completely obvious). You smile, nod, and then sit down, as a somewhat metro-sexual-looking man with a guitar welcomes you, then starts to play what seems like rock music (with only 3 chords on the guitar).
The music appears to sound religious and is directed towards Jesus. Then, after a set of music, and being asked to stand up, another person either comes on stage or is on video telling you to all about the happenings at or around the church building, and how you can participate (or serve). After that, there is an awkward transition as you are asked to bow your head while someone seems to either be talking to him or herself, or God, and he or she is thanking God for His provision, and thanking Him for how He will multiply the offering given by you and others. A bag, hat, or KFC bucket is passed down the aisle, and you wonder if you should drop some of your change and or pocket lint into this thing being passed—as a tip or something for allowing you to sit in this air conditioned room.
Following that, you sing 1 or 2 more “love songs,” which if you replaced “Jesus” with “baby,” would actually seem pretty good if sang by Boyz II Men or One Direction. Another person then comes on stage with his/her Bible and starts to tell you about this book that they call "God's Word," and how you can know God better by this pastor/lecturer/teacher pontificating what he/she learned while having quiet time with said book.
After 30-50 minutes of hearing this person describe what he/she understands from this book, you are generally asked to stand up one more time, sing one more song that has lyrics about telling people about Jesus or selling something to someone (you aren't really sure), then are dismissed. You walk out of the building, are greeted by the same person who tried to catch you in a small talk lollapalooza before this whole shindig started, and walk as fast as you can to your car with your friend.
Then, in the car or at lunch, you are asked, "What did you think?" or, "How did you like it?" You attempt to be truthful without being rude, but don’t want to get your friend’s hopes up. So, you say something to the effect of: "It was interesting" or, "It was an experience." Eventually, you make it back home and your bulletin goes into the trash, a Bible that might have been given or slipped to you when you weren't even looking ends up on a night stand or catch all, and you go back to life as usual, hoping that you will honestly have good excuses the next time you are asked to attend "church."
This might have been a little over-dramatic, compared to the exact experience that you have endured, but I bet it seemed familiar. For those of you who have never been to a "church service" before, it might feel like being a person from another country who has never experienced a restaurant before coming to America—like going to Red Robin for the first time, without any explanation of what it will be like.
As a follower of Jesus and as a pastor, I am sorry. I am sorry that when you were invited to church, you weren't really let in on what you would actually be experiencing. I am sorry that, for the most part, the people who you ended up talking with seemed a little off and difficult to connect with. I am sorry that much of the "service" or "show" that you witnessed didn't make a whole lot of sense to you. I am also sorry that you probably had more questions than answers about God, His church, and His people once you left the church building, than before you entered.
And I am especially sorry that if you had questions, there is a very good chance your friend probably recommended that you talk to a pastor (or professional Christian) to help get Your questions answered. If you did actually get to talk with a pastor (who generally appears to be too busy attempting to manage Christians; we don't seem to have time for those who are wrestling with God), then I am sorry if you felt like the answers you were given were canned or scripted or very Hallmark (i.e. you just need to have more faith, God doesn't like your doubt, you need to stop sinning).
I am sorry because that isn't who Jesus is, and/or what He cultivated in his followers to reach the world with the Great News. And this Great News says that because of what Jesus has done, you and I, no matter what we have done, can be made right again with God—even though we have constantly denied Him, fought Him, or ignored Him. He has made a way, not that you would try harder, but that you would humble yourself and make Jesus Lord of your life.
Ultimately, church services have started to focus on entertaining and informing us, but most have not created a reason for us to attempt to get deeper with God, or given us the tools to do so. I believe that every person, no matter where they are in life, will, at some point, want to know who, why, and how in regards to God.
Who is he/she/it? If God exists, knowing Him is a question that everyone would like to know and understand.
Why does God allow Himself to be believed in and known through faith, and not through tangible experiences that no one could ever deny?
And if God is actually the God of the Bible, why does He seem so far-fetched in His story of miracles, and so intolerant of people?
None of these questions are too big for God, but more often than not, people are so put off by what Christians say and do—how they do "church" and what they are against—that really getting to hear about, meet and experience Jesus never really happens. This is because many Christians are distracted from the point of what our faith is actually about.
Christianity is not a religion built on a list of DOs and DON’Ts, but a relationship with God, through His only Son, Jesus. That if you trust that His death and resurrection are the grace that you are being offered, and your response is faith in Jesus, you are then adopted into God's family. And this is not because you earned, bought, or attained it, but because of God's gift to you: a gift that you cannot take credit for.
Picture a 16-year-old girl driving a Tesla. She didn't earn it; a father who lavished his glorious riches on her gave it to her. That is salvation, that is how our relationship with God works, that is what Christianity is about. So, unless we are talking about God's sacrifice, Jesus' death and resurrection, God’s grace to us, and our response of faith in Him, then we may be talking about "Christians" or religion or theory, but we are not talking about the faith that saves and transforms us.
Lastly, I am sorry that we, as Christians, have over complicated a simple truth. The Good News of Jesus is that He did for you what you could not do for yourself. If you decide trust Him, He will take you, give you a new heart, transform your life and make you about His Father's business—not as a slave, but as an adopted son or daughter.
Would you receive this free gift that God offers us, through Jesus and a relationship with Him? If so, please let me know; I'd love to help connect you into a church family that can help you grown in your understanding and relationship with God.
But if you still have a lot of questions and want to know more about this God that people seem to worship, check out our “Relationship” link, http://www.iamcompelled.org/discipleship/
watch a few of the videos and send me a message, with your thoughts and/or questions and I and others would love to help you wrestle with “Who God is”