When I went away to college, I learned a very important skill. Question what you hear from someone who speaks in the pulpit. Read the verses they read. THINK about the meaning. Not all men who step behind the pulpit are called to be there.
I sat in many church services as a teen hearing "amen!" coming from the crowd on every word the preacher said. Even the Bible reading or quoting was followed by many amen's back then. After coming back from college, I found myself truly reading along with the passage being read and listening to the preacher only to find not only was the passage read or quoted being misread or misquoted, the message had been "rewritten" to suit the needs of the preacher at the time. The congregation just sat there taking in whatever he had to say raising his ego with amen's after each statement. I made notes the first time so that I could show the incorrect information being shared with my brother, who was a very intelligent man and also could not believe the people were listening to these visiting preachers as if nothing was wrong with this picture.
Since going to a Christian college, and LOVING ever minute of it, I learned there were special people called to the service of God. But I also learned there were just as many people following a line of getting into the Methodist "business" where ministers are moved up a ladder, given a place to live, given a raise each year and retirement. As one put it, "it's the best business in town." I don't think I'll ever forget that because at the time I truly believed only men who were called by God were going to be ministers. Ignorance was soon washed from my brain.
Since that time, I have learned to listen carefully to words spoken, actions taken or NOT taken, by those standing in the pulpit, standing in a teaching position or leadership position. I've learned over the years that social status does matter on how you are accepted. I've learned that the more worldly wealth you have or position in the community you use you truly do stand on a higher pedestal in the church and that there is a ladder that brings them more wealth and notoriety. I've learned businessmen go to larger churches just to make business contacts and nothing more. I've learned words and actions don't always match and that actions speak much louder than words. Jesus' did. I've learned it is easier for those of means to throw money at a situation than it is to open their hearts and arms and do something about a problem that is before them. I've learned people who have much, much is to be expected, yet so many ignore the need at their own back doors. I've learned every word, action or lack of action when they know there is a need or if someone asks for help and they turn their back, they will be held responsible for that action.
I've learned there are many people out there that will believe every word spoken by a minister in the pulpit in so much as to put their own safety at risk. If the minister says the church is praying for the safety of their neighborhood and they should not be afraid to go out into the open without being aware of the possible danger around them, they believe him. They are oblivious to the drug dealers that walk past their door, the gangs that hang out by the corner, the murder that took place on the corner, the multitude of robberies that take place every day in two miles from their own door. I believe that minister will be responsible for every word that is spoken.
Perhaps it is because I have experienced the negative side of life where people have shown me the "church" side of their personalities and the "true" nature they hide from the Sunday crowd. I have experienced the drug dealers trying to break in my door, living just a wall away from me thanks to the greed of a landlord who couldn't care passed his own pocket. It took my calling the police on a regular basis to remove the drug dealers and addict from the horrific situation that I lived near. Perhaps it is because I'm a realist and can see this world is being ruled by the evil that is of Satan and we have to remember that and he is more than willing to come in on the coat tails of those who claim to be Christians to an early Sunday morning prayer meeting. I have learned Satan has his time now, but Jesus will rule this world again.
Through all of this, I have learned not to have faith in people, but in God because people fail you every time, but God does not. People are not love. God is. HE embodies it. HE created it. He gave us intelligence, instinct and a will. It breaks my heart His church has turned into a club of sorts where membership gives you the entitlement towards entertainments galore. Trips here and there, parties, youth entertainment, movies, you name it. The buildings have grown bigger and the walls have shut out the needs of the people who live around them. The larger the church, the better the benefits: country club benefits. Is it any wonder atheists are bashing Christianity? Are any of these things like Christ?
I have learned the hard way that church is welcoming to those who are employed, have a family, are not chronically ill and are able to work in the church. If you are disabled from a chronic illness, it is difficult to be treated less than a person by the congregation around you. Even though it is not your choice to be ill with a disease that has disabled and robbed you from a productive and quality of life, you are quickly reminded how society labels you as not wanted. Ignorance is not bliss in this situation. Never married? Not interested on what path your life took to get you here. Another X in your box. No family? Strike three. Families stick close in church. No one invites you to sit with them or welcomes you into their church family past the initial joining of the church. Sick, disabled and unable to attend services anymore? Name on list. Is there a strike four? There should be. It is then you need to feel God's love through the touch of a hug, a call or a visit when you're in the hospital. When did these things become conditional to what status you hold in the church or what use you are?
Where is God in all of it? I remember walking into the small country church when I was younger. The preacher there knew God's word and taught straight from the Bible. We sang hymns that fed the soul. The youth sang musicals to God (our entertainment). On Sunday mornings when I opened those old wooden doors, I could feel God's love and presence in that country church because not only did we want to be there, but He wanted to be there, too. It was the most amazing love I've ever experienced. Whenever I get discouraged about my surroundings and what is happening in this world, I stop and remember the love that enfolded me those many years ago and look forward to the day when I embrace it eternally.