Many years ago I considered dropping out of church. I had been thrown under the bus by church people and even ganged up on by some leaders. Looking back, I see that most of it was my fault. Those events happened over 15 years ago so who cares who is at fault.
Today I have a daughter that would attend church every night. “Mommy, is there church tonight?” D’Andra asks during dinner on Monday night. “No honey, there’s no church tonight.” She puts her fork down, “Is there church tomorrow night?” I shake my head. “No D’Andra, we don’t have church tomorrow night.”
DÁndra is disappointed that we don’t have church tonight or tomorrow night. My 11-year-old daughter would go every night if she could. For DÁndra, church is a community of friends, a place of warmth where she blends in with everyone else and forgets she has Down syndrome.
I believe church should be a place where we all drop our differences at the door and walk into to blend with the community of faith. I had not always felt that or seen this experience at church. The first time my family attended church we had a visit from the pastor asking us to leave.
I was 9 or 10 at the time and wondered why the pastor was sitting in my parent’s living room. It never dawned on me that my mom and stepdad were not married. I guess I didn’t make the connection since my stepdad has been a part of our lives for several years.
My mom and stepdad were disappointed that they were being asked to leave because they weren’t married.They were trying to get in touch with God and get more stability in their lives. Several people they respected were attending this church. Since they were asked to leave, church never came up on our family radar after that experience.
Fast forward a few years later and my friend invites me to church. I attend her church and have a genuine encounter with God. I was 13 and I don’t remember walking up front and responding to prayer. But I remember I felt different after going to the first service.
I stayed up all night reading the Bible and then read whole Bible during the several months that I went with my friend Elizabeth. I remember sitting on the front row on the edge of my seat hanging onto every word this pastor preached. I was voraciously hungry for God.
The church was a Pentecostal Holiness church where women didn’t wear make up and wore dresses. For some reason that wasn’t a big deal with me because the church members were kind, loving and I never felt judged for wearing jeans to church. The church didn’t have a youth group – I think Elizabeth, her brother and sister and I were the youth group.
There were no cool worship bands or gimmicks to reach teenagers. Just a preacher pouring his heart out to the small congregation and simple people who genuinely cared and loved each other. Every time I walked out though, I felt like I had an encounter with the living God.
Then my friend started experimenting with drugs. I wasn’t interested in smoking marijuana. One day she and another friend cornered me behind an apartment building and told me that if I didn’t smoke dope with them that they would not be my friend.
I had a conflict on my hands because on the one hand, she was my ride to church and on the other hand, she wanted me to do drugs. In my immature teenager logic, I assessed that God must not be real and that everything happening in me spiritually was false because she had not experienced the same thing.
I wanted to read my Bible and love God and my church-raised friend wanted to do drugs. Okay, maybe she knew more than I did and I took my first hit on that joint. I compromised my faith and shut God out of my life. I quit going to church, but for some reason drugs had no appeal for me.
Elizabeth continued smoking dope and I would take a hit to be a part of the group. Smoking dope made me feel hungry but other than that, it did nothing for me. I didn’t like the feeling of losing control so I would usually slip out of the parties or group when they were out of control.
That episode of church-less life was filled with shoplifting and wild drinking parties. Life spiraled downward. I went from doing well in school to attending alternative school. Godless living made me want to die.
We moved to Hawaii and my mom started attending an Assemblies of God church. I wasn’t interested because that experience with Elizabeth showed me that faith didn’t work. I was yet to make the connection that it wasn’t faith not being able to work, but Elizabeth had not responded to God.
For some reason I put Elizabeth on this artificial pedestal. Her mom was a Christian although her father didn’t go to church. But Elizabeth knew more about church than I did and I followed her. I was such an idiot!
Then in college I met Kathryn. She was everything I wanted to be – smart, pretty and popular. Plus she had a friend that I liked. She had an experience with God and I saw the difference. When she invited me to church, I was all over it. “Yes!”
The church was a group of 50 college students meeting in a house. Another friend, Ayman, who I also looked up, was at this service. I remember this middle-aged man preaching about the kingdom of God and how Jesus was a king and a lord. I never heard that message. “You owe Him your life!” I remember Joe Smith preaching.
I stood up to give my life to the Lord in short shorts and an orange tank top. Before I knew it, I was walking up front to show my allegiance to Christ. I wanted to follow God and I wanted to be a part of this group.
The next day I preached on campus and then I shared my testimony in all of my classes. I attended church regularly without anyone telling me I had to go to church. I went because I wanted to be a part of this group and I wanted to be like Kathryn and Ayman.
Since then, I had some crazy church experiences where a leader wanted to debate me about women working outside of the home and we were asked to leave. I’ve heard horror stories and sense a movement in Christianity against attending church. Heck, I went through a season where I didn’t want to attend church after I left Hawaii.
A key leader that influenced me is in prison. Another leader that I looked up to in Florida had to step down because of an inappropriate relationship. By the time I got married, I was close to being done with church and attended with my husband because I liked the people.
My husband, Jerome, was a leader in this church and at times I felt obligated to go with him. One time the pastor and elders were having a meeting at our home. I went to a Hootle & The Blowfish concert because I didn’t want to be in the meeting. When I look back on that episode, no wonder were asked to leave! It makes me cringe when I think that I didn’t attend the meeting but chose a secular concert.
As you can see, I was far gone. Church attendance was an obligation, something I had to do. I wanted to support the pastor who was a great preacher, and I really liked the people. But something shut down inside of me.
After we were asked to leave, we were game to go anywhere. I wanted to move back to Orlando and try to get my old job back. Jerome wanted to stay put and seek the face of God. Next Monday – Part 2: Why I Go to Church