• 25°

The Church: Judge or encourage?

Our family moved to a new area just as I entered the seventh grade. During the first week of school, I tried out for the chorus. Since I grew up singing in church choirs, school chorus seemed like a great way to start the school year and make a few friends.

The teacher handed me a piece of unfamiliar music and asked me to sing. Reading unfamiliar music while trying to sing is difficult at best, but I gamely tried. Based on the looks and snickers of the other children in the room, I was not doing well. Halfway through the song, the teacher stopped playing and said, “I’m sorry. You are not qualified to sing in our school chorus.”

I remember timidly walking out of the room, embarrassed and devastated, but I recovered from the initial hurt quickly enough and went on to other interests. But I soon quit the church choir, and when singing during worship, I began to lower my voice so no one would hear me. Eventually, I asked, “Why attend church at all?” I volunteered to work more on Sundays. Then, I simply stopped attending.

Looking back, I realize there were many poor choices made on my part. But — at any time someone could have stepped in and offered encouragement. Someone at church could have and should have asked: “Why wasn’t I singing with the choir or attending youth? Why was I working on Sundays?” They could have checked up on me, but most didn’t, so I quietly slipped away.

Does this sound familiar?

There seem to be two groups who do not attend church. One never really attended. But another group like me chose to stop going to church. Somewhere, somehow, something happened. While reading this, were you reminded of a similar time when someone said something that hurt you deeply? Maybe there was an occasion when you needed God and/or your church and for whatever reason, you were deeply disappointed.

If you are in the group that left the church, or if you’ve ever been disappointed or hurt by your church, or if you just simply want to help your church do better — keep reading. This story has a happy ending.

Shortly after finishing college, I began selling automobiles. Another salesman talked me into visiting church. He said, “It would be good for business.” While this is not usually a good reason to attend, I was willing to try. So, one Sunday morning, I showed up at a nearby church and took a seat in the back of the sanctuary. Just then, two men I recognized walked in.

At that moment, I knew this was trouble. Both men purchased used cars from me. Both had problems and left the dealership dissatisfied. I remember wishing the floor would open and swallow me whole. I tried to scrunch my body behind the pew so they wouldn’t see me, but to no avail. They recognized me immediately and walked my way.

“Larry Davies, you’ve got a lot of nerve showing your face here.”

No! That’s not what they said, but it is what I expected and probably deserved. Instead?

“Larry, what a wonderful surprise.”

• They offered no judgment.

• They sat beside me and talked as if we had been friends for years.

• They enthusiastically told me about their church and promised to pray for me.

• They began to introduce me to others in the congregation as their friend.

• They helped me become involved in a small group with people my age.

I soon felt at home in my new church, all because two people who should have been angry reached out the hand of friendship and offered the forgiving love of Jesus Christ. Looking back, I realize this was a key moment in my life, and I will always be grateful for their encouragement.

The author of Hebrews spoke of encouragement to a church full of people who were hurt and seriously thinking of abandoning their faith: “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

This Scripture passage suggest three ways to be the church.

1. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm.

2. Let us motivate one another to acts of love and good works.

3. Let us not neglect our meeting together but encourage one another.

The key is encouragement. An encouraging church brought me back to God’s arms. Encouragement while living in a discouraging environment is the reason that despite our many problems, the church is still God’s answer for a hurting world.

The key is in understanding and utilizing the power of one word: encouragement.

Becoming an encourager doesn’t simply mean speaking in flowery platitudes but rather looking to motivate others to acts of love and good works. With God’s guidance, we can all be encouragers.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.