A few years ago I had the misfortune of eating kielbasa for lunch. That’s it — end of post — kielbasa, ugh. I was younger and just as dumb as now.
Just kidding, read on — I had actually enjoyed eating it while having quick lunch and getting ready for a meeting later in the day. Nothing fancy, just what we had on hand. (Don’t Judge Me – my wife says I have the culinary tastes of a 9 year old)
My lunch choice was only unfortunate because I came down with a horrible flu later that evening of the likes that I had never had before or since. I was completely incapacitated for the four days that followed unable to do anything other than lay on the couch and sweat and moan. I did not eat and could barely get even water down. During the entire time, despite the body aches and fever and lack of sleep, the worst part of my sickness was the taste. OH THAT TASTE!!!!
All I could taste and smell for four days was the distinctive and pungent reminders of kielbasa – at four in the morning deliriously trying to sleep – how about some kielbasa. While under 3 blankets shivering in a 80 degree living room — seems a great time for kielbasa. While suffering the body aches, high fever, lack of appetite and generally miserable feeling of having the flu – great time for kielbasa.
The taste of kielbasa continually haunted me. Even to this day as I write this the idea of eating kielbasa makes me want to dramatically spit on the ground in disgust like I am in a Mexican Telenovella. I despise the idea of kielbasa because of this bad experience and plan to never eat it again if I can help it.
I find that many people have a similar perspective on church. Because of a really bad experience sometime in their past, they have a similar visceral reaction to the idea of joining a church in their town or city. Because of their own kielbasa flu aversion therapy, the very idea of going to any church seems madness — it is just out of the realm of possibility. “Don’t you understand how bad it was for me” they ask. A bad experience with a particular church has completely shut them off from the idea of gathering to worship God or even from God himself.
If this is you, I feel your pain. I am not joking and it has nothing to do with kielbasa, I really do. Before experiencing the love of Jesus lived out authentically through a person, I thought church was just about the last thing I wanted to do. Having grown up in a church and attended schools run by the same church with an experience that ranged from greatly scarring to miserable to just empty, I wanted nothing to do with church for years after leaving mandatory church. From memories of the members of the religious staff of my high school watching the students take showers after gym to religious teachers recommending drug use to the pettiness of supposed paragons of the faith that were the teachers and leaders, I thought that the idea of church attendance was for the weak and the easily trapped. I thought that churches were there to prey on people, were narrow minded and looked nothing like the Jesus that they supposedly followed. Looking back now, some of my observations were true and some were me, that is the subject for another post, but it was in this broad application of my time with a few people who claimed to be Christian to every single Christian in the world that I really lost my way.
Based upon my time doing time in the church, I took my very limited experience with that one church, and that one group of people who claimed to be gathering and leading in the name of Christ and used it to judge all 3 billion Christians in the world. Talk about narrow minded.
I vowed that I would never, ever attend one of the thousands of other churches or hundreds of denominations in the world because 30 people 10 years ago were really messed up and did bad things…in my opinion. That was some awesome logic on my part, let me tell you. Giving up on and judging billions because of the actions of a couple hundred makes no sense.
One group of Christians may have hurt you, no doubt some intentionally, but there are thousands of groups of Christians in the world and they are very different from the ones that hurt you.
I did not like the leering person in my high school, but there are many churches (mine included) that take protecting their children as a sacred duty and would defend their children to the death.
One doctrine may have provided the fodder for your bad experience with the church, but there are many different takes on the things that are non-essential to the faith through which people get to witness the joy of Jesus.
Authoritative abusive power structures are all too common among some types of believers but some churches go so far as having no pastor or priest, just men taking turns preaching.
The pastor or priest may have truly been off his rocker or may be trying to be a millionaire off the sweat of his flock, but there are thousands of pastors who are simply trying their best to serve the God and the people they love dearly sacrificing their own money in order to do so.
It is no mistake that Jesus compares us all, pastors and leaders included, with sheep — sheep are notoriously dumb, unruly and disobedient. We go astray and it says repeatedly in the Bible that the church will include people that go off like the one sheep that runs away and gets lost from the herd. The Shepherd does not punish swear off sheep though just because the one was disobedient.
It would be like if because of my bad experience with kielbasa, I swore off food all together. That one food was so bad so all foods must be bad I tells ya! (Suddenly I am popeye — argh Spinach! Sorry) I still eat food every day, wonderful food of all different variety — just not kielbasa. I don’t hold a bad experience dealing with one food against all foods.
The truth is that there are bad churches in the world today from just poorly run to downright heretical. It took us more than a year to find a church that we loved. And yes, I know from personal experience that people in church hurt people with the worst damage being done by those who are not following Jesus but claiming to do so. The people who are supposed to be the best to you can cause the worst damage.
Jesus Himself repeatedly warned in the Bible that false teachers would come into the world after He left and we need to be watchful because their goal is abuse His flock.
But there is nothing better than following Jesus along with a loving group of other people who are following Jesus. We were so grateful for finding a church where this was the goal every day that we started another church to try to pass on the experience.
It may not be easy to find a great Jesus loving church in your area, but I can guarantee that with some effort you will find one if you want to. Please don’t let bad experiences with a few rob you of the joy that can be had in gathering with the Brethren.