Soft music played in the background as we walked into the small, crowded temple. The peachy walls and tall, white pillars added dramatic effect. Feeling awkward and uncomfortable, we lingered near the doorway.
“This is so weird and almost creepy,” my friend, Paige, whispered.
Slipping into a pew near the back, I continued to observe the happenings around me.
A man I presumed to be the pastor stood up front, talking calmly and casually. He leaned against the side of the pulpit, lazily using his hands while he spoke. He spoke completely in Castilian Spanish to his audience who shouted comments, responses, and questions at him. He thoughtfully tossed answers back.
Wide-eyed, Paige leaned over.
“How informal and . . . disrespectful! What kind of church is this?” she exclaimed.
This experience remained in the back of my mind as I packed my bags and moved from Battle Creek, Michigan to Lincoln, Nebraska. I didn’t know what to expect. I wanted to find a church that fit me, where I felt comfortable to use my gifts and talents and could receive the blessing I needed. Growing up in a family where church played a key part in our lives, I had experienced a wide variety of church congregations, but nothing that made me want to send down my roots. I set out to Nebraska with open eyes and arms.
Finding a home
Upon arriving in Lincoln, I traveled the city Sabbath to Sabbath searching for the best church for me. The college church felt too big, the “younger” family church seemed too young and I don’t speak fluent Spanish, ruling out the Hispanic church.
As I continued my search, I stumbled on a tiny chapel with small pews, lively, meaningful music and powerful messages; it felt familiar. I loved its warm, family-like atmosphere and how they immediately got me involved before I was even a member. Instantly, I felt at home, and it grew on me.
My dad once said, “Church is not a place I go. It’s a place where I am. It’s where I express to others what God has done for me. As God has shown me mercy and done things for me, I will show others mercy and do things for them.”
This made me realize that it is easy for Christians to go to church for the wrong reasons, causing them to end up resenting church. Many are quick to judge other churches and even members of their own churches, which in turn hinders their own church experience.
For many Jews, the informal dialogue in the temple is as holy as any choir singing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” in a cathedral! We have all been commissioned by God to perform varying tasks and to speak differing languages to uplift and encourage others.
When we find a community that nourishes us, we are better able to grow in grace—as the psalmist sings, “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither” (Ps. 1:3, NRSV).
We are called to be the church, yet having a church where we can “yield our fruit” makes the mission that much easier.
When your church doesn’t fit
Not every church is for every person. If you’re struggling to grow and flourish, here are some tips:
- Be the change you want to see. Unhappy with the atmosphere, attitude or overall aura of the church? Start the change. If you don’t like the climate, be the positive change. Transformation starts with one.
- Talk to your church family. Communicate with trusted members about the issues you’re having. Often, others will be struggling with the same issues or will provide solutions.
- It may be time for you to use your spiritual gifts in a different setting. God knows where we should be and plants us there with good reason. Ask God to guide you as you follow His leading.
Aubraelle Porter from Battle Creek, Michigan is a sophomore business marketing and communication major with an emphasis in public relations at Union College. This story is part of a series called “Who are we?” from the February 2016 print edition of OUTLOOK, our annual special issue produced by Union College students.