In this morning’s newspaper the comic strip Pearls Before Swine, by Stephen Pastis, featured Rat saying to his friend the goat, “I have not gone to church in a long time.” The goat responds, “Oh, yeah? Why is that?” and Rat replies, “I’m perfect, now.”
The comic goes on to a humorous punchline, but that little exchange was what stuck in my head on my morning walk.
In spite of some stereotypes, it is seldom the search for perfection that brings people into church. Ideally, once in a church we become more aware of how impossible it is for anyone to achieve perfection in this world and we are drawn ever closer to the source of all perfection, Jesus Christ.
That being said, it has been my experience that more people stay away from church because of awareness of their imperfections than from a feeling of having no need for improvement.
How many times have you heard a person say something like, “Oh, I couldn’t go to church. The roof would cave in.” These people are expressing in a facetious way their own fears of being found unwelcome or unacceptable to the church body. Or even to God.
Faithful church goers can withdraw from the fellowship at the very time when they should be seeking the support of the church family after stumbling in their faith walk, through shame and fear of rejection.
I remember a small rural church that had a sign posted prominently over the entry saying, “Welcome, Fellow Sinner”. There had been some controversy when the sign was first hung, but the congregation had gone on to embrace the philosophy it represented. Church fellowships are designed by God to support and nurture believers as we stumble along on our walk of faith and obedience. Walking a rocky path is easier with others by your side holding your hands in the slippery places.
It is good to remember when reaching out to support someone in danger of slipping…or who has already fallen…that the path ahead contains many perils and this same person could be the one to help you just around the next turning.