Yesterday, you met Cheryl and read how she left her childhood faith in college. After her first child, and attending holiday services at this new church with a different perspective on who God is, Cheryl’s husband said, “Alright, we always said we would go back to church when we had kids, we found a church we like, why aren’t we going on Sundays?” (They were pregnant with their second.)
They started attending regularly. She joined the choir – music was always her connection to God.
Never before had Cheryl understood the concept of GRACE. Either it had never been taught, or the teaching was drowned out by the harsher, more judgmental words that accompanied it. Here was a place that said God offers you grace. Grace and love no matter who you are and where you have been. God offers you love no matter who rejected you in the past. We are all God’s children and all are loved. The congregation was wildly diverse. Everyone was accepted. The doors were open to whoever walked through.
This is where we take a brief detour from Cheryl’s story and I get on my soapbox.
What is the American church doing?
If a nearly 40 year old woman has been in churches on and off for decades and this is the first place that she learned about God’s grace, THEN WHAT ARE WE DOING?
Grace, the concept central to the entire Christian faith, the word mentioned nearly 120 times in the New Testament, was new to her?
First, can I offer an apology? Can we just pretend that I can look you in the eyes, whoever you are reader, and say how sorry I am if a “Christian/religious” organization or person judged or ostracized you or told there was no place for you or gave you a long list of ways you failed without offering any hope.
We are chosen by GRACE – and if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11)
We have all failed! The Bible says that we “have all fallen short” and that NO ONE is righteous. That’s why God offers grace. “Out of his fullness, we have all received grace...” (John 1) “We gain access by faith into this grace by which we now stand…” (Romans 5)
Do you know what that means? No person has a higher or better right to approach God in Heaven than you.
And Church – we will be extinct in moments if we try to decide who has a right to worship. I do not care who walks through that church door – every single human being is loved by God and created by God and has a right to be a part of a community that seeks God. Every. Person.
Those who followed Christ would not have been welcomed in too many churches today. Prostitutes. Lepers. Tax collectors. The poor. The pariahs. Those were the people with whom He dined. Those were the people who knew Him.
Our churches, not all but too many, need to figure out what they are about and who they are called to serve. Thousands, maybe millions, of my generation keep their distance from the Church or anything that smacks of the “religious” because of a brutal experience they had with a church in their younger years. The Church must welcome seekers without condemnation – poor and rich, black and white, gay and straight, working moms and stay at home moms, fat and thin, divorced and married, young and old – EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON.
As we return to Cheryl’s story, she shares she has connected to her faith in a way she has never known. From avoiding religion altogether to being a church leader. She sings in the choir every week, serves as a children’s choir director in a program that has grown to over 100 kids, and finds ways to continue to minister in her community from a church that has more than doubled in size in the past five years (look what the message of grace does).
She shares, “Finding this place has given my life and my family new meaning. I have a new depth, joy, and passion. My growing faith has strengthened my marriage. I’m a better parent. I even find myself praying at the communion rail for patience in those roles. I actually look forward to going to church on Sunday mornings. The sermons are so engaging and thought-provoking that I find myself applying them months later. I love serving in the music ministry so much and am grateful to have renewed this connection to God.”
Singing is not just a joy in her life but an obligation. A call to share the gift God has given to her. To use it as a part of her faith. And while music always brought me joy, Cheryl told me, I believe the words I am singing now and I’m not just singing the notes. I know grace.
There’s a small church in her neighborhood whose membership had slowly dwindled until it could no longer sustain itself. Cheryl’s church asked her to chair the committee to develop a strategic plan for the community church. To develop it into a place that grows and thrives based on the message of God’s grace and love.
Cheryl closed our conversation with this:
We have to find the one lost sheep . That’s why I’m chairing this committee. I used to be that one wayward sheep and then this church found me – I came home. I want to create a place where just one person can find the peace, joy, and love that is God. I never understood when people said “God is calling me to do this”– but now I do. The call is loud and clear.