Church has always been a part of my life. Nearly all of my earliest memories are of going to church, of missionaries visiting from Africa, of hearing Bible stories and making crafts and singing silly songs in vacation bible school. When I try to identify the point in my life when I began my own personal faith journey, I find it somewhat difficult. Usually, I point to the time in kindergarten when I made a profession of faith, more like I repeated a prayer after my Sunday school teacher. This was after a particularly scary story about what Hell was like, and while I did not know much about God or Jesus, I knew I didn't want to go there, so I said the prayer my teacher said would keep me out of Hell.
No matter where we lived, and my family moved around a lot, we always found a church to attend on Sunday morning. My life has always been centered around church. When I was ten years old my family started attending a Baptist church and naturally, I got baptized. I liked being at church, and looked for any excuse to be there. I joined the choir, I attended every Bible study that they offered, I was the picture of a good church boy.
I set out to learn as much about God as I could. I read books, attended Bible studies and classes. I was sure that what I really needed was to find all the answers that the Bible had to offer. After years of work and study, I gained quite the reputation as a know-it-all. I decided what I really needed was to teach others about all the things I had learned, so I looked for every opportunity to teach I could. I taught Sunday school, and lead youth group, and generally found that I could convey how much I knew pretty well.
All the time I was striving to learn more, to perform better, to belong more, and all the time I never realized that I was looking for something more in my life than "Church". Church had become a place where I went, it was something that I did, that I was expected to do, and that I had learned to do very well. At least, I thought that I was doing it well.
About 10 years ago, my life fell completely apart. I sat in a jail cell, guilty of a terrible crime. A crime that took away my ability to ever do church well again. Many in the churches I had been part of before simply chose to act like I had died, it was like I was no longer there. Some treated me like I was a second class Christian, and still others wondered if I had ever been a Christian to begin with.
Not going to church just didn't seem possible, so I kept going. At first, I hid my past behind clever stories and shallow smiles. After a few years, I found a men's group that promised unconditional acceptance and love and who taught of a God who was accepting and loving, even when we are at our worst. I went to the meeting, and just poured all my ugliness out in front of them all. I told them of my sins and my time in prison and challenged them to accept me. And do you know what those men did, they accepted me, and loved me, and honored my secret for two years until I was ready to share it with more in the church.
I learned more about who God was in the few years I attended this men's group than I had in more than twenty years of going to church. I also learned that I was not doing church well. You see, church was just something that I did, but Church was something that these men were. They had learned somewhere in their journey that what church was really about was being the literal body of Christ to those who needed a real physical experience of God. As Job says, I had heard rumors of God before, but now, I have met him face to face.
I didn't leave church, but my faith changed. My faith was no longer a purely academic pursuit; instead it became a relationship with a real living, loving person. I still go to places called church, but I now realize that I am God's church. I join with believers in the streets, in churches, in homes, and wherever I can find them. Now, instead of telling people how much I know about God, I seek to show them how much He cares about them. I am not sure where along this path my faith journey started, in fact, the exact starting point has become so much less important to me than my goal of being Christ to those whom I encounter.
This post is part of the November Synchroblog. Please check out other synchrobloggers sharing stories of their faith journeys this month:
- LoveDay – When God Pulls Your Strings
- Liz Dyer – Stages of Faith and Beauty In the Wilderness
- Jeremy Myers – A Life of Regret and Hope
- J A Carter – Jesus Christ Superstar Saved My Soul
- Carol Kuniholm – Stumbling In the Dark
- Glenn Hagar – How I Became Irreligious
- DoneWithReligion – My Journey To Leaving Church
- Kathy Escobar – A Drama + A Comedy = A Dramedy