Looking for Love in All the Wrong Churches

by Roy Hendrix

Phillip Yancey, in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”, tells about his difficulty in finding the right church for him when he was growing up in his search for God’s grace. He says, “As I look back on my own pilgrimage, marked by wanderings, detours, and dead-ends, I see now what pulled me along was my search for grace. I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.”

I had a similar problem growing up - finding the right church for me. I tend to look at my pilgrimage as being driven by a search for love - very similar to Phillip Yancey’s search for grace. And to further symbolize, I state my pilgrimage in terms of a country-western song - I was looking for love in all the wrong churches - and especially in one particular church. The love I was in search of was, of course, God’s love, as exemplified by those church people I interacted with. Now, I must admit that In “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” Yancey sees grace as a much more complex term than love and does a good job of describing the many shades of grace. I’m just drawing a parallel. If I were smarter, perhaps I would have also used grace as my driving force in this analysis.

The fact that we lived next door to a particular church when I was just a child was the main reason I chose it to attend most often. But it was not right for me. Rather than being swept up by God’s grace and onto the alter, I was often left feeling traumatized after a profusely sweating preacher wrapped up his sermon. Looking back with 20/20 vision I was, of course, looking for love or some semblance thereof from the church members. Instead, what I found was represented by another four-letter word - fear. The members of that church gave off an aura of fear of God, not in regard to respect but actual fear - a trait not too dissimilar from that shown by early pagans who tried to ward off punishment by giving sacrifices to their gods. It was like those church members were trying to appease God by worshipping him so that he wouldn’t do bad things to them.

During my trials in search of God’s love, my journey was, like Yancey’s, filled with wanderings, detours and dead-ends, some of these dead-ends lasting for many years. I didn’t do a lot of searching in other churches, but I did some, all with unsatisfactory results. I think that from the beginning I had a problem understanding some basic fundamentals about religion and, especially, denominational issues that either I completely misunderstood or possibly these issues had been misrepresented to me in the guise of church doctrine.

After I finally succeeded in finding the right church, I’m not really sure about the details of how it all came about. I have a hard time describing God’s love that I sensed in ‘my’ church. What did the people do that turned me around; how did they react to me that was so special? Well, it took a while for me to put the church and people I was meeting in the right context with other things that were happening in my life at the time and to finally clear up in my mind the misunderstandings that had plagued my life. It wasn’t love at first sight, by a long shot. But gradually I was able to sense that the predominant emotion I sensed in my church was love and not fear.

In hindsight, if I had spent more time looking for love in churches - even wrong churches, I would have probably had more meaningful discussions with pastors and knowledgeable lay persons. This would have aided in resolving my religious and denominational issues earlier and freed me to spend more time doing things God had planned for me.

Some are lucky enough to be born into a loving church, perhaps the same one their parents attended. In that case, there is probably no great need to look at several different churches to find the one that is right for them. But they still have the duty to lead people to Christ and invite people to visit their church. In doing so, it is so important to be kind and accommodating to the visitors, make them feel at ease - project love - do whatever those indescribable things were that the people in my church did for me. One of the most important things you will ever do in this life is lead people to Christ.

The engine driving my lifetime search for love in the right church sputtered, idled for years from time to time, but never completely died - because the fuel for that engine is God’s love.