Church Shock. Yep, kind of like culture shock. You know, culture shock: that feeling of disorientation from being emplaced in a foreign country for a period of time. Interestingly, culture shock is a fairly common phenomenon that occurs to people without ever leaving their home country. Many people experience a similar event when they transition from home to work every day. Their high-pressure job puts significant strain on their personal relationships outside of work. It can happen when we move between social environments too.
There is a related phenomena, I’m calling it “Church Shock”: that foreign feeling of trying to acclimate to church when we are just getting to know Jesus.
I remember feeling a little like a wretched, black-hearted sinner when I raised my hand as a newbie at the place with the steeple one day when the pastor asked if anyone amongst the crowd was interested in accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Thankfully all heads were bowed and eyes were closed, otherwise everyone would know that I was the odd guy out. I stepped out of my pew seat and was escorted to a small room in the back of the church by an older fellow who I later learned was an elder (yep… older… elder… now that sort of seemed logical!). There I sat, one on one, with a guy who seemed to speak a different language. He had a Bible in hand, another sign that I was out-of-place since I didn’t own one yet. This stranger who already knew Jesus wanted to pray together. I’m glad that he knew what to do as I wouldn’t have had any idea what to say to God and would have felt pretty silly if he asked me to lead the prayer. We held hands, another weird part of being alone with another guy in a small room. Well, you know, I’ve heard some stories of how this might turn out… but much to my surprise everything went pretty well on that day. Glad I’m not a claustrophobic. Or homophobic, for that matter.
I didn’t feel the earth shake or hear a curtain tear or anything like that, but I was certain that God was up to something from there on out. I fell into a groove with going to church on Sundays and learning about the Lord. I got to know some of the people there. Well, sort of, we would say hi and greet each other with a smile on Sundays. That was nice as I felt welcome. Slowly, I felt inspired by some of the sermons. Others left me feeling like a sinner, though, as the pastor would talk about some of the no no’s that are outlined in the Bible. That left me feeling shameful. Fortunately, the pastor or music director would always mention that I didn’t need to feel bad about my past sins, that Jesus came to earth, walked as a human, and died a horrific death for me. Wow, that was hard to grasp for a long time, but eventually that too sunk in and I learned what His grace was all about. Talk about humility…
Next up was Baptism. Yikes, I had seen others publicly profess their faith in Jesus and, at the time, it was embarrassing to me. Getting up in a special loft at the worship service in front of everybody made me feel a little self-conscious. Those who didn’t already realize that I was just a beginner at this church thing are going to know it for sure now! After the big event I found a new friend there at church – acceptance. Folks were excited for me. I felt like Norm on the TV show Cheers, remember… “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.” Life was still very much a tug of war between good and evil but I now had a new friend on my side, the Holy Spirit.
I guess about a year passed by before I recognized another “Church Shock” sort of experience. Small group. This was a bit different than the worship service where we all faced forward, sang songs and listened to the pastor deliver a message. In small group we had to talk to each other. I didn’t really mind that part, but on the very first Sunday that I went to small group they asked me to lead the prayer. Gadzooks, that sent me in the opposite direction with anxiety because now everyone in the group was expecting me to come up with something good and I don’t think I did a particularly good job of it. I know now that God loves our prayers and being versed in this isn’t really all that important like we sometimes make it out to be. However, I did stick out from the other people who were the same age as me in the group and had been going to church for 30 years. They kind of let me know it too. I didn’t let that discourage me though, it was just another step along the journey, and I learned that church people are, well, just people too.
Well, more than a decade has passed since then and I’m still having new experiences all the time at church. Some bad, mostly good and less shocking. Church feels comfortable now as I’ve made the adjustment. Verses and books in the Bible make sense. I’m still learning about Jesus and in a growing relationship with Him. I see other people doing the same thing and at different places in the journey. We learn from each other. I’m asked to lead prayers… not so much to find out if I know how to do it as I’m guessing the other people in my group believe that I can contribute something meaningful. That’s a good feeling. Real nice.
Do you have a “Church Shock” experience to share?