A Reddit feed on Christianity had a post back in December 2012 that read like this:
Hi there, I recently Felt i have lost touch with my christian faith. I prayed today that God would hear my cry and forgive me of my wrong and help me to live as christ would in this destructive world, but im so scared sometimes that sin would just be too much for me to handle. I want to be holy and pleasing in God’s eyes and celebrate fellowship with other believers, but whenever i went to a bible study they seemed to gossip and talk about other people and how bad they are for sinning. I don’t know whats keeping me from going back to church, but i just want to be accepted by God and my community and become strong in my faith again. I just am worried my pastor will be angry with me.
The post was titled “Afraid to go back to church.” Commenters on the post shared similar struggles and gave some helpful pointers. I’ll get to them later.
How many people are afraid in or of church? I’d willing to bet you that many people sitting in a church pew are afraid of something in the church building. Some of my guesses of fears…
- The pastor saying something that will make them question their goodness
- Being rejected/judged because of their struggles
- Being rejected/judged because they think differently than the majority
- Going “too much” against the status quo
The first one of these reasons is probably a good reason to get scared. We should all be questioned of our “inherent goodness” as humans and realize that, well, we suck. We fall short of obedience in just about everything we do. Paul David Tripp tweeted today: “Today we’ll be tempted to deny the sin inside us. Denying reality is never a step toward the grace that’s the help for what we’re denying.”
But every other reason on that list is inexcusable in the church. And here’s why.
1 John 4:18 says this:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
I think this verse has two practical applications. One of them is a personal application, and the other applies to the church as a whole.
First, the more we understand the love that God has for us, the less we will fear Him. So often we live in fear of God and His judgement for our sins. But when we realize the depth of His love for us, and the truth that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), the fear seeps away and is replaced by love and gratitude. We fear the punishment, but when we realize the punishment has been taken, we can accept the love and, hopefully, be “perfected in love” as John talks about.
The second is an application of that idea to the interactions with the people around us, particularly in the body of Christ.
Some more comments from the Reddit feed:
“I know the feeling, I’m still too afraid to go to my place of worship even though it’s pretty much throwing a gift from God away. 😦 I’m just worried other people will judge the gringo in the masjid who doesn’t do everything perfectly. Hopefully we’ll both be able to go and perhaps find a group welcoming of us.” – Doctor_Yi
“A big part of the church’s job is to be a hospital where hurting people go to get healed and then gain the ability to help others. The church should also be equipping its members to deal with the challenges of others. If neither of those is happening, you need to find a different church to go to because yours is broken.” – macrobite
“God isn’t going to bed upset. Your pastor isn’t going to be upset – and if s/he is, you really need to find a new church. As for the cackling hens of Bible study, there is no good way for you to deal with them alone. Enlist the help of Church elders, officials or someone in a position of authority to put them back in their place. Cackling hens who are not called out on their behavior are a cancer in the church and one of the reasons I refuse to set foot in or have any contact with one of my local congregations.” – In_The_News
These comments reveal the real fears and real concerns of people in the body of Christ. There’s a fear to go to a church and be yourself because of the judgement or the gossip or the rejection. Fear of rejection is a legitimate thing that goes beyond a girl turning you down for a date. And in the body of Christ, this should not be happening.
Of course, some people’s fear is based on biases and a refusal to accept that there could be any other way. But even that is often founded in a bad experience within a church where a lack of love from the church led to fear.
When the Church doesn’t actually love people as God loves us, an atmosphere is created where fear is cultivated, and we have ourselves to blame. I’ve been on the side of being afraid, and I’m sure I’ve been on the side of creating that fear in others. It’s not God’s fault that people are afraid of church, because God loves. If people are afraid of condemnation from God, they don’t know God because He offers love in place of condemnation. If people are afraid of condemnation from Christians, we don’t know how to love people. Our call is this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
There is one difficulty: we will never love perfectly. But we can’t solely accuse those who are afraid of church for not giving us grace and not coming. We must also, and perhaps primarily, blame ourselves and seek to grow in our giving of love.
Perhaps my favorite response on that Reddit post was this:
anybody that gives you a hard time for being a prodigal son needs to get kicked right in the butt. then, they need to do the christian thing and turn the other cheek.
but seriously, if you are worried that people will act unchristian towards you (especially the pastor) because you lost your way, then find another damn church, because the one that gives you crap for not being mr. perfect is not teaching the message of christ.
prayers are with you, and god bless you.
I echo this.