After I decided Jesus was legit, and after I started reading the Bible some, the next logical step was for me to start attending a church. (Logical to the believers around me, that is; the concept was lost on me for quite awhile).
But that idea terrified me. So I spent the next 5 months refusing to go. My friends would invite me, my stomach would knot up, and I would reject the offer, over and over again.
I was afraid of church.
I was afraid that all the other kids in the youth group would already know everything in the Bible. I was afraid they’d been learning the stories from birth, and I’d stick out like a sore thumb. I was scared I might be called on to read from the Bible or to answer a question about a Bible story, and I just couldn’t risk that kind of humiliation.
I was also afraid that when it came time to leave Sunday school and attend service that I’d have no one to sit with. I imagined that all youth group kids went and sat with their perfect little families during the service. I didn’t have a family to sit with, and I didn’t want to be any other family’s third wheel.
But God knew these fears would keep me from going to church. So He eliminated them.
Not in some hocus pocus kind of way, but in a practical way.
When I grew brave enough to tell my friends why I was afraid of church, they were able to address my concerns. After many conversations, they finally convinced me that Sunday school was not an environment where everyone knew more than me about the Bible. On the contrary, it was a non-threatening environment with 80+ kids, and I wouldn’t be expected to say a word. Fear number one eliminated.
Also, turns out the group of kids that I had been hanging out with all went to church without their families. (I don’t believe in coincidences. God had this in His plan as He guided my parents to move me to Memphis instead of Alaska, to enroll me in the 8th grade instead of the 9th, and to put me in the Collierville school district instead of the Houston school district.)
My church friends either had parents that went to different churches, or they all went to the same church but didn’t sit together during the service. Most of the youth group kids sat together, as opposed to with their individual families. My friends didn’t even drive to the church with their parents; they drove themselves. Fear number two eliminated.
I was really left without any valid reason to avoid church any longer. In May, 2000, my friend, Jonathan, who “just happened” to live on my street, picked me up for my first day at church. We drove across town and picked up Chris, and we headed to Central Church.
I was indescribably nervous (yet, here I am describing) as I walked into the Senior High area. There were more kids than I could count, and there were adults hugging and shaking hands with each student as they entered the room. It appeared that these kids and these adults had relationships….on purpose…and the kids liked it…how foreign to most teenagers. And then it occurred to me, “Oh no, they are going to realize I am new.” I didn’t want any attention drawn to me, so I tried to pretend like I’d been there before. I played the part, shook their hands, smiled, and walked through the door.
Knowing these adults all these years later, I am certain that they were aware that it was my first time that day. They care enough about people to notice that kind of thing. But they didn’t make me feel new. They didn’t ask me one hundred questions or make the mistake of saying, “I’ve never seen you here before! What’s your story?!” They let me come in, sit down, and take it all in. Perfect.
When Sunday school began, three of my friends stood up in front with their acoustic guitars and led us in some songs. I had no idea there were guitars at church! I was excited. Music consumed much of my life back then, so they were speaking my language. I didn’t know any of the songs they were singing, but I liked them well enough.
After worship Don Gilbert stood in front of the youth group and introduced the new youth pastor, Darryl Lawler. Darryl spoke for a few minutes, and I was immediately drawn to him. His sincerity, his love, his joy. In short, I was drawn to Jesus in Darryl. It was fitting that Darryl and I were both there for the first time that Sunday. He would become a key part of my spiritual growth that year.
After I survived Sunday school, my friends and I headed over to the sanctuary for service. We walked into a massive worship center and sat down. I watched as families filled the pews, thankful to be able to sit with my friends. I don’t remember any particulars about the service, but, clearly, I survived that too.
That first visit to a church was a critical step in my spiritual formation. I went back the next week. And the next. Eventually, I met my husband at that church, I was employed at that church, my kids were born at that church (not AT that church, but you know what I mean), my oldest goes to preschool at that church, and I now teach the Bible at that church.
Fear almost kept me from all of this. Praise God He helped me overcome that fear by using just the right people at just the right time.